A Different Holiday Season: Coping with the Loss of Holiday Traditions

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With Thanksgiving recently passed and Chanukah and Christmas quickly approaching, the holiday season is officially in full swing.

This year, some of our most beloved holidays come amidst a frightening surge in cases of COVID-19.

In both my clinical sessions and in conversations with friends and family, I am hearing a common theme over and over: a deep longing for what people describe as “normalcy.”

“I just wish we could have a regular Christmas,” is a common refrain. “I just wish the holidays could be normal.”

It’s easy to understand these feelings. After all, it’s within the human spirit to seek connection and to want to gather for celebrations of deeply held traditions during the holiday season.

Traditions anchor us. They help center us, and help remind us of cherished moments shared with loved ones.

Unfortunately, the medical advice and science behind that advice are clear: the risk of spreading COVID-19 is too great to simply carry on with our traditions as if nothing is different.

We’re all being forced to face reality: many of our traditions simply won’t be possible this year.

It’s both powerful and important to acknowledge our emotions, especially when it comes to acknowledging disappointments.

We don’t have to carry on as if everything is fine; it can be healthy to admit that you’re feeling sad, angry, or overwhelmed by the loss of traditions you hold dear.

However, I have always been a fervent believer that we can empower ourselves to build resilience and create a positive lens, one moment at a time.

Below are some of my favorite methods of creating that positive lens:

  1. Practice gratitude Instead of dwelling on the traditions you’re missing, focus on the good things you have in front of you.
  2. Embrace compassion Show compassion to yourself, to your feelings, and to others. Channel your frustrations or sadness into easing the distress or sadness of others.
  3. Take a breath Deep breathing and meditation can be a great way to center ourselves when we start to feel overwhelmed.
  4. This too shall pass It’s important to remind ourselves that the present situation won’t last forever, and that our traditions will return.
  5. Change your perspective By forgoing your usual holiday traditions, you’re putting the safety, health, and wellness of others above yourself. View these missed occasions not as a personal loss, but as a sacrifice you’re making for the greater good.

I am very impressed as I listen to people share their personal stories for how they plan to cope with the loss of their traditional holidays.

I hear how people are embracing their “different” holiday season and experimenting with starting a new tradition instead.

I hear how families are using time around the holidays to cook meals and deliver them to people who are spending the holidays alone.

Helping others is the true heartbeat of the holiday season, and always helps us feel better!

If you find yourself getting down about what’s sure to be a difficult holiday season, use the methods above to focus on the positive, and remember: there’s hope on the horizon.

When I think of the sacrifices made by so many, from medical personnel and first responders to researchers and volunteers in vaccine trials, it brings me to a place of deep gratitude.

Navigate the holiday season one day at a time, and focus on practicing gratitude and counting your blessings.

This holiday season is indeed different, but we can and need to embrace the power of humanity and compassion.

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