Spending Christmas alone after divorce can bring heartache that is hard to describe. The expectations about families and Christmas are often unrealistic After divorce, the whole holiday season often causes more sadness and stress than comfort and joy.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
When you are experiencing your first Christmas after divorce, from the day after Halloween until the day after New Year’s Day you feel like you’re under a cloud of challenging emotions, including loneliness, fear, sadness, anger, and worry. Gladness hardly has a chance, especially if you’re alone.
But you can change that. You must change that. Christmas is bigger than the specific situation we find ourselves in as an individual. That’s why the holidays are such important milestones. They keep us grounded in what’s really worth celebrating in spite of everything. At Christmas, we’re celebrating an event that lifts us above the hurts and struggles of our daily lives. That’s exactly when we should celebrate!
Don’t Be Resentful
When the experts advise us “not to be resentful” after divorce, that’s a worthy goal. Realistically though, it’s difficult, especially if the divorce was caused by an ongoing affair with another woman or any kind of abuse, which are personal choices our ex makes.
It’s hard not to be resentful when divorce upends every single Christmas or Hanukkah tradition your primary family has enjoyed for years. Because women are often the “keepers of the family holiday traditions,” we most acutely feel the loss of those precious traditions that make our particular family celebrations unique.
For our family, that first Christmas after divorce, instead of going as an intact family to the tree farm to pick out the tree, the kids and I went without their dad. Our family had done that together since our kids were small. It was a visceral loss for me.
I was resentful, furious and heartbroken about everything that had been lost because of his desire to be with another woman instead of with us. I had a very hard time with that. But in the end, we get to decide whether to celebrate all the good things we still have or be resentful about the things we’ve lost. As hard as it is at first, celebration is still the best choice every time!
The “Don’t Sulk” admonition is difficult around Christmas, too. I thought I had good reason to sulk! Because of my husband’s ongoing infidelity and our divorce, Christmas for all of us was going to be forever changed and complicated for everyone! Many of those traditions that were so carefully built over the years were now destroyed. I thought that was sulk-worthy.
Almost everything made me cry inside that first Christmas after divorce. The songs, fixing the cookies, buying the gifts, decorating the tree, all caused a lump in my throat and a pain in my chest. Even sending out cards seemed beside the point.
But who is hurt by our sulking? Certainly not him. We suffer! He doesn’t. So let’s figure out something to replace sulking. How about savoring? Let’s savor every beautiful and meaningful thing we can all through the holidays. That’s better for us and better for everyone we love, too.
Instead of sulking, let’s be like the people of Whoville after the Grinch “stole” Christmas, Let’s stop, take a deep breath (right now) and be thankful for every beautiful thing about the holidays and every wonderful person still in our life. Let’s drink in the real meaning of the life-changing reality of what Christmas celebrates.
Enjoy Holiday Season Activities
So, now that we’ve talked about the emotional struggles we face that first Holiday season after divorce, we have to face the fact that how Thanksgiving and Christmas turnout is totally up to us. We get to choose how the holidays will be.
We can make the holidays after divorce miserable or we can make them wonderful. Choose wonderful even if they are wonderful in a new after-divorce way! Remember too, you’re all developing resilience and strength everyday you overcome sadness with joy.
It’s okay for friends and family to know you’re still grieving this great loss. They will understand … they may be feeling that loss, too. But your kids will take their cue from you. Your family will be happy and relieved that even though this is hard, you aren’t going to be wallowing in a pit of misery and woe the whole holiday vacation.
In fact, we get to teach those powerful lessons of celebrating this amazing event no matter what!
Nothing can destroy the miracle of God coming to earth for us. We get to choose whether to feel sorry for ourselves during these first holidays after divorce, or we can figure out how to make them warm and fun and full of deep, full joy in spite of everything!
Make New Traditions
As much as I hated giving up some of our family’s pre-divorce traditions, the kids and I realized that a lot of the traditions could pretty much go forward as usual.
- The stockings – even though I gave my ex-husband back the stocking I made our first Christmas, we had to adjust to the fact that his stocking wouldn’t be hanging on our mantel any more. Even so, all of ours would be just as full and fun as ever.
- The extended family – even though his extended family would go to his apartment, and mine would come to our house, we would still have two tables-full of family and friends to help us celebrate.
- The dinner – Christmas dinner would not change at all. One of our sons would take over the turkey-carving job, and we still had enough money to have more than enough to eat.
- Exchanging presents – After divorce you have to figure out presents, your budget, and the holiday schedule. Make the best of that by realizing that Christmas is not about the stuff. Really!
- Schedules – The earlier everyone knows about the holiday schedules the better. Remember that you don’t have to celebrate on a certain day. Focus, instead on what you’re actually celebrating. Be flexible. Kids hate the conflict, so be gracious.
Just a note: Early on it made me upset that the kids are usually the ones who bear the brunt of all of the changes and complications of new holiday schedules. If parents live in different cities, sometimes it’s not possible to split up the holidays, and it becomes one year the Dad either gets all of the Thanksgiving Holiday and the Mom gets all of the Christmas Holiday (or the other way around).
Your Christmas celebration doesn’t have to be on December 25th. It can happen New Year’s Day or any other day that makes it easiest for everyone.
If you have to wait until after Christmas to celebrate together, one advantage is that so many things are on sale and the savings can be one of the benefits!
Sometimes volunteering on Thanksgiving or Christmas is difficult. It seems many homeless shelters or food service organizations are overwhelmed with volunteers during those few days.
But there are other ways to Give Yourself Away, and help others who are less fortunate.
- Get together with other women going through divorce who may also be alone during the holiday season.
- Take cookies to the elderly man or woman down the street who has no family nearby.
- Visit those in nursing homes who never have any visitors.
- Volunteer to look in on pets of a neighborhood family who is going out of town for the holidays.
- Give someone who is working on Christmas eve a huge tip.
- Volunteer to take tickets at the church Christmas play.
Other ways to share the Christmas Spirit that cost absolutely nothing from the book Try Giving Yourself Away. (First published in 1947)
- A personal letter or card
- A Good Nature
- Share your bounty (time or talent)
- Little surprises
- Pay attention – notice & mention a new haircut or a good deed
- Compliment someone for something special about them
- Be a good listener
Think of your own ways to “Give Yourself Away” at no cost at all!
Remember that all through this Christmas chaos, you’re teaching the lessons of flexibility, resilience and good humor…very, very important lessons for all of us.
Sometimes if you are going to be alone for several days during the Christmas Holidays after divorce, you might plan a trip for yourself. Or, maybe you and your children can take a trip to another city and totally change how you do the holidays. Be good natured about the changes.
Change things up completely. Choose a nearby city or town and make reservations in an AirBNB or in a regular hotel if that sounds better. Pile in one room if necessary! A change of scenery can be good for all of us especially if we’re trying to figure out what Christmas traditions to keep after divorce and which to let go.
Sometimes, if you are going to be alone on Christmas Day, figure out some way to indulge yourself. You may have to do that on a different day because most places aren’t open on Christmas. Have a Special Spa Day at your own home when everyone else is with their dad.
Or maybe you can treat yourself that first Christmas after divorce with something you wouldn’t ordinarily buy….something huge like a Peloton bike. Or something simple that you have wanted for a long time. Get started on a hobby you have wanted to start, but never had the time to do. Do exactly what you want to do all day long.
Value yourself enough to do something spectacular for YOU! You deserve it!
Often we have to adjust our Christmas schedules. And if any of your kids are married, they have to tend to their own in-laws, too. So sometimes, the exact date for our Christmas Holiday after divorce is days or weeks from the actual date. Have a Christmas in July party! Make it just like Christmas except do it on a day in July.
The most important thing after divorce is to realize that your life has changed. Don’t try to make everything just like it’s always been. Change is inevitable and the more we gripe and complain about that, the less time we have to enjoy what is really important…The true meaning of the holidays and our deep unshakable love for each other.
Remember that your kids will take their cues from you. If you are relaxed and happy and grateful, they will be too. That may be the greatest gift you can give especially that first Christmas after divorce.
For more information about moving on after your Midlife Divorce, our MasterPlan might be the most important gift you give yourself all year! A perfect gift for yourself and those you love.