Should Holiday Traditions Change if Your Life has Changed?

Should Holiday Traditions Change if Your Life has Changed?

Holidays are celebrated and kept precious with traditions. In this constantly changing world, we cling to the comfort of something constant.

So, losses often hit us the hardest in times of tradition. Suddenly, the way we’ve always done this is changed forever and it’s devastating.

What do we do when our tradition is broken by a death?
Difficult decisions and thoughts swirl.

My husband died, will anyone remember to get ME a present this year?

How do I even get out of bed Christmas morning without my child? 

Mom always loved hosting New Years Eve – do we do it without her? 

Sometimes traditions just accentuate the painful loss and cease to be sources of comfort. Some traditions die with people. This is where the need for new traditions is very real and important.

I think the biggest obstacle to creating new traditions is awkwardness or fear.

It’s incredible how good we can be at NOT saying what is most on our minds. It’s the first Christmas Eve without grandpa but everyone is too afraid to say anything.

Afraid of vulnerability, afraid of causing someone else pain, afraid of not knowing exactly what to say.

There are many excuses for staying silent. But there is a deep human need to speak, hear the names, and tell the stories of our loved ones.

At our Candlelight Service of Remembrance last week I was talking with Paulette, one of our lovely Service Directors. She was telling me about her family’s Thanksgiving and how they took time before their meal to pause and cherish the memory of all the family members that had died. Some of the deaths were more peripheral or only significant to one or two people but their loss was named and their grief was counted. A profound space was made for their family.

When I asked if this was a tradition she said, “Oh yes, every year and we always have a single candle lit for everyone who has died.”

Actions and words empower, embolden, and open up the opportunity for connection. And what are traditions? Actions and words on repeat. Our traditions should connect us and promote healing and honesty and if they don’t, they ought to be adjusted.

If you are grieving this year, I would deeply encourage you to enfold an act of remembrance into your holiday traditions. 

Here are a few ideas for this new tradition:
  • Set a place at the table for your loved one as a way of still including their joyful spirit into your gathering.
  • Light a candle in honor of the person or people you are missing.
  • Create an ornament for your tree in memory of your loved one. Each year this will be a special piece you put on your tree and tell others about.
  • Before a meal, say a few words about the person you are remembering and how their life changed yours. Make it specific, “His love for me was a security and comfort I hope I can give to my children …”
  • Find one other person you know is also grieving and connect with them over your shared sorrow.

I promise you that incorporating a practice of remembering into your holiday tradition will bring you and many others profound peace.

Wishing a meaning-full holiday time 

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Molly grew up in and around funeral homes her entire life. In 2009 she began working for O'Connor Mortuary and found a bridge between her passion for writing and her interest in grief and bereavement. In 2016 she earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. She is honored to be able to write about these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.


  1. Maureen Russo says:

    Molly you are a gift and your ability with words is a treasure!!

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