As I prepare to write my annual Christmas letter, I realize I’ve started several of our family letters with that phrase. And this year is no exception! While our world-wide communal experience with COVID certainly underlines this statement, it’s not the only “crazy” you or I may have experienced this year.
Perhaps you’ve overcome an addiction, survived a betrayal, added a new child to your home, or become empty nesters. Maybe you’re in a new house, a new apartment, a new city, or a new country. You may have lost a loved one this year, ended a relationship, or gained a new love. Hopefully, throughout it all, you’ve gained a new appreciation for the person God created you to be.
The only constant in this life is change—especially in 2020.
In light of this, it might be time to look at our holiday traditions. I don’t know about you, but my holiday situation this year is definitely looking different than years past—which can be a good thing! Shaking things up can be healthy and even fun.
Although my husband and I have been “empty nesters” for the past two years, our oldest daughter has been able to make the trek from southern Oregon to our home in northern Oregon during her school break to spend her Christmas vacations with us; while our younger daughter has been “Making Magic” for Disney World guests in Orlando, Florida. We were able to connect as family via FaceTime and open presents together—it almost felt like we were still together. My mother-in-law was also able to come over and enjoy time with our family.
This year, however, will be different. For our family, this will be the first year that I won’t be having Christmas in my home, with at least one of my kids.
Hazel graduated from her Master’s Program last spring, and now works as a mental health therapist for children and adolescents—a job that comes with a lot of responsibility and a schedule that doesn’t allow for two weeks off at Christmas. Emma continues to work at Walt Disney World and Christmas season is an especially busy time in the hospitality industry. My mother-in-law moved into a senior community last February and we aren’t sure right now whether she’ll be able to leave the community due to COVID concerns.
Here’s to our new normal!
Just like us, your old traditions may not be appropriate or possible this year. Things change and although our heart-strings may tug a little, wanting us to continue those tried-and-true traditions we’ve developed over the years, embracing change with a positive mindset can be a healthy thing.
Let’s look at ten ways to shake up your holiday season and embrace this new normal:
Write a holiday letter! Yes, we’re bringing back an oldie but a goodie. Part of the fun of this experience is getting the whole family involved. Have everyone write their own paragraph, from their perspective, about how this year has been. Even your littles can dictate their thoughts to you. What have been the successes, the concerns, the hopes, the dreams of each family member. As your family grows, these annual letters can become a diary of your years together.
Decorate! We all “need a little Christmas—right this very minute!” There’s something about twinkling lights and bringing out the ornaments you’ve collected over the years that brightens the home. Turn on the Christmas music, put some cinnamon, cloves, and orange peels to simmer on the stove or in the crockpot, and enjoy the beauty of your home.
Bake some cookies—and have a cookie decorating day with the family. You’re home anyway and what better way to enjoy time together than creating a delicious snack that’s a work of art, too!
Speaking of works of art: go to the craft store and have each child choose a porcelain ornament to paint. Over the years, you’ll have a great collection that stirs memories and warms hearts every year.
Watch movies together or maybe bring out the old family movies. Pop some popcorn, brew up some spiced cider or hot cocoa, and snuggle on the couch together.
Play board games or cards (unless you have a couple of highly competitive family members, like I do!), or maybe work on a 1,000 piece puzzle together!
Take a drive to look at the neighborhood light show. Bring along a thermos of hot chocolate and crank up the Christmas music!
Read the Nativity Story. Go to a candlelight service or find an online church service to attend. Don’t pass by the reason for the season.
Fill a need. Do you know someone who might need a little extra help this year? Maybe an anonymous gift left on their doorstep, or a bill paid for them, or a basket of holiday goodies would give hope to a person or a family who is struggling in this season.
Honor yourself: recognize possible triggers during this season and take proactive steps to address them. Reach out for support from family, friends, or a counselor who can help. Identify healthy self-care, and take time out for yourself so you can be there for others without burning out.
Whatever your holiday season looks like this year, whatever your new normal looks like, take the time to be present in all you do. Embrace the beauty you find in this season, connect with those around you, and give thanks for God’s amazing gift of his Son, Jesus. May your holiday season be blessed!
Everything was ready: the lights, the tree, the gifts; even the weather cooperated with a few inches of snow.
Quite honestly, it was magical.
On this very same night my life went from the landscape of a winter wonderland to the nightmare before Christmas.
I remember that we were unloading groceries from the car. I gathered the items from the front seat, including his phone when his screen lit up. This, for me, always felt like an invitation to take a sneak peak. So I did. My heart broke as I saw 10 missed, and dialed phone calls, to a number outside our state.
I dialed. She answered. We both sat there silently. I hung up.
That evening, instead of wrapping Christmas presents together, we sat on the floor by the Christmas tree as he began to unwrap us.
If you have been here you know the deep, heart-wrenching moment of waking up the next morning only to discover that what took place the night before was not a bad dream but your new reality––one that now sits like an anvil on your chest. And every morning thereafter, you are expected to carry this weight with you, including while having a house full of guests on Christmas morning.
So how do we do it? How do we go from the joyous task of making those perfect fork imprints on grandma’s peanut butter cookies, to the task of remembering to breathe without completely breaking down? Or in our angry moments, not acting on visions of throat punching our spouse as we pass him in the hallway?
Clearly, there are a myriad of emotions that we will need to learn to manage as we continue with life, family, and the holidays; present and future. For many of us, the holidays aren’t just a part of our trauma but the epicenter of it. The same can be said for our healing.
Despite the pictures of forced smiles, reminding us of what we would rather forget, recovering the holidays after such a painful experience is not impossible. In fact, they can become measures of growth, both within ourselves and our marriage.
I will warn you though, it is not for the faint of heart. You are going to have to fight for it. At least I had to.
If the opposite of contempt is gratefulness, then we must practice gratitude.
I had to be intentional to search and find the things to be thankful for:
- My kids: the very heart of who I was, needed me to be a mom who engaged.
- My home: despite the circumstances, I loved my little home and the protection it gave.
- My health: my body was working so hard to help me process stress.
- Space: opportunities to be alone, where I didn’t have to “be-on” for anyone.
- My God: who held and comforted me while I screamed and yelled at Him in anger.
- Simple things: my animals, nature, people laughing, going for walks.
This list seems pretty typical, but in the backdrop of what was taking place, finding a deep sense of gratitude in each of these areas was essential to balancing the internal havoc.
If self-care is essential, then we must practice identifying our needs.
- I needed my crisis to go away, but until then, I needed to pinpoint how to meet myself in this impasse:
- I dropped ALL activities that were not necessary to my survival. I was going to need every bit of energy to fight my battle.
- I told three close friends what I was going through and invited them into my pain. I needed to not be alone.
- I joined a Betrayal & Beyond group. I needed to surround myself with women who understood the depth of my trouble.
- I sought space from my spouse when I needed it: going on a walk, meeting a friend, and sleeping in a different room.
- I listened to my body and met its needs including taking an occasional nap.
If we are going to redeem the holidays, we must write a new narrative.
Yes, those photographs will remind me of the Christmas that changed everything. But if there is one thing I can count on, it’s change. And it starts with me:
- “Pictures will always bring painful memories.” Possibly yes, but if we allow it, they can also reflect God’s faithfulness to protect and provide. Even when I don’t feel God’s protection, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. He is faithful in all things and my narrative needs to align with this truth.
- “Holidays will always produce disconnection.” Not always. In fact, if we allow it, when we live in transparency we can remain deeply connected to God and others; and hopefully, our husbands someday.
- “Celebrating will never be the same.” Perhaps, but I must hold space for the possibility that my celebration can be deeper and more meaningful than it ever could have been without having gone through this.
Changing my narrative isn’t wishful thinking, but an active engagement in exploring the potential of a positive outcome. It becomes my source of measuring growth and redeeming a season that seemed unredeemable.
Listen friends, I don’t know how your story will play out. But I do know that the pain softens when we detach from the outcome and attach to Jesus and His promises.
It’s been eight years since my Christmas crisis. I can wholeheartedly say, Christmas 2020 brings an excitement and joy that I thought was gone forever. Today, I approach the holiday season with a deeper appreciation for how far I have come personally, spiritually, and relationally.
This year I will sit on the floor in front of the Christmas tree with my husband and we will wrap gifts while reflecting on the gift of our healing journey.
It’s Christmas. Redemption is here and it is ours to have.
Blessings on your healing during this holiday season.