Creating Your Own Holiday Traditions
We are fully in holiday time once again! Peppermint mochas, candy canes, strings of lights, trees with shiny ornaments. For so many reasons, this is one of my favorite times of year, and my favorite holiday season.
But it’s also a hard time for many people, including myself. There are traditions— a scary word to some— that we’re expected to uphold, or memories we want to forget but can’t. Although there’s so much love and magic in the air, it can also be a really tough time to get through.
Sadly, I can’t fix all of that. I could talk for hours about the problems people face this time of year, and some ways to help with them, but that would take too long. So today, let’s focus on just one thing: holiday traditions.
Nearly everyone has a collection of traditions they associate with the holidays, whether they like them or not. But sometimes, you need to change that up. Whether you have bad associations with certain traditions, bad family history, you’re far away, or you just don’t like the traditions you have, creating your own traditions can be powerful.
I’m a first-year student at college, over a thousand miles away from where my birth family lives. Many of my friends are going home for the holidays, back to their families and traditions. But I’m not— because home for me, now, is the Twin Cities. So I find myself in a new space, and as such, I’ve had to find ways to create new traditions I enjoy.
So, without further ado, let’s walk through what makes a tradition, and then some ideas for creating holiday traditions of your own.
What goes into a tradition?
Tradition is a very loose word. Basically, it is any activity that is repeated on a semi-regular basis, and often carries specific meaning or feelings with it. Anything, from making a certain drink to having a party, can be a tradition.
And there’s no denying the power of traditions. When we enjoy them, holiday traditions are important for our mental health, and help us feel better and get more out of the holidays. It’s when we’re stuck with traditions we don’t like that the problem arises.
When thinking about creating holiday traditions, there are some important things to remember: care, joy, connection, and development. Let me explain:
Care: traditions should involve an element of care, whether for yourself or others. They should make you feel better, and not be harmful.
Joy: you should enjoy your traditions!
Connection: if you want to share traditions with other people, do it! Connection is very important for mental health.
Development: traditions tend to develop over time, so don’t stress too much if you can’t come up with them all right away. They will grow and shift over the years, as you find new things you enjoy and abandon old ones.
Creating holiday traditions for yourself
Now, because traditions are such broad things, pretty much anything you want can be a tradition. This is not a comprehensive list of all possible traditions. Instead, it’s a few points to think about when creating your own. Consider it a jumping-off point to get you moving in the right direction.
Start with what you know
The easiest way to come up with holiday traditions for yourself is to start with things you know you enjoy. Think about traditions you’ve held in the past that you really enjoyed, or activities you liked that you wished would become a tradition.
These are a great starting point for your holiday celebrations. If you really like them, you can do them just like you used to. Or, you can change them up, make them fit your likes more, and maybe do them with new people.
… And drop what you don’t like
Starting with what you know also gives you the ability to think about things you haven’t liked. Remember, the important part of all this is caring for yourself.
So think about things you’ve done in the past that weren’t your favorite. Maybe a family recipe you hate, or a board game that gives you a headache. Think about all the traditions that made the holidays less fun for you.
And the best part? Once you know the things you don’t like, you can simply not do them! If you’re creating your own traditions, there’s nothing wrong with dropping the things you don’t enjoy.
What do you love?
If you’re looking for more ideas for holiday traditions, simply think about things you enjoy about the holidays. This could be activities, places, foods, drinks, or anything else.
Make a list of the things you really enjoy. For me, this would include: decorating, gingerbread houses, peppermints, holiday Starbucks drinks, hot cocoa, snowball fights, and more.
Once you have that list, think about ways you can incorporate that into your holiday celebrations. Do you like sledding? Make some time to go sledding next time you get a good snow!
As I said, this list can be long and has practically infinite possibilities. It’s up to you to find things you enjoy and turn those into traditions for yourself.
Solo or social?
One other big consideration is whether you want to celebrate by yourself or with others. And this can fluctuate, too: maybe you have some traditions you do by yourself and some you do with other people.
It’s important to find balance and not tire yourself out, but connection can also be very helpful. And creating traditions with new friends, partners, or found family can be really powerful.
If you choose to have more social traditions, think about the people you want to be around. You don’t have to include people you don’t like: this is about caring for yourself and making holiday traditions you’ll love.
What if you’re stuck with traditions you don’t like?
Sadly, creating your own holiday traditions isn’t always possible. Sometimes, you have to attend dinner with your family, go to a religious event, or partake in something else you hate.
And, frankly, that sucks. Especially if you have a rocky relationship with your family, being stuck in these traditions can be heavy and difficult to deal with. But there are a few ways you can still take care of yourself:
Distractions. When stuck in a situation you don’t want to be in, finding ways to distract yourself can help, as you won’t focus on the negative feelings as much.
Bring someone else. If you can, bring along a friend, partner, or another person you care for and trust. Having someone else with you can make everything a bit easier to deal with, and hopefully mean that there are fewer negative interactions.
Find other activities. If you can, find small things you can do, either at the time or later, that make you feel better. You might need that little boost.
Remember it will get better. I know it might not seem like it, but one day, you will be able to get out and make your own holiday traditions. Hold on to that, and keep that hope alive.
Putting it all together
Traditions are important. When we enjoy them, they provide immeasurable benefits to our lives and help us enjoy the holidays more. So it’s important to find things you like and would love to keep doing.
Think about all the things above when creating holiday traditions for yourself. And remember, it can be whatever you want! Be creative, and create traditions you will truly enjoy.
Lastly, if you’re stuck in traditions you don’t enjoy, remember that it will get better. I promise. And you can always reach out for help. Check out our resource page for numbers you can call to get help.
Do you have other ideas about holiday traditions? Questions? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know by leaving a comment below or tagging us on social media (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram).