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A Simple Way to Navigate the Holidays with More Ease During the Most Bizarre Year Most of Us Have Ever Experienced

One of the gifts of being a child of divorce is that our family holiday traditions were shaken up early.

Since we stopped doing “what we’d always done” when I was 15, I feel like I’ve had permission for the last 22 years of my life to re-invent with every holiday season.

One year we went out for Thanksgiving dinner in ball gowns.

The year Mike and I got married we spent Christmas Eve, just the two of us, at a sweet little French restaurant across the street from our apartment, and I made a Christmas Day feast for two, paleo style. Then we went to the movies.

Some years we’re with family. Some years we’re with friends. Some years we’re with both.

As I write this we’re actually still not 100% clear what we’re doing for either Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I’m really here for the freedom of that.

Every year we do things a little differently and I love it.

Just as the seasons of our lives change, why shouldn’t our holiday traditions evolve as well?

I know a lot of people are finding this holiday season particularly challenging.

Not being able to gather in the ways we always have can certainly feel like a profound loss. 

(Though I’m well aware that for some, it’s a relief.)

No matter where in the spectrum you fall this year from grief to relief, I invite us all to take this opportunity to do something differently this holiday season.

Maybe it’s as simple as trying a new recipe.

Maybe it’s as dramatic as completely doing your own thing after 30 years of going home to your parents’ for the holidays.

We are not the same people we were a year ago, so why should we celebrate the same way?

Making space for doing something new is a sweet way to savor the season, despite our awareness of the things we wish could be that cannot. 

It feels like this year more than any other year before is inviting us to ask ourselves:

What rituals of celebration and acknowledgment am I craving this year?

What foods, people, places, and practices would fill me up this year?

In case you needed permission to not do something just because your family always has, this is it.

And of course, if you have holiday traditions you savor, rock on.

As we move toward the close of the most bizarre year many of us have ever lived through, may we be present with our own needs and allow ourselves to get them met throughout the holiday season, even if it looks really different than it’s ever looked before.

If there were ever a time to shake things up, this year is it.

What holiday traditions are you letting go of or reinventing this year? What holiday traditions are you keeping and savoring? Leave a comment and let me know!

  • Shanna says:

    I really wanted to do something new this Thanksgiving but my boyfriend wants to keep it traditional like every year and go to his parents. I feel like I don’t have a choice, so I’ve been very on edge for the past week.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      I’m sorry you felt like you don’t have a choice. I want to remind you that we ALWAYS have a choice and you made the choice to go with him to his family’s house. Whether we’re doing what we want or not, we’re always choosing.

  • Gail says:

    Kate:

    I just wanted to say how much I love this blog, and your quote, “We are not the same people we were a year ago, so why should we celebrate the same way?”

    I’m starting Thanksgiving morning hiking with a friend, and then continuing to master solo the Instant Pot, cooking my first turkey breast in it. With my family far away, I’m also embracing what Caroline Myss calls “Holy Silence.” Instead of focusing on the loneliness, I’m choosing to embrace the time alone as sacred space to just be and listen for gifts from grace. Some type of miracle or insight always arrives when I allow versus resist this special time. Bless you and yours this holiday season, Gail

  • We have endless opportunities to celebrate the bonds of love between families and friends.2020 has been an amazing opportunity to expand our celebratory repertoire. And that means dreaming up new traditions that truly serve our deepest longings for connection. Beautiful message Kate!!

  • Pam says:

    Great attitude great article,
    I worked afar from family for many years missing the traditions & making new ones with new friends & sharing w my family, with a bucket of coins for the pay phone

  • Nicole says:

    I needed this, thank you. I am separated from my child’s father and standing on the precipice of divorce (where I’ve been for a while), following a period of betrayal and continued emotional/psychological abuse. I’m emotionally detached from him, but the losses – especially as it pertains to my small child – are sometimes just too much to face and the holidays really bring that to the surface. The isolation factor is real in my scenario and then add the pandemic fears and response (which I…disagree with…leaving me feeling even more isolated) on top of that and I feel like the holiday season might swallow me whole. Perhaps I just needed to be told I have permission to be creative and possibly do it differently every year! By the way, I love the description of what you and Mike did the first Christmas you were married. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      I’m so sorry that you’re going through such a tough season, Nicole. May this darkness act as compost for fertile new beginnings where you get to craft a life of love and connection that is beyond your wildest dreams!

  • Demetra Gressley says:

    Wow. I just Love this post!
    Thank you for sharing this timely wisdom with your community 💕

  • Laura says:

    I love it! And I do the same since I moved abroad, then married an Italian and grow our family.

    As I’m Spanish and my husband Italian, every year we decide where we will go for Xmas. One year to Spain, another year to Italy and another one just us. We have three little ones, so we are busy anyway!

    So this year, it will be just us, making the most with the little ones, having Xmas dinner home style and having Zoom calls with our families abroad to celebrate digitally!

    And for traditions, went we were living in London we had Father Xmas for presents and gifts, now in North Spain, we adopted two more traditions, a log that ‘poo’ presents and small gifts (Caga Tio, don’t ask me! it’s bizarre, and not sure to carry on with this one.. ) and the Three Wise Men (Los Reyes Magos) who will bring presents to the kids on 6th of January!

    Have a good time everyone! :D

  • Stephanie says:

    I have some new ideas to try such as a ‘Christmas Spa’ with special oil blends, watch a recorded Carol Concert by the fire, and sleep one night around the tree, immersion. I’ve also chosen traditions to keep, the month of advent with a commencement weekend and a long walk through the woods, contemplate and surrender.

  • Sarah Lange says:

    My father died on Nov 7, 2019, so we’ve had to reinvent the holidays. Last Thanksgiving, we were at my cousin’s. This year, my older brother, my son and I are gathering over a Mexican feast. Friday, my son’s girlfriend will arrive and we’ll go on a family hike. Come Christmas, who knows? Love this idea of doing something different every year. Or not!

    • Kate Northrup says:

      I’m so sorry for your loss. It sounds like you’ve been doing some beautiful reinvention and really exploring the aliveness of what could be!

  • Sherold says:

    Hi Kate – this year my husband John and I decided in advance exactly what we wanted to make for Thanksgiving. I’m from the South so I’m making a Southern sweet potato pie. John decided he wanted to make a rolled turkey breast filled with herbs. It will be sweet. My son is immune compromised so he and his girlfriend are doing their own day too.

    Happy Thanksgiving holiday whatever you and your family decide to do.

  • Susie says:

    Most years we do a late Christmas brunch of croissants, chocolate cheesecake, mangoes, strawberries, cherries and champagne jelly. Then go to the movies in gold class and do a late roast lunch/early dinner. Generally just 2 or 3 of us. It is always low key and relaxing. I always feel like I’m rushing right up until Christmas day though so last year decided from then on I would take the few days off before Christmas so I’m not exhausted by the time it gets here.

  • Sarah Ratahi says:

    This holiday season will certainly be strange considering the plans we had are no longer due to travel restrictions. I love the question you’ve posed……What rituals of celebration and acknowledgement am I craving this year? It resonates so much because I’m instinctually moving towards emanating gratitude and love this year. Living in Australia our holidays are ‘done’ a little different to yours so Christmas and New Years are the big focus on this side of the hemisphere. This year I’m keeping our celebrations very small. So we can all savor and truly enjoy the final days of 2020 today. This year has been tough both mentally and physically and I really want to give everyone around my table a chance to reflect and share what we’ve learned, how we’ve grown and talk about some of the losses we’ve each experienced. No bullsh*t, no arguments or picking at one another. Just honesty, love and appreciation. Happy Holidays Kate :)

  • Thank you for reminding us that we get to do life “our way,” Kate. I hope that you had a beautiful weekend celebrating in the way that felt best for your family. Our Canadian Thanksgiving was very different last month: family phone calls & sushi, instead of a large family gathering with turkey & all the trimmings. Looking forward to seeing my amazing family sometime soon!

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