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Creating New Holiday Traditions

by Robert Taibbi, LCSW

If it’s the crowds and entertaining that you enjoy, who can you reach out to and invite — neighbors, coworkers, folks from your church or civic group who you’d like to get to know better? Even if some of them turn down your invitation, there are probably many who, just like you, would enjoy having company for dinner or who would love a midnight supper on Christmas Eve. Will it feel the same as family? No, probably not; new people are going to create a totally new experience. But you may be surprised, not only by how well it turns out, but also by how many new friendships you’ve started.

Maybe you’ve always enjoyed toy shopping for your kids. How about finding gifts for your local Toys for Tots program? Enjoy caroling? Talk to your neighbors about starting a caroling tradition in your neighborhood, join an up-and-running established group, or meet with friends at a local nursing home and sing for the residents. Have religious services traditionally been one of the cornerstones of your holiday season? If you’re new to an area or have not attended services for some time, start now to explore the local synagogues or churches; find one where you feel comfortable, and plan, despite the normal hesitations newness creates, to attend.

Finally, consider some type of volunteering. There’s no better antidote to feeling down and out about the holes in your own life than getting involved in the lives of others. Help out at a soup kitchen, ring the bell for the Salvation Army, serve as an usher at your community New Year celebration, or start a clothing or food drive at your work, social organization, neighborhood, or church. During the holiday season, most communities are abuzz with good causes that could use your time and talents.

Creating the new
Maybe, though, you’re ready for a more drastic change of pace. Maybe you’d like to break the mold and treat the holiday season in a completely different way.

How about taking a vacation? Go on that trip to Colorado where the skiing is great, take that hike through the New Mexico desert, or kick back and relax on the warm, sunny beaches of Florida that you’ve been dreaming about for so many years. Don’t want to travel alone? Take advantage of holiday group tours and off-season rates to visit some adventurous or exotic locale that strikes your fancy. Visit folks you haven’t seen for a long time — distant relatives, high school friends — not only to renew old relationships, but also to see new sights. Consider beginning the new year on a deeper and firmer footing by going on a spiritual retreat.

Or maybe going anywhere is the last thing you want. If you’ve always found yourself on the road over the holidays, the notion of simply staying home may seem especially attractive. Try it — you may be thrilled by the nonscheduled pace of your time, and if you find you don’t like it, you can always make plans to go out of town again next year.

However you decide to celebrate the holidays and use your time, don’t hesitate to simplify, pare down, remove the confusion and clutter so that the holiday best represents your current needs and interests.

Keeping the emotional fires burning
Shaping the holidays to fit your current needs is only part of the successful holiday equation; the other is having realistic expectations. No matter how excited you may be about taking that big trip or meeting new people, for example, don’t be surprised if you find yourself, sometime in the middle of it all, missing what you used to do or the people you used to see. Rather than pushing back or trying to ignore these normal feelings and thoughts, acknowledge and express them. By doing so you actually get over them more quickly and make emotional room for enjoying the present.

Similarly, don’t expect all your holiday planning and preparation to guarantee that it will run perfectly. Some of your guests may cancel at the last minute, for example, or the food you ordered may turn out to be terrible, or you may find that inviting all those neighbors over was too draining of your time and energy or that the trip to Florida was more hectic than you had hoped. Think of your revised holiday celebrations as a work-in-progress. Whether you’re recreating old traditions or starting new ones, you’re still plowing new psychological ground, experimenting, and hopefully discovering what does and doesn’t work for you. What doesn’t work well tells you what not to do again, and that in itself is valuable information for next year.

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