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Honouring loved ones: Embracing new Christmas traditions amid grief

A resource offering solace and guidance during a time that may feel emotionally challenging. The experience of grieving amidst Christmas can be a deeply personal journey, so remember that there's no one-size-fits-all approach.
Sad older man wearing a Christmas hat
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We often associate Christmas with joy and togetherness. However, for those navigating grief, this time can evoke a range of emotions and hurdles. Developed in collaboration with Griefline counsellor Bryan Petheram, this resource delves into honouring loved ones during the Christmas season amid grief. We explore various aspects of commemorating their memory during traditional celebrations, offering compassionate insights and practical strategies for navigating this time. 

Redefining Christmas expectations 

Remind ourselves that Christmas might feel and look very different. Ease pressure to maintain old traditions as this may create additional stress. We encourage you to embrace the freedom to introduce new elements, linking back to meaningful rituals and traditions.  

Creating new rituals and traditions 

Creating personalised rituals to honour loved ones can involve choosing their favourite food, dedicating a moment to share stories or make a toast, reserving a symbolic seat at the table, playing specific music, or naming games in honour of the person. 

Acknowledging grief amid Christmas celebration 

Recognise that celebrating Christmas doesn’t diminish your grief or love for the departed. Permitting yourself to find meaning in the festivities while grieving is a way of honouring their memory. 

Navigating Christmas amid grief 

Some may find Christmas unable to be a day of celebration due to various reasons: disruptions in their social or familial connections caused by grief, the individual nature of their grief response, or the significant role Christmas held for them and the departed. Encouraging a judgement-free approach to grieving empowers individuals to navigate the holiday season according to their needs. Be compassionate towards yourself and consider what might work best for you this year.

Seeking connections and giving back 

Encouraging social connections, volunteering, or dedicating time to those in need during Christmas provides a sense of purpose and alleviates the weight of expectations tied to the day. Many discover that engaging in these activities adds meaning to their day, offering purpose and reducing the usual pressure associated with making Christmas a specific experience. While challenging, this option is chosen by some experiencing grief. 

Practicing self-care and coping strategies 

Balancing moments of joy and grief during Christmas by allowing breaks and practicing self-kindness, acknowledging the continued presence of loss while engaging in festive activities. Resting after social interactions for example can be a kind way of coping. This sits well with the idea of “dosing” or “chunking” our grief which is helpful depending on the timing of the loss and the nature of the grief response.  

Communicating needs and boundaries 

Being open with others about personal feelings and needs during Christmas helps establish boundaries and support systems necessary for coping with grief during the holiday.  

Faith, religion, and traditions 

For many, faith provides comfort and connection during Christmas. Religious traditions often hold special significance in honouring departed loved ones, such as attending church in their memory. 

Embracing alternative ways to navigate Christmas  

Choosing not to celebrate Christmas at all can be a valid and empowering choice for some individuals navigating grief. Declining invitations, opting for solitary activities like going for a walk, a swim, or staying indoors to binge-watch a favourite non-Christmassy show can serve as a form of self-care and a means of honouring personal boundaries during this emotionally challenging time. Recognising and respecting one’s need for solitude or alternative activities rather than participating in traditional festivities is a legitimate way to navigate the holiday season while grieving. 

We hope these insights bring comfort and guidance to those who find this an emotionally challenging time.  Remember, grieving during Christmas is a personal journey without a one-size-fits-all approach. Acknowledging the possibility of celebrating amidst grief can empower individuals, showcasing resilience and strength. Embrace new traditions, find moments of joy, and prioritise self-care. Your choice to celebrate Christmas while grieving demonstrates remarkable resilience. 

Free grief support every day – even Christmas Day!  

If you need some help coping, we encourage you to explore Griefline’s free telephone support services, online forums, and resources for additional assistance. Our skilled and compassionate telephone support volunteers can be reached on our toll-free helpline by calling 1300 845 745 from 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week, 365 days a year (AEDT), or you can request a callback at a time that suits you.

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