Putting cheer back in the holiday season
The holidays are upon us and for many people, this is their favorite time of the year. Decorations, presents, family, food, all the sights and sounds and smells fill those people with holiday cheer. However, there are also many people who dread the holiday season and who can’t wait for January to come around. If it were up to them, we would just skip the next six weeks and forget all about Thanksgiving, Hanukah or Christmas.
People have different reasons for disliking the holiday season. In these difficult economic times, financial problems sometimes play a major role in adding to the holiday stress. Some families might not be able to afford a turkey for Thanksgiving. Others might not be that desperate, but they won’t be able to buy the presents their children really want, and they feel bad about it. Some parents overextend themselves financially to create the “perfect” holiday and then have to deal with the consequences when they can’t pay their bills in January.
For other families, holidays are sad because they lost a loved one over the last years and the festivities make their loss even more apparent. Holiday traditions from past years bring back painful memories or have lost their meaning altogether. For the sake of other family members, particularly when children are involved, people try to keep things cheerful. But, as a friend of mine recently said, “my heart just isn’t in it.”
Some people have no family or friends with whom to spend the holidays. They dread this time because they feel their loneliness even more than on other days. It is particularly hard to be alone during a time when everybody and everything is focused on family.
Other people might have family but they don’t enjoy spending time with them because of conflicts, resentments or other reasons. They feel alone, even though they are surrounded by people.
As varied as the reasons are for disliking the holidays, the strategies to cope with them are also just as wide-ranging. Maybe the most effective way to protect yourself from disappointment, stress and sadness is to change your expectations. Your dinner table doesn’t have to look like the one in the commercials; your family gathering does not have to develop like a scene in a hallmark movie. If you don’t have money for expensive presents, talk to your children or other family members early on about your limits and come up with different gift ideas. Give the gift of time instead of spending money. Vouchers for babysitting, yard work or time spent together are often more appreciated than another CD or scarf.
Grief and loneliness are often even harder to deal with than financial problems. It can be helpful to change long-term traditions and try something totally different. For example, instead of cooking an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner, volunteer for the WabiSabi community meal and invite family members to join you there. If you don’t feel like decorating the house for Hanukah or Christmas by yourself, ask a friend over to do it together.
If you don’t have friends or family in town, you can call local churches and inquire about gatherings throughout the holiday season. This might be a wonderful opportunity to meet new people or to reach out to others who struggle. And if you don’t feel like reaching out, it is okay to be by yourself and treat yourself well, too. Watching your favorite movie, taking a bubble bath or cooking your favorite meal are some good ways to be kind to yourself and maybe even enjoy the day.
Overall, being grateful for what you have and being gentle with yourself is the healthiest way to spend the holidays, independent of your specific circumstances. If you need more ideas or help to be okay this holiday season, please reach out. In addition to local resources like WabiSabi, the Salvation Army, the Grand County Food Bank, or different churches, there are several mental health providers in town who can support you and help you develop coping skills if this is a difficult time for you.
- Antje Rath
- November 2014