This holiday season comes with a slew of new stressors we have not had to address before. There are a number of families out there who decided to “skip Thanksgiving so that we can be together at Christmas.” But as cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to rise rapidly and are predicted to continue to do so throughout the winter, the odds of being able to safely have that family Christmas are rapidly decreasing. People may find that they feel that they sacrificed being together on Thanksgiving “for nothing.”
Also, while Christmas is traditionally thought of as being a Christian holiday, in the United States it has become so culturally pervasive that even people who would not identify themselves as Christian often celebrate aspects of Christmas. For example, it’s not uncommon for Jewish families to have Christmas trees or take their children for pictures with Santa. Christmas in a lot of ways has become very much a cultural holiday in the United States, so you have a lot of people who are going to be impacted by missing Christmas, and of course the other holidays that fall with in December such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
In fact, the entire month of December has really become known as “the holiday season” during which there is a broad emphasis on togetherness and family. Typically almost every commercial in December would be showing families around a table or unwrapping presents together. While the significance of Thanksgiving has taken some hits in recent years with increased awareness of the true narrative behind the colonization of the New World and the negative impact on the native inhabitants here, Christmas has gone the opposite direction and by far become the most significant holiday for a lot of families. With New Year’s Eve coming right on its heels, another holiday people will likely not be able to celebrate with others, you have a massive compounding of “missing out.” We won’t get to ring in the new year with the people who matter to us, set intentions with them, support them as a clean slate is started.
So, what can we do? Here are some tips for navigating the holidays this year:
What can we tell our kids to minimize the emotional impact of not seeing our families during the holidays?
- We’re going to spend the holiday with just us this year so we can keep your grandparents safe! That way we will be able to see them for a lot more holidays in the future!
- It’s also a great idea to take advantage of all of the technologies that exist that allow us to meet live via video chat. Most children are pretty well-versed in technology so normalize this as simply a way to be “together” without being in the same house.
What can we tell our parents and grandparents who are feeling disappointment or emptiness because of being away from family during this time?
- First, it’s important to validate their feelings. It is very difficult to be alone on the holidays. This may be even more so for older folks who may not think they have a lot of holidays left to look forward to.
- Stress that you’re coming from a place of love. That you want to have as much time with them in the future as possible and that you just aren’t willing to risk losing that for one holiday now.
- Invite them to spend the holiday with you in a less traditional format, like taking advantage of video chatting. Maybe suggest something like cooking together on the holiday over video, or eating dinner together over a video. This can be a way to be “together“ and participate in activities while still staying safely apart.
How can we address our economic situation which may mean less or no gifts?
- Fortunately, kids have no idea how much gifts cost most of the time so if you have the economic ability to buy some things try to get more bang for your buck when you can. Shop at big box or discount stores, or take advantage of discounts on websites like Amazon. Another option is to source from places like Facebook marketplace where you can get things secondhand, as long as they’re able to do a porch pick up situation from a safe distance!
- Wrap different parts of the same gift separately so it feels like more
- If buying gifts isn’t an option, perhaps suggest to your children that this year you should make gifts for each other from scratch! Have the kids make gifts for you and each other, and you can do the same. Get creative! For example, build a dollhouse out of empty shoe boxes or make an amazing fort with blankets and furniture. It’s definitely a holiday if your mom lets you move the furniture around!
Isn’t it already a season which brings some depression or disappointment?
- The holidays can be hard for a number of reasons. A lot of people feel melancholy around the holidays because it makes them think of loved ones that are gone or that they can’t see. A lot of people are also struggling with seasonal affective disorder during the winter, which can mean battling symptoms of depression and anxiety along with all the pressures that can come from planning for the holidays.
- This may be compounded for people right now, as some of their typical ways of coping, which might be things like getting together with friends, going to the spa, or doing other group self-care activities are limited.
- The good news is that many of the things we would often use to cope have moved online! The majority of therapists are offering telehealth which is being found to be extremely effective, and you can take yoga classes and enjoy meditation all on your phone! And as always, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone if you’re having a hard time. Even if your friends can’t sit next to you in person, they can still grab a coffee and chat with you on the phone or over video. At the end of the day, the connection is still there and that’s what’s important.
How important is it to take the time with each child, each elderly family member, and talk out all these concerns?
- It’s very much going to vary by the family member. Some people are much more concerned about having an alternative holiday than others. Don’t make it a big deal if it isn’t to them. If your family member seems like they’re OK, then just a quick check in to make sure that really is the case may be all they need. However, if someone you care about is seeming particularly distressed, make sure to set aside time to sit down with them, talk through their feelings, and offer them support. Then work together to find alternatives that make the holiday a little bit easier.
What do we do to deal with our own feelings (or our spouse’s) about our own disappointment?
- Sometimes it can feel like there’s a lot of pressure for us to put on a happy face for the rest of our family. Like you have to hold it together for them. And that’s a lot of pressure! First of all, I think it’s important to acknowledge to yourself how much you are taking on and juggling. For a lot of people, a socially distanced holiday is not less work. In some ways it may even be more! Take time to acknowledge all that you’re doing, and don’t hesitate to ask for help from your family members.
- Additionally, if you’re feeling particularly upset about not being able to see some of your family members on the holiday, take time to talk about this! Either with the other people affected, or with a friend or your spouse. It’s important that you give yourself time to process your feelings. And it’s important to remember that it is OK to be disappointed!
Is this a particularly important time to show more affection and love to both kids and parents? How can technology help?
- When we’re together in person it can be much easier to show affection. A hug, kiss, a pat on the back, these are all ways we show affection for one another that we can’t do remotely. For that reason, I think it is extra important if you aren’t seeing your family members to make sure that you express your feelings towards them. Remind them that they are important to you. Tell them why you think they’re great. And don’t forget to say “I love you.” And no, you can’t say it too much 🙂