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Doing the Holidays Differently - Starting New Traditions to Fit Your Situation

The hustle and bustle of the holidays has commenced.  You made it through Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Now it's time to launch into full holiday chaos.  The days will fly by with decorating, shopping, social events, food, gifts, family, friends and tradition.  Blend in grief and loss associated with the holidays. Add to the mix the reality that many of us have responsibilities to care for someone else and you have a recipe for disaster.

I have been part of and witnessed more than my share of holiday eruptions. I have acquired a guarded wariness to the holidays.  I have also gained the awareness that I can and am allowed to create new ways to celebrate or not celebrate, for that matter.

Before I share some ideas on how you might consider changing your holiday traditions, let me give you a glimpse into my story.

As a child, thanksgiving marked the beginning of the tumultuous and joyous season.  My mom, sister, and sister-in-laws bustling around the kitchen making dishes, me getting underfoot trying to help.  My dad, uncle, and maybe a brother or 2 watching football in the living room. Grandmother out smoking cigarettes on the patio all day.  Inevitably, my mom would have a melt down at some point during the day.

Mom (a.k.a. Margaret M. Hannon) before she would have a holiday melt down.

Frustrated and tired from cooking all day, my rambunctious family would send her over the edge.  My brothers would toss dinner rolls across the table, teasing, and pranks would quickly escalate into full out wrestling matches. Mom would start yelling about being too loud, rough or not helping with cleaning. Shouts of, “Leave your sister alone! Stop picking on her! “I need help!”.  Fights would commence and my mom would go off to her room to calm down and be alone. I completely understand that need now. I prefer my holidays to be quiet and reflective. I'm sure that is what she wanted as well, but she had 5 children, lots of grand kids, a husband that loved to get the kids worked up, a moody unbalanced chain-smoking mom, and always a stray person or two to manage.  

I cannot even begin to fathom how she was able to then jump into celebrating Christmas with a bang. Christmas was her favorite holiday.  If she could leave Christmas decorations up all year, she would. I don't remember if there was a certain day decorating commenced, but I know preparations began long before Thanksgiving.  She was very crafty, so she got everyone involved in making ornaments and gifts, that's how I learned how to sew. And let's not forget the cookies! Wow, my mom made some great cookies. She was a really good cook and baker.  My niece now sales my mom's Christmas cookies, they are always the first to sell out.

My mom's brother, Uncle Tommy & her mother Virginia.


All hands were on deck for Christmas decorating, it was always my job to put out all of the elves on the shelves and in between banisters.  We had a lot of those and many other nick knacks that came out for this special time of year. My mom would be sitting at her throne directing the entire affair. Many arguments broke out about the position of the Christmas tree, lights, and broken ornaments.  She would then spend the rest of the month rearranging and tweaking artificial branches, lights, and doodads.

There was beauty, faith, tradition and family togetherness around Christmas. It was a time of music, church performances, visitors, crafts, baking, games, fires in the fireplace (even though it was 80 degrees outside), gifts, stories and the bible read out loud, family photos and of course regular fights that ended in tears.

Marti Hannon and Dad, Dave Hannon


My mom passed away when I was 17 and my holidays have never been the same since then.  Christmas had already stopped being a joyous experience when my parents and I moved away from the rest of our family when I was 11.  The holidays turned into a forced tradition that felt hollow and depressing with a lot more fights and a lot less joy. My heart has continued to long for those days from my childhood when my family was together; for the depth, the blessing, and yes the family feuds.  I am so grateful for these beautiful memories and I treasure them. It is not possible for Christmas to ever be the same, so it turns into a frustrating and disappointing time.

Now I find myself re-evaluating my priorities during the holidays.  Do I have to force myself to fit the mold of how the holidays "should be" celebrated?  Slap a smile on, make others feel comfortable, and attend the expected social events, even though my heart feels broken?  Do what is expected of me all the while I'd rather be doing anything else?

I've decided it’s time for some new traditions that fit me and my life experiences. Why not spend the holidays quiet and reflective? I want my holiday to be filled with creativity, writing, worshiping, volunteering, and carefully choosing how and who I spend my time with.  It took some time to gain the perspective and courage to look at what does and does not work for me. It took me a lot more time to then have the conversation with family. It didn't go smoothly the first few years. I felt like I was disappointing or hurting someone or being judged for

choosing to decline an invitation. This is the first year that all expectations were released and authentic communication took place to free me from the guilt and shame.  


A Hannon Family Christmas


You may have a similar desire to throw off societal and family expectations.  To forge a new path, as your life isn't the same as it once was. If you had no expectations on you, what would your holidays look like?  Start there and then scale back to see what you can realistically change in your annual traditions.

Here are some thoughts to get you going:

  • Decide ahead of time what you want out of your holiday experience.
  • Consider what the top 2-3 most important priorities are for you and your family.
  • Visualize what that would look like.
  • Simplify that vision back to the more basic experience.  


Here is an example of looking at one priority.

  • Priority: I want to help my aging mom enjoy time with her grandchildren and share memories with us.
  • Visualize the ideal: All the family together, making cookies, looking through photo albums, with a holiday dinner.
  • Simplify the expectation: I can live with a small gathering looking at photo albums and sharing stories.  Maybe I can prepare questions each person can ask mom to get the best stories out?

Share your ideal way of celebrating the holidays in the comments.  

Much love,


Click here to join the conversation and listen in to our Caregiving Circus podcast.  My friend, Jackie Schwabe and I talked about this post on 11/29 and 12/6.

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