When Holiday Traditions Hurt

December 8, 2016

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 with “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 traditions could be set aside. Each of us had the ability to make 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.

When Holiday Traditions Hurt

  • Accept – It is what it is!
  • Grieve your losses; it is okay to miss the way it used to be.
  • Let go of the traditions and let things be different.
  • Look for the “joy” in what or who is before you.
  • Don’t put up all of the decorations – it makes for more to take down which keeps the holidays lingering longer.
  • Remember different doesn’t have to be bad – just different.
  • Relationship are what are most valuable

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 holiday season where traditions are hurting, I hope you will find some comfort and joy in doing things differently.


  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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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