Going home for the holidays can be difficult if you have unresolved tension with family members. Or, for those who are estranged from their families, the holidays can be a painful reminder of past trauma. What might seem like a standard tradition—decorating the Christmas tree or lighting the menorah, for instance—can be especially triggering.
Creating new holiday traditions can be an empowering act that allows you to take ownership of your life and how you want to spend your time. While it can be challenging to think of new traditions, you don’t have to start from scratch. Making tweaks to standard traditions can be yet another way to assert who you are and what you value, even if your traditional family wouldn’t understand. Maybe this means going for a Christmas walk instead of clearing out the liquor cabinet. Maybe swapping out tangible gifts with acts of service can be your way of celebrating.
How you choose to celebrate will vary person to person, but here are some ways to start thinking about creating your own traditions this holiday season:
Begin by managing expectations
So much of the holidays is about giving and taking. Giving gifts or receiving. Hosting a party or attending. Making food or digging in. If one person ends up doing most of the giving, they may become overwhelmed or feel unappreciated. Maybe it will bring up memories of times in the past where they catered to others yet received little in return. This holiday, be clear about the giving and taking and what your specific role will be. Knowing your assigned role will help to prevent any resentment about being the one who provided all the holiday magic without getting to enjoy any of it.
Managing expectations is also important if you choose to forego common traditions for new or tweaked traditions. If family members are expecting the same thing as last year, switching it up can be daunting. Having an open conversation about what you want to change and why can help prepare them for the unexpected.
Give the gift of gratitude
Whether you choose to give tangible gifts or not, the gift of gratitude never goes out of style. Everyone wants to feel valued, and everyone wants to feel like they belong. By explicitly expressing gratitude for each person around you, you are helping to instill a sense of belonging and togetherness. One way to turn this into a tradition or ritual is by taking turns going around the table during a family meal to express positive reflections to the people around you.
Take it easy on the alcohol
According to a research summary by VicHealth, December is one of the busiest months of the year for emergency responses to alcohol intoxication and there is a significant increase in alcohol-related incidents in the days leading up to the holidays. Even more troubling is that on the last working day before Christmas, there is a 50 percent increase in ambulance attendees for alcohol intoxication on that day alone.
Though excessive drinking during the holidays is common, it doesn’t have to be. Not only can too much alcohol result in bodily harm, but it can also exacerbate family tension and instigate arguments that may not have occurred sober. If your holiday celebrations typically revolve around alcohol, think of some substitutes for drinking that the family might enjoy as much. Maybe that means making handcrafted mocktails or homemade desserts. Maybe instead of drinking late into the evening, you start a family boardgame tradition or an evening walk to take in all the neighborhood decorations. If you do choose to drink, try to keep it from becoming the focal point of your celebration and watch how your family interactions change.
Acknowledge the love languages
In creating your own traditions, it’s important to ask yourself what you hope to get from this holiday celebration. For other people in your family, that might mean gifts. It’s important to acknowledge that every person has their own way of celebrating and there’s room for differing views among the ones you love. One way to respect each person’s way of celebrating is to consider their “love language.”
The five love languages consist of five different ways of expressing and receiving love: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Knowing the love language of your family members will help you express love in a way that matters to them.
Choose your rituals
Studies show that familiar rituals teach kids resilience by showing them how to constructively manage themselves and their environment. Whether you have children or not, choosing your own holiday rituals will provide a basis for meaningful interaction to occur with those around you. Rituals allow us to honour our cultural heritage and express what we value as a person or collectively as a family. In choosing your own rituals, think of what you’re saying through your actions. Volunteering for a cause like a toy drive or soup kitchen might express that your family values service to others. Keeping a gratitude list expresses that your family values what they have. In bringing in new holiday traditions, it’s also okay to let go of those no longer serving you and the emotional burden that may still be attached to them.
Find out more about how the Hoffman Process can help you release old patterns for a healthier future.
This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram