“A tradition is kept alive only by something being added to it” – Henry James
One of my favorite gifts I received at Christmas as a child was my Snoopy Snow Cone Machine that I still have to this day, although it hasn’t made a snow cone in 30 years. What I remember even more than that snow cone machine, or any gift I received, were the traditions that my family had at Christmas.
I remember the colored lights, making popcorn strings to hang on the tree, the crackle of the fireplace and giggling with my younger sister as we tried to stay awake for Santa.
The morning of Christmas we emptied our stockings first, we would check out what Santa had left under the tree, eat coffee cake my mom made the night before and then we would open the rest of our gifts, each taking our turn.
Christmas changed for me in 1987 when my parents announced they were getting divorced. That was the last Christmas we were all together and all of those traditions died. The memories were still with me, but the Christmas spirit inside of me withered a little that year.
In 1995 my ex-husband started to bring Christmas back to life for me. No, he didn’t buy me a new snow cone machine or make me coffee cake, he was introducing me to some of the traditions his family had and our first Christmas together, and the feeling of joy and happiness I felt when he and I bought toys for the Toys for Tots drive for a local church.
After we moved to Colorado and were married, we began creating more traditions around the holidays including helping those less fortunate, which was something close to both of our hearts. I remember one year we bought a Christmas tree and gifts for a single mother of 5. To be able to help this family and see their gratitude was one of the best feelings in the world.
We donated to many causes over the years, but helping around the holidays became a tradition that we looked forward to. In addition to being philanthropic, we had traditions just for us. Christmas Eve we would get dressed up and head to dinner, always trying a new restaurant.
Christmas day began with me getting up before him to head on a run. Probably one of my favorite days of the year to run because it’s so peaceful outside, very few people on the roads and the cold Colorado air on my face not only woke me up but energized me. When I got back from my run I would shower and then make breakfast. We would lounge around, open a present here and there, eat too much and drag out the day enjoying each other’s company because there was no rush, nowhere to be.
After Christmas I would take down all the decorations except the tree, which would stay up through New Year’s Day. New Year’s Eve was usually spent at home together, just the two of us with the soft glow of the lights from the tree. “5-4-3-2-1, Happy New Year!” We would watch the ball drop in New York City, kiss, then proceed to shake our dogs’ paws, wishing them a Happy New Year.
New Year’s Eve last year was actually harder for me than Christmas. In 1995 I was a junior in high school and was at Drew’s parent’s house to ring in 1996, the first year I kissed a boy on New Year’s Eve and I would carry on that tradition for the next 23 years with that same boy; always getting that kiss as we rang in the New Year, even the year we both had the flu.
In my post on October 30, I talked about firsts after any loss and how hard they are to get through. As I’m entering my second Christmas and New Year’s Eve divorced, does it get easier? Yes, but it’s still hard.
I have cried this holiday season missing the traditions and the life I once had, scared of the unknown, but this year there is a tiny bit more joy. I don’t want to let my divorce ruin the joy I once felt around the holidays. No, I don’t only want to be joyful around the holidays, but it’s important for me to not dread this time of year.
How do we do it? How do we get though that pain around the holidays?
- Stop putting pressure on yourself to be happy. Forcing yourself to be happy this time of year doesn’t work. It’s going to come with time. I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t cried this holiday season, there have been a lot of tears. But I honestly think it would be odd if I wasn’t shedding even one tear anymore after 23 years with someone.
- Be around friends and family that improve your mood. Last year I was invited to a holiday party with a few people I knew but mostly strangers. Listening to them talk about their happy lives was too hard for me. None of them knew what I was going through so I can’t blame them, I just shouldn’t have chosen to put myself in a situation where I could be triggered. Seek out people who make you feel better and avoid people and situations that can contribute to your hurt.
- Get your booty moving. I have been trying to let go of some of the traditions that my ex and I had together, but one tradition that I started and I will keep is my early morning Christmas run. Many people will wait until the start of a New Year to get to the gym or to start eating a little better, but why not start today. Just go on a walk, a run, do some jumping jacks or sit ups. I’ve mentioned it before in my posts, exercise produces endorphins and reduces stress.
- Holiday cards: Just don’t, unless you find joy in it. I wanted to send a cute Christmas card of me and my two girls last year, but I wasn’t ready to send out a card with just me and my dogs. Maybe I will again someday, but maybe I won’t, or maybe I’ll send St. Patrick’s Day cards just to shake it up a bit and give people a smile another time of the year.
- Drinking those blues away, bad idea. This past week I went on a cleanse; no alcohol, super clean eating, water and a lot of hot yoga to flush out the toxins. I was at a holiday party last weekend and drank a little too much and realized how sad I was the next day and how alcohol, for me, exasperates my sadness around the holidays. I’m not saying to not enjoy a holiday cocktail, just be mindful of your emotions when you are socially lubricating.
- Take time for yourself, alone. This might be easier said than done. For me, I live alone, and I don’t have children so taking time is probably a little bit easier for me than some of you that have children. Running and exercise is my “me time”, so I try to work it into my daily routine. If you feel like you don’t have any time to take “you time”, set your alarm just 5 minutes earlier and spend that 5 minutes taking deep breaths, saying positive affirmations in your head rather than dreading all the things you are hoping to accomplish that day. Be kind to yourself.
- Traditions: There is no right or wrong way make new ones. What you do this year, doesn’t have to be what you do next year. What traditions to hang on to, what ones to let go of, you don’t have to decide this year. You might stop doing something for a while, but then bring it back. The traditions I felt I needed to let go of because I did them with my ex-husband is silly. If it’s something that I still want to do and it’s not hurting me emotionally to continue to do it, then there is no reason I must force myself to stop doing something because my ex-husband and I did it together. I have been pressuring myself to let go of the old traditions and create new traditions, which has felt fake and forced. In reality, I don’t ever have to ever create new traditions if I don’t want to. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you are deciding what to let go of and what new things you want to embrace.
The three traditions I’m not letting go this holiday season are:
- Helping someone less fortunate
- Eating yummy food
- And running
I’m headed today to give someone less fortunate a holiday surprise, then I’m going to get dressed up tonight and go to Christmas Eve dinner. Tomorrow morning I’m going to start my Christmas off with a run and next week I will be ringing in the New Year surrounded by people I don’t know in a city I’ve never been to, because…why not!
I started 2019 in Panama, my first solo trip to another country. This year I have also traveled to the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and I ran the NYC marathon. I’ve met new friends, said goodbye to old friends, lost my job, started a blog, lost my sweet Holi dog of 17 ½ years and said goodbye to my amazing Aunt that left this earth too soon.
This year has been productive, infuriating, chaotic and challenging. I have figured some things out and I have a lot more to sort through, but I honestly feel like for the first time in my life I’m starting to find myself, and I thank 2019 for the lessons it has taught me and the things I have learned.
A dear friend of mine asked me a few weeks about where I want to be in 2030. I said “Happy, rich and I want to know how to handle hard times better”. I might not be rich in 10 years, but I know I’m going to be happy (and hopefully much sooner than that).
I’m not naïve enough to think that each year isn’t going to come with its own bucket of challenges, but I feel that each year is going to teach me something about myself and prepare me for handling hard times with a little more patience and grace.
Maybe you let go of a tradition this week, maybe you add to one, or maybe you start a brand new one. Be kind to yourself these last 7 days of 2019 and try to get excited for whatever 2020 has in store. As you say goodbye to 2019, thank it for what you have gained, learned or accomplished and remember…You Got This!