The Dreaded Holidays

   It's that time of year again! Immediately after Halloween, we began being subjected to the ads for Christmas trees, gift shopping, and so on... which is something that can bring a lot of strong yet mixed feelings. The truth is that some people don't look forward to the holiday season for a variety of reasons, and shoving these ads in our faces can sometimes do more damage than good. I, for one, subscribe to what I call a "commercial Christmas" - where it's got nothing to do with religious beliefs or family traditions, and I simply enjoy a Santa-themed holiday. This is simply because I don't have a big family to gather with for days of feasting & gift exchanges. Since I had to remove myself from my family to recover from my past trauma and eliminate my triggers, I have the complete opposite. If you can relate, you will find some comfort and suggestions here on how to create a fun holiday.. even if it's a quiet, secluded one.

   My new Christmas tradition began 8 years ago when I had my first holiday without extended family. My in-laws weren't a part of the equation; firstly, because my husband's mother went off the deep end right before our wedding and ended up removing herself from our lives, then secondly, because my husband's father was busy making his own bed after the fallout of having cheated on his wife. All we had left was gathering with my family... but since I had started waking up to how unhealthy these gatherings were - in addition to the triggering of my childhood trauma being in their presence - I abruptly pulled that opportunity away. So my husband, I, and our dog were all there was left to celebrate the holidays. We did the best we could, but it quickly occurred to me that there was an emptiness and longing from missing out on the big, extended celebration that so many of our friends had with their families every year. This feeling alone makes it hard to view all the holiday movies and advertisements that end up EVERYWHERE..

"Let it.." NO is right! This was how I felt when I was still in the process of healing.
(Still, it's a pretty fun ornament to have.. although, sadly,
this decoration met it's end thanks to Gracie's swinging tail last Christmas.)

   The reality is that this time of year is about sharing the love and connection with others... but how do you do that when you don't have the kind of family you want to share it with? It was made a little easier upon realizing that I was much happier with my new family celebrations in comparison to what once was, but societal expectations and marketing are always there to remind me of what I'm missing. Big, long tables filled with a dozen people, cheery sights of families hugging, laughing and enjoying the snow.. but the truth was that I haven't experienced that and I know that I won't - so where does that leave me? If you can relate, know that you're not the only one! But after feeling sad about it, I gave myself a kick in the butt, reframed my mindset around the holidays, and quickly created new traditions that would replace the "Christmas" that mainstream media kept throwing in my face. Keep reading to learn how!

   First, I reframed how I reacted to all the ads and movies. It wasn't a quick process, but rather something that I learned AFTER having celebrated our first Christmas with just our small family. It started with the realization that family isn't always blood... we all grow up and create our own family. Instead of dealing with the stress of picking gifts for my extended family that are bought purely just to please and ease any incoming tension, I showered my husband and our dog with gifts. Every year, we determine our budget, discuss items we each want & need, and more often than not agree on a gift to ourselves and split it across our budget. Last, but not least, we always stuffed a stocking of goodies for the dog and started a tradition of buying them a new squeaky toy every year. So when it came time to open our gifts, we treated it like most would - taking pictures and videos of the reveals... and harnessing that energy knowing that was truly the goal. Enjoying our time together in peace and happiness became the ONLY goal for the holidays.

Last Christmas came with some emotions because it was our first Christmas without Teddy
(whom we got back in 2008 - a couple months after first moving in together),
but we took time to commemorate him while shifting the focus and gifts to our newest dog, Gracie.

   Every year, I bake up a bunch of gluten free, made-from-scratch treats, we decorate our tree & house as a family in early December, and (in non-pandemic restrictive times) we organize a celebration including all of our friends. Set a few days before December 24 when everyone is available, we'll gather for a day of movies, eating a bunch of food & treats, and our gift exchanges with each other. It may not be the same, but it's one way that we can not only say we had more than one small celebration, but fill up our personal meters that is the fulfillment of having spent the holidays with others. Whenever the opportunity arose for friends & their kids to join us on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I would tackle the big dinner plan with grace & ease knowing that particular holiday would be as close to the "big family tradition" as we would get. This is how I found it easy to settle into the understanding that you can CREATE your family! And to top it all off - the simplicity of our approach to it just meant more time, money, and energy to spend on the small family unit that we are.

   But there's no doubt that the absence of children changes the holidays slightly. We all know of the joy & energy of being young and discovering the gifts under the tree.. also having that permission to stay in our pajamas, play and eat/drink a ton. A lot of it is for them! Due to my past trauma along with opinions that my husband and I collectively agreed on, we don't have - and won't have - children. Yet this time of year, once again, reminds me that societal expectations differ.. and I have to work to block that out. So what do we do? Well, we take the matter of youthful, carefree play into our own hands! We'll roll out of the bedroom in our PJs (I tend to wear something fun and holiday like; usually with penguins because they're awesome), make ourselves a holiday-themed cocktail or coffee (this is the only time of year I do this!), then open our gifts in our own time. Then once we're left wondering how to fill the rest of the day, we'll queue up our fave holiday movies and make a game out of it that ties us over until our own personal feast of a dinner. When we're completely alone on this day, we'll alternate through dinners that have nothing to do with Christmas - for example, our favourite: a Mexican feast.

It may just be the 3 of us most holidays, but we make it livelier by dressing up in ugly Christmas sweaters,
connecting with others when they're free, sharing goodies with our new neighbours,
and just having nothing but fun on Christmas Eve & Christmas Day.

   It's something that's taken some trial and error through dealing with the arising emotions involved, but it's all a process of which we further develop every year as we experience it. In the past year, we've been fortunate enough to add my grandmother-in-law to the equation (only thanks to having moved closer to her; and she kept clear of the family drama) so this is as close to a "big healthy family holiday" as we've gotten. But I'm happy regardless of how we do it as long as we do it instead of taking the day to stew in what isn't. I know it can be hard, but it's all about finding the right things for YOU to focus on and creating your own form of celebrations that don't leave you feeling completely excluded - which is the real concern behind the pain. What's even more important than how you celebrate it is taking the time & opportunity to love yourself and what matters most to you. And if you're completely alone for the holidays, shower yourself with gifts and appreciate the lack of obligation otherwise (it may seem selfish, but you're allowed to be when you need to - and note how much less stress you have as a result!). 

Be sure to follow me on Instagram to catch a week of Holiday Self-Care stories!

Ashley Tilson is an Intuitive Healer specializing in trauma & addictions recovery, and welcoming all sensitive souls with spiritual curiosities! She offers private Reiki, Reading, & Intuitive Healing sessions, Trauma Healing programs, Training programs, and workshops online using Zoom. Check out her website for more info!

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