When Holiday Traditions Hurt to the Core

December 19, 2017

Maybe you are a little bit like me, and planning for the holidays and creating lasting traditions is just who you are. Do you love the sweet rituals that the holidays bring but what happens when you find yourself in a place where the holiday traditions hurt?

Maybe circumstances have made the traditions impossible, or someone is missing from the celebrations.

Traditions once loved can now feel unbearable to carry on.

Back in 2008, my heart ached at every step of the holiday preparations. Christmas was different that year, and I hated it. My child had been sent away from home to a place where she could get the help she needed. I thought due to her absence –

Christmas should be skipped.

However, her absence didn’t stop the holidays from coming.

They had arrived! I had to figure out how to move through them, not just for me but everyone involved. At first, I muddled through the motions of doing what we had always done; I vacillated from pretending all was okay to deep sorrow of how things used to be.

I found myself angry at “me” for creating so many special memories and traditions. If only I had done less, we would have less that would be different.

We pondered how we could find joy in Christmas at all. The pain was immense, and traditions with one child missing didn’t seem right.

The thought of a child of ours alone on Christmas Day was too much to bear so my husband, and I chose to take the family to her. Somehow we would forego our traditions and celebrate Christmas in a hotel room far away from home.

Then the confusion from two of my children tore at my heart,

“What do you mean we won’t be celebrating Christmas at home?”

I felt the weight of trying to make Christmas good for everyone and yet feeling as though I was coming up short everywhere I turned.

It was an unexpected Christmas. One we had never anticipated nor knew how to navigate.

We packed up our suitcases, gifts and all to celebrate Christmas in a hotel room close to where our daughter would be staying. With no clear plan or directions, I clung tight to the hand of God as he guided us on. I trusted that he would bring beauty out of pain.

My tears were many as I hung on to what used to be. Then a friend of mine gave me a golden tip. She said,

“Let go of the traditions and let things be different.”

“Embrace what you have – not what you once had.” 

So I did. We tried new things like snowmobiling together minus one on Christmas Eve; we ate a delicious dinner out instead of spending hours on our typical home cooked extravaganza. The elaborate decorations were set aside, and we settled for an inexpensive silver table tree, nothing like our beautiful decorated tree at home.

After a full Christmas Eve of doing things, differently, we arrived at our hotel for the night. We still were not sure that our missing family member would be able to spend any time with us in our hotel room the next day. I kept praying; “Please let her be allowed a few hours to share with us on Christmas Day.”

Not only was my prayer answered but I got to see what an amazing family I have. I saw qualities in each member of my family that I had never seen before. I recognized that each of us could rise to the occasion and make the most of the circumstances we had never expected.  

Sure, we missed doing the traditions we had built, but we understood what was most important. We knew that being together as a family was paramount and everything else could be set aside. Each of us made new memories even in the midst of painful circumstances.

Over the years I have gathered a few tips that might help you when you find the holiday traditions are hurting.


Each year as I unpack my holiday decorations I come across that silly little silver Christmas tree. It reminds me at first of how our season started when our holiday’s traditions hurt to the core. I save it as a reminder that I have a family that is strong, a God that is Good, and love that can’t be extinguished no matter what the circumstances are.

So, if this is your season where holiday traditions hurt,  I hope you will find some comfort and joy in doing things differently. Please do share any tips you might have.

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  1. Reply

    Aimee Imbeau

    Maree Dee, I love your transparency in your posts. Our family has also had to create ‘new traditions’ or way of doing things due to mental illness in the extended family. I always stiffen up a bit when someone asks if we are spending time with family for Christmas. But I have come to enjoy how we spend our Christmas now.

    Thanks for linking up with Grace and Truth, Maree Dee. I always enjoy reading your posts and this one is no exception. I have chosen it as my feature this week.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Wow, I am thrilled to be chosen for your featured post for the week. After a day of writer’s procrastination, it is just the boost I needed. I am so glad you have found a place where you enjoy how you spend your Christmas.I can’t say I am ever entirely at peace. However, due to circumstances beyond my control, we had a quiet one, and it was pretty sweet. I hardly did any entertaining. I missed having people over yet; I also enjoyed the time just to take it all in. Thank you for your comment and featuring me. Happy New Year! Maree

  2. Reply

    Deb Wolf

    Oh, Maree, your post again brought up so many memories. We went to our daughter for Thanksgiving one year – she was able to come home for Christmas. We brought her home for what we hoped would be better days in late January but she left us later that spring and by her choice hasn’t been home since. Wow, it hurts! So thankful for all the healing God has done in my life and pray … oh, how I pray! Thanks Maree for sharing your story. Blessings!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      I am so sorry for your pain. I know even with healing it still has a bit of a sting. I too am praying for you. Don’t ever give up. I have seen miracles happen and I am still praying for a few over here. In the meantime, I have thankful for the small ones I do get to experience.
      Blessings, Maree

  3. Reply

    Donna Reidland

    It’s challenging to have things so different from what we plan or expect. But what a testimony you had in the midst of it. Hoping this Christmas is a special blessing to you and your family.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Donna – Thank you! Merry Christmas to you. I hope you have a wonderful celebration. Blessings, Maree

  4. Reply

    Liz Giertz

    Maree, this is beyond beautiful. Christmas is about what we do, it’s really about what was done for us. Some of our sweetest celebrations have also been the simplest. Praying every Christmas blessing for you and your family this year!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Liz, I love hearing some of your sweetest celebrations were simple. I struggle a bit settling into doing things simple, yet those are my most cherished memories. May you have a wonderful Christmas celebration with those you love, Blessings, Maree

  5. Reply

    Sarah Geringer

    Maree, your honesty is beautiful. I pray God will bless you and your family with a peaceful Christmas this year.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Sarah, Thank you for your beautiful prayer. Peace would be wonderful! I too will be praying the same for you and your family. Blessings, Maree

  6. Reply

    Michele Morin

    Such a tender topic, and you’ve handled it with such grace — both in your writing and in your living. Thank you for opening up about this deep hurt and sharing how you navigated the sense of loss and the conflicting priorities and emotions.
    This will be helpful for families who are undergoing transition for all kinds of reasons.
    Blessings to you and Merry Christmas.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Michele, What a compliment you gave me, thank you, it means the world especially as we head into the last few days of Christmas. Merry Christmas to You! I hope it is a fantastic one for you and your family. Blessings, Maree

  7. Reply


    Maree, what a beautiful post. And testimony. Thank you for sharing this. We’ve had some years where everything seemed turned upside down and unfamiliar too, and the Lord was so faithful. Always. Always a faithful God, is He. He is the gift of Christmas, then and now. — Merry, merry CHRISTmas to you and yours, friend. xoxo

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Brenda – Thank you for sharing how God is always faithful. What a good thing to remember and keep at the front of our minds. Merry Christmas to you too. Maree

  8. Reply

    Jennifer Love

    Maree, This is a great list of advice and beautiful reminders. I am facing this a bit this year as we help our grandparents move to a new home the week of Christmas! But my kids will have to help out, clean and work together which may pay off more than time spent on extra Christmas movies. 😉

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Jennifer, Wow, significant changes for your grandparents right before Christmas. Praying the move goes well. I would love to hear how it goes with your kids helping out. I know for me sometimes helping another at Christmas makes my heart soar. I would love to hear how it is for your kids. Merry Christmas! Maree

  9. Reply


    Maree, this is so good. I’m sharing.

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      I am so glad you like it. Thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas! Maree

  10. Reply


    Such good things you teach us from your experience. Sometimes our traditions that no longer enrich us need to be left behind to embrace what we have now and where God intends to lead us. thanks!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      I love what you said,”Sometimes our traditions that no longer enrich us need to be left behind.” I am going to ponder that today. Merry Christmas! Thank you for stopping by. Maree

  11. Reply

    Laura Longville

    This is an honest, redeeming experience you’ve shared with us. Thank you! The Holiday’s in my mind are full of expectations that rarely get met. I appreciate the concept of embracing what is. Thanks for the encouragement and I am sharing on my social media sites as people need this!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Laura, Thank you for sharing. Yes, we all need a little encouragement when it comes to expectations. I certainly do. I am trying so hard to have little expectations this Christmas. It’s been a hard year we just need to let things be. Merry Christmas to You, Maree

  12. Reply

    Dolly Lee

    Thanks for sharing the wisdom you’ve gleaned through a difficult season in your life. I appreciate your honesty and how you point to how God provided for you and your family. Advent blessings to you 🙂

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Dolly -Advent blessing to you too. Thank you for your encouraging words. God is good. Maree

  13. Reply

    Alex J

    Thank you for this post. Holidays can be very hard for people who experience grief around these times or even for lonely people.

    It is so nice to see how god helps people get through the toughest situations.

    Alex – http://www.fixmybrokenmind.com

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Alex, Thank you for stopping and by to read and comment. It is funny how Holidays seem to be so difficult. I found myself near tears today over a tradition that I wished I had but never started. Then I had to laugh because it was about making Gingerbread houses and I don’t even like to make them.

  14. Reply


    This is so well written and so meaningful. I hope that you will look into possibly putting all of these messages together in a book so that it can be shared with even more people. Thank you for your heartfelt words and for allowing God to use your pain to help others!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      Phyllis – Thank you for your encouraging comment on putting these together in a book. I would like to do that one day. From the beginning of this journey, God whispered in my ear I will not waste this pain. Of course, I had no idea what he meant. If my words can help even one person, I am willing. I am so grateful for the many people ahead of me that used their pain to help me in many ways. I am grateful you do the same. Maree

  15. Reply


    Thanks, Maree! Your post was particularly meaningful since our family has also celebrated a Christmas or two in many different and non-traditional ways, like you have described. However, since we only have one child, we only had to be concerned with pleasing her, yet more difficult in other ways since she has always been extremely difficult to please, no matter how hard we tried! This year, however, is also different since my husband and I are traveling to our loved one and her family for Christmas. We didn’t decorate our own home since we’ll be in their home and there won’t be many decorations since they are a young family without much money for things like that. So, while it will be different, it will still be filled with joy since we’ll be with our loved one, her husband and our precious grandson…and awaiting the arrival of another grandson due on Epiphany!

    1. Reply

      Maree Dee

      That is so exciting to be welcoming a new grandson into your family. What a gift! That sounds like a great different Christmas. Please let me know when he arrives. I will be praying for all to go well. Blessings – Maree

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