As Halloween passes and you finally finish packing away the costumes and the candy, turning the calendar to November can seem as painful as wearing a beaded thong to the gym. The holiday season becomes a catch 22 for most people who have gone through (or are going through) a divorce. You love the idea of the holidays, but your mind inevitably goes full blown Christmas Carol on you and you’re being tortured by the Ghost of Christmas Past. Only now, he’s got a buddy — The Ghost of Christmases That Will Never Be. Is there a way to make it through the holiday season with your sanity (and sobriety) in tact? Hold on, honey. I’ve got you covered.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah… they all represent one thing: tradition. Now, I’m not talking about the fruitcake that Aunt Meg sends you every year that traditionally gets tossed in the bin (sometimes when it’s still in the box it was mailed in). No, I’m talking about hanging the wreath you bought back East at that cute little fair that one time, or the plaque that boasts your family name with everyone’s first names right below it. It’s not going to look as festive if you cross out one of those names and scrawl the word LIAR right below it. Kind of takes the holiday spirit right out of it. So, don’t go tossing out those old traditions; let’s just spruce them up a bit.
The first Thanksgiving my children and I spent after my divorce was painful. I say this not because I burned the food or someone ended up in the ER. We were alone. Just the three of us, with no other family coming for the holiday. Not knowing any better, I’d tried to make their holiday favorites “just the way I used to” when their dad and I were married. But as we sat, looking at a turkey so large it threatened to collapse the table, it occurred to me that what I was holding on to was hurting all of us. We didn’t have the big Thanksgiving gathering, and me making enough food to feed a movie crew was just driving that point home. If it is just going to be you (or you and your children) for the holidays, it’s time to make new traditions.
One. Cheer things up a bit. If you lost your decorations in the divorce, or the ones you have are too painful to put up, go out and buy new ones that you absolutely love. If you can’t afford new ones, enlist the help of friends, family or (if you have them) your kids and make new ones. The most precious decorations I have are the ones my children have made over the years. Hang a flag out front, string lights in your children’s rooms (as opposed to night lights), or even do one of those obnoxious inflatable turkeys. Make a turkey centerpiece for the table (careful, I discovered that real feathers ARE flammable), or go full OG and do a recreation of the first Thanksgiving. Whatever you choose to do, make it clear that Ebenezer isn’t welcome.
Two. Start a new tradition. Instead of making that pilgrimage to the same Christmas tree farm ‘like you used to’, go and buy a live tree — one that you can plant with your children and decorate year after year. Or if the thought of a big turkey dinner makes you want to drown your sorrows in Merlot, make Thanksgiving the day when no one has to run around making a crazy meal; it’s Chinese food and a book on Chinese horoscopes for entertainment. Or you could be like my friend Miranda, who orders pizza every year and made it a tradition that they stay in their pajamas all day making popcorn strings and colorful decorations to put on the tree. Make a new tradition for your “new” family life.
Three. Rally the troops. If you literally can’t get past your “bah, humbug,” enlist the help of family and friends to keep you busy. If family is far away, or friends are all busy with family commitments (it’s common this time of year, and that doesn’t help make you any less aware of your situation) time to hit the internet for some new holiday entertainment. There is always a “Turkey Run “somewhere on Thanksgiving week, and it’s usually for charity. Even if you’re walking it (or have a stroller!) get out there in the fresh air. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony is a big deal in my town, and there’s a Christmas fair that goes along with it, so it’s a good (cheap) way to get in the spirit. Find something close to you that you can do to get out of the house that may boost your mood.
The holidays have changed for you, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be stellar once again. Put some cheer back in your holidays, start new traditions and begin to see this as a new beginning. Chins up, my darlings. You might even find a surprise under the mistletoe, so remember to bring your lipstick.
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