• Heather Young

Preparing your family for a different holiday season

Updated: Dec 3, 2020


One thing I know for sure is that the 2020 holiday season is going to be very different for everyone. I think we're all feeling some grief and loss over the annual events that mark the season. Here we are in the first week of December and I am still struggling to come to terms with the fact that the way we celebrate this year is going to be different. Only you can decide what’s best (and safest) to celebrate with your family, but here are six things to consider when preparing your family for the holidays.


1. Give time to adjust and process


With the numbers changing daily and new protocols being released almost weekly, it’s easy to fall into the idea “we’ll see how it goes” and put off making a decision about how to celebrate. Secretly, I think we’re all hoping for a Christmas miracle and we’ll all be able to gather as we usually do. This procrastination is just a way to delay experiencing the feelings of loss once we acknowledge it’s not going to be the same.


The best course of action is to make plans as early as possible to allow plenty of time to adjust to the changes. Be as clear with yourself and your children about the decisions we have regarding visiting family. Once we actually make a decision about how to best celebrate, it allows time to process our grief. Children feel more relaxed when they know what’s coming. We can all put our minds at ease and reduce the stress that comes with uncertainty.


Once the holiday arrives, we can then be more present to enjoy the festivities rather than lamenting it’s not the same. And the sooner we make plans, the sooner we can begin building the best part of the holidays – anticipation!


2. Embrace the things that won’t change


Although much will be different when celebrating this year, there are things that will remain the same. Focus on highlighting those family traditions that won’t change. Predictability creates stability, especially for our children. Emphasize those annual rituals and traditions that won’t be affected such as opening advent calendars, sending holiday cards, playing outside in the snow and the putting up any decorations you usually do at this time of year.


3. Create new traditions


The pandemic has disrupted our routine, but also brought the chance to get creative about other ways of doing things. For example, our family is watching holiday movies on our newly created Friday pizza and movie night. Brainstorm how you can celebrate this holiday with your family in a unique way. Maybe schedule Zoom game nights with friends, create fun holiday videos to send to loved ones, learn a new game to play as a family, or maybe even start a household puzzle. These new traditions can help create some excitement and anticipation even when we can’t honour the typical traditions this year. Cultivating a sense of play and novelty is something that's really valuable in maintaining our sense of well-being


4. Communication is key


If you decide to see family over the holiday, discuss rules early about how to gather safely. Navigating differing opinions about what is “safe” can be dicey, so aim to lay your cards on the table so everything is clear. Discussing and agreeing upon the rules can reduce the stress of upsetting someone or dealing with your child’s disappointment in the moment. If you intend to wear masks, refrain from hugs or have an outdoor only visit, make sure that this is explicitly stated early so that everybody is on the same page.


Also, don’t just discuss what you can’t do, but discuss what you CAN do. Air hugs, blowing kisses and wearing masks when you can’t social distance helps kids feel more settled when there seems to be a lot of “don’ts”.


5. Brainstorm as a family


Create opportunities for your children to allow their voice to be heard when making plans. Depending on the age of your children, consider hosting a family meeting to discuss the fact that this season is going to be different and ask their opinion about how to celebrate. They may have some great ideas and strong feelings around family visits and new traditions. It provides a chance for them to express their feelings as well as exercise their creativity. They can have a sense of purpose thinking about what skills, talents and interests they bring to the table to make this year extra special.


6. Allow space for ALL feelings


I feel like curiosity is going to be a big part of the season this year. Holidays during a Pandemic is something we’ve never experienced before. The holidays are an emotional time of year at the best of times, and so this year adds a giant level of complexity. There will be plenty of moments of joy, but the sadness, grief, frustration and disappointment are surely going to surface along with any other feelings that typically arise every other year.


Allow space for your feelings around the holidays and take the time you need to process them. Go slowly as you notice what may be coming up for you. Remind yourself of your internal supports and self-care strategies you have already established to cope with difficult feelings. Reach out to your mental health care provider for extra support if needed. Be kind and gentle with yourself. This is hard! Remember, you are not alone in your experience.


Notice how your child may be processing feelings at this time of year. If your child is withdrawing or acting out, instead of leaping to conclusions, get really curious about what's happening for them. They may be responding to something you didn't expect and it may show up in a way you didn’t recognize. Even though it’s a different holiday season, they may not be as disappointed as you expect them to be. Allow for all of these feelings as they unfold and give permission to express them in a way that's respectful of everyone in the home.


Whatever you decide as a family, however you choose to celebrate, remember that we're in this together. Although this might be hard, we can do it because we're not alone. Everyone is in the same boat and we are all experiencing this new holiday season together.