When most people think about the holiday season, they think of positive things like quality time
with family, traditions, and good memories. They’ll say “Happy Holidays!” to friends and
strangers alike, and while the intention is usually good, they fail to realize that
November/December isn’t a happy time for everyone. To some, it’s a time of anxiety, emptiness
or hurtful memories.
Why Holidays are Different for Everyone
No matter what holiday(s) an individual celebrates, everyone has their own story and associates
with said holiday(s). Personally, I grew up celebrating Hannukah and Christmas (as well as
Thanksgiving) under a Slavic roof, so basically, I got extra presents every year. This was every
kid’s dream, and they certainly made sure I knew that growing up.
For me, it didn’t take all that many years for the excitement of multiple gifts to be worn away by
the absence of tradition and ritual. As the years went on, Christmas took over as the family
holiday of the season, but still, I felt the lack of tradition behind it. I found myself making the
magic happen on my own, taking on decorating the tree and baking holiday cookies, for
As the years went on, I found the ritual I craved in the Christmas tradition of a close friend – we
would sing hymns at a local church for the elderly community (I don’t have a religious
background), we would have dinner, and then we would take turns (youngest to oldest) opening
gifts around the tree.
My story is lucky, even compared to those who have nothing but joyful experiences with their
holidays. Others may not have had a family to celebrate with at all, or perhaps soured
relationships have led others to celebrate alone instead. There are families who use holiday
gatherings as an opportunity to bombard their “outsider” family members (“When are you going
to settle down and start a family?” or “Are you ready to put your art aside, and get a real job?”).
Maybe you’re a lone parent whose kids have left the nest, and the holidays remind you of how
alone you often feel.
The possibilities are endless but the story is the same – holidays are different for everyone.
Coping this Holiday Season
If you have or still struggle to get through the holiday season, start off this years with the
question: What makes holidays hard for me?
It might seem like an oversimplified question, but asking yourself to identify one or two things
that impact your mood during the months of November/December can serve as a great starting
point to taking back your holiday season. Here’s a list of ideas to get you started:
● Feeling alone
● Financial obligation (spending money I don’t have)
● Family relationships/tension
● Recovering from addiction, alcoholism or eating disorder
Be specific! Once you’ve named your demons, you can begin to fight them, and the earlier you
do so, the better. For every stressor that you identify, list 2-3 things that you yourself can control
to mitigate the impact.
If financial obligations are your leading stressor, your controllers can be:
● Suggesting a Pollyanna gift exchange instead of individual gift-giving
● Taking a DIY approach to Christmas gifts
Remember, the focus is on things that you can control. If your stressor is family
relationships/tension, the following are not things you can control
● Demanding different/better behavior from family members
● Requesting that a family member is uninvited
By focusing on what you can control, you are enhancing your circumstances to the best of your
ability. And a final friendly reminder – it’s ok to sit out this holiday season if that’s what you need.
Hi my name is Elaine. I’m a first generation American with a passion for the arts and for helping people. My interest in mental health started with my own journey into therapy, and grew as began working for a mental healthcare company geared toward making therapy more affordable and accessible. When I’m not working my day job, you’ll find me painting, writing, or enjoying quality time spent with my loved ones!