Divorce and December Holidays
Together or Alone: Making the Holidays a Joyful Experience
The December holidays most frequently celebrated in our community, Christmas and Hanukkah, can be challenging for divorced families — parents and children alike. These celebrations call to mind memories of past family gatherings, and often lead to feelings of sorrow, loneliness and despair. Let’s look at some practical ways to cope with the transition to co-parenting and alone time during the holidays. Then, let’s consider the spiritual meaning of Christmas and Hanukkah and how it may affect your holiday .
Make a Plan, Expect the Best
To increase the odds of having a successful adjustment to the holidays, consider the following:
- Make specific plans with your ex-spouse about your children, outlining which parent they will be with and when. If you are on good terms, try to arrange time together with your children for gift exchanges. Be sure you are on the same page before sharing holiday schedules with your children. Let them experience joy during special occasions despite the divorce. Choose love for them over anger and resentment toward your ex.
- Create new traditions as a new family unit. This can include where you celebrate as well as who to include in your gatherings. Finding new traditions lets you be creative and adventurous with your children,. Ask for their ideas for a new adventure! If Bing Crosby has been your Christmas music favorite, try something different like Spanish guitarist Ottmar Leibert. Buy a new menorah. Rent a family holiday movie. Get together with relatives you don’t get to see often. Travel. Cook new recipes together. Be original!
- Decorate. Even if you don’t feel festive.
- Talk with your children about the changes.. Avoid pretending that everything is “normal.” It isn’t and that’s OK. It’s an opportunity to discuss feelings and to listen to what is most important to each one of you about holidays and traditions.
- If you will be alone for the holiday itself, make plans. Whether those plans are with others or spending time alone, choose something that will be meaningful to you. Volunteer with those less fortunate than you (yes, there others who are suffering in worse ways than you), focus on time with relatives and friends, or do something alone that you LOVE to do. Make plans to celebrate with your children on another day and do it in a special, joyful way.
A Time of Spiritual Renewal
On a more personal level, be mindful of the spiritual messages of the holidays we celebrate. Interestingly the themes of illumination, hope, freedom, and miracles are present in both the Christmas and Hanukah stories. Themes that are, ironically, so helpful to healing during divorce.
- Hanukah, the Festival of Lights, honors Jewish liberation as the Maccabees fought the oppression of the Greeks who were trying to Hellenize Jewish culture. A symbol of survival and endurance. As Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson writes, “Hanukah is the triumph of freedom over oppression, of spirit over matter, of light over darkness.” Let’s consider the importance of tolerating differences with your ex-spouse, the miracle of children created together, and the hope for a fulfilling life.
- Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of the Christ child, which offers the promises of hope, forgiveness, and love from God to humankind through the gift of His son. Jesus preached atonement for sins, forgiveness, and “turning the other cheek” rather than seeking revenge as a path to peace. Let’s remember the message of goodness defeating sin, choosing to do right by God who always welcomes us, and the promise and joy of a newborn who seeks to create love and foster forgiveness.
During this holiday season, let’s use these inspirations as a guide to forgiveness, peace, and love regardless of circumstances beyond our control, making it a time to choose light over dark and love over hate.
by Deirdre Hally Shaffer, MSW, LCSW
©2017 Alpha Resource Center