The Psych Central Report

Finding a New Meaning for the Holidays

by SeptemberMorn
December 2005

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Traditionally, Thanksgiving and Christmas have been times for families to come together and celebrate, if not the original traditions of the holidays, then family memories of days gone by that flood the mind and the heart. For some, childhood memories are filled with festivities, warmth, good food, camaraderie and love. These people look forward to more of the same year after year.

For others, their childhood memories aren’t so happy. Memories of drunkenness, abuse, arguments and fighting are remembered instead. The holidays are dreaded and are filled with anguish, depression, indecision and anxiety.

There is a well-known song, “over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go.” It used to be a given that children who had grown up and had their own families would all trek back home for some of mom’s good cooking. As families splinter and move away from their hometowns, or as children reach the age of independence and move as far away from home as they can because of unbearable dysfunction, the massive exodus back home is uncommon now.

Grandmother’s table is no longer large and full of smiling faces. Some older parents find that their nests don’t get overcrowded any more. Some will continue to insist that their children and their grandchildren still come home for the holidays all the time, refusing to understand that people change as they grow up. This insisting can cause much strife between the older generation and the younger one.

Those that have bad memories of going home are torn between still feeling like they have to “obey” the call and the fear, revulsion or simple rebelliousness. Fear of repercussions for not joining the dysfunctional family during this time is very strong--strong enough to think of braving all the unpleasantness that is bound to occur. But the call of self-preservation is equally strong.

It’s time to make a change. It’s time to find a new meaning, new traditions and new activities that make the season bearable, if not happy.

For some, it could be serving that special meal to the underprivileged. For others, it could be coming together with a group of friends. It could also mean going out of town to be unavailable to those who have hurt them in the past or something as simple as doing something totally different from everyday activities.

This is not an easy time. Change comes with difficulty, fear and uncertainty. No matter how uncomfortable or painful, the known is preferred to the unknown. So, it comes down to a difficult decision: Do we stay mired in our pain or do we take a chance, no matter how small, that change could possibly bring something good, or at least, different?

We’re all acquainted with the saying “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This first step doesn’t have to be a huge giant step. Start with very small but certain, sure steps. There’s always the possibility that it won’t be an exhilarating experience, but it will be different. The step can be taken again and again in slightly different directions until that one thing that appeals is found. Stepping outside the box, so to speak, can be taken alone or in known company, but the key is to make that decision, take that tiny step forward out of a life, old habits, “if onlies” and “what ifs” that no longer work.

Last updated: 5 Dec 2005
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Dec 2005
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