One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given came from someone who had been through a divorce years earlier than I. He said that what helped him in starting his life over was to make new traditions. As a single Dad he didn’t get to see his daughter as often as he would have liked and when it came to holidays this was very crushing to him. He would drive an hour to meet her and spend a weekend with her and then wait two weeks to spend another weekend with her. He had to make a life for himself during the rest of the time because work didn’t fill every hour of the day. His child was an adult by the time he gave me this advice and his encouragement to me was timely. I was approaching the first Christmas with my family and Dad wouldn’t be there. So I took the man’s advice and I started some new traditions.
The first new Christmas tradition I instituted was to ask someone to take my young son shopping for a gift for his Mommy. Since I had no family to speak of in the area I was asked by a young Mom if there was anything she could do for me and my son and I said yes, take him shopping for me. I gave her a list of things that I liked and prepped my son to be ready to go shopping with this nice lady and her children and I gave the money to the woman. It was really hard for me to see them go and know that a virtual stranger was taking my son shopping for my gift but this has become a tradition. For my son it has been a special time with various friends and he has enjoyed shopping for Mom. He usually gets a treat as well and he always likes that too.
The second tradition I have started is to decorate the weekend of Thanksgiving. With a small family the Thanksgiving celebration is lonely. I have tried to invite others to dine together but people often decline as they feel awkward in coming to a single person’s house. Filling my time with shopping isn’t really an option but decorating my home is something my son and I both enjoy doing. He always loves to have a small tree on his dresser and he has so much fun deciding which decorations to put on it. We put up a five foot tree and decide how to decorate it as well. Something I have tons of is Christmas decorations so we can use many different themes to decorate. We watch one or two or three or more versions of “The Christmas Carol” when we are finished and eat popcorn and hang together. We have fun!
The third new Christmas tradition I started was to go to church on Christmas Eve. As a family we had not really done this but I felt it was time to begin some new traditions. There is something special about being in a Christmas Eve service. The lighted candles are special, the music is special and focusing on Jesus Christ’s birth is also very special to me. As the years have gone by I think that this tradition has also become special to others in my family and it was a place to see old friends who were home from college and later home for the holidays.
Intertwined into my new Christmas traditions I have kept some old favorites. It has been from my birth that my family would gather after supper on Christmas Eve and read the story of Jesus’s birth. As a child I remember how this special time had impacted me, mostly I wanted Daddy to hurry up with the story so that we could open our presents. As a single Mom, I kept this tradition only moving it to after the church service. We take turns reading the story of the birth of Jesus now. Last year my son read it out of his children’s Bible and it was very special. Even if no one is able to come home this Christmas my son and I will keep this tradition because it is a family tradition worth keeping.
We also still open our gifts to each other on Christmas Eve. I think it is comforting to me to know that this was my family of origin for generation’s tradition. Somehow I feel connected to my past and hopeful for my future by continuing this tradition. We usually start with the youngest and we open one present at a time while taking turns to make the special family time longer. We take photos for those who can’t be there. In recent years we have used Skype with the family who are away as we open their presents and they open theirs from us. We like this tradition.
A tradition that we have also kept is Christmas morning special breakfast. We usually have fresh-baked scones with jams and jellies, sausages, eggs, and hot coffee or tea. Each plate will have a clementine placed on it as well. My youngest daughter nearly demanded that we keep this tradition going because she really liked our Christmas breakfast. I have to admit I like it too and now my son thinks that Christmas without clementines is impossible!
Our former Christmas tradition was to have a large turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob as well as all the trimmings sometime in the early afternoon, between one and two on Christmas Day. That tradition has gone by the wayside in recent years. We have fewer people who are able to come home for Christmas now than in the past. We also have to share those who come home with the in-laws and the out-laws now. In times past I felt sorry for my daughter and son-in-law as they had to eat two or three big Christmas meals on Christmas. I didn’t think it was really fair to them and it certainly wasn’t fair to me to spend all day cooking a large meal and then have them too full to enjoy much of it. In the meantime my son and I were starving as we waited all day for them to come to dinner! I have tried different things and honestly I haven’t settled on a proper tradition yet. I guess the easiest way to handle this is from year to year depending on everyone’s schedule.
There are times when I find myself feeling rather blue during the holidays. I used to feel guilty about these feelings and I would hide them behind a mask of pleasantness. I have stopped the guilt and stopped trying to make others feel guilty for ruining Christmas. Guilt is destructive and I don’t want to go down that road. Instead if I am feeling a little down I try to rest and see if that helps. I look around for someone else who is hurting and I try to cheer them in some way. There are many opportunities to show God’s love to others during the Holidays if we are seeing with our Father’s eyes. I think of that young Christian woman who saw my need and asked me if she could do anything for me and my son during Christmas that I spoke of earlier. She could have closed her eyes to me like everyone else did but she didn’t. I am thankful for her example and I try to notice those around me as well and overcome my fear of rejection and ask them if I can do something for them. I have found the best solution to depression at Christmas is to stop focusing on myself and help those who need help around me.
I hope these tips from my own life are helpful to some of you. Someone somewhere within our reach is probably starting their life over after divorce and they may need some encouragement. I know that I did. See what you can do for them because they are hurting often in silence. Oh, and one more thing the guy I told you about in the beginning told me about his own experience…his ex-wife all those years later had made a real mess of her life. He reminded me that what goes around comes around. I think I would rather have kindness come around to me than anything else. Wouldn’t you?
Until next time…Katherine