Well, here they are again, the holidays … but this year you may have separation and divorce hanging over your head like an ugly, dark, dreary cloud. You may be thinking, “How can I possibly celebrate the holidays after divorce when I’m sad and angry and feel like no one understands and our family traditions are gone?”

The holidays seem to sneak up on us, divorcing or not. But for most of us, our divorce anxiety is magnified tenfold. How will the holidays work after divorce, what happens now that there is only one parent at home?

We are trying to figure out how to celebrate the holidays during our separation and divorce, and everything seems to be a mess. Nothing is on solid ground. People are fighting. Families don’t know whether to get together. Everything’s more expensive, schedules are all screwed up.

How are you supposed to celebrate holidays that are supposed to bring us gratitude, belonging, peace, love and joy?

Well, let’s look at how you can celebrate the holidays when you’re working through a separation or divorce.

Return to the Basics to Celebrate the Holidays After Divorce

1. Remember what you are celebrating – especially after divorce

Our first job and the best thing we can do for ourselves and those we love is to focus on what we are truly celebrating.

Remember, the earliest Thanksgiving celebrated survival. Life itself. Even though more than half of the people who came to America on the Mayflower died that first winter they still celebrated. So let’s first celebrate surviving divorce.

Most people don’t usually understand it’s a major victory just to realize, like one RADiCAL woman said in the MDRcommunity recently,

“Good Morning! I woke up this morning got my workout clothes on, placed my earbuds on with my favorite pop music as loud as I could and went on the beach and jogged like I have not been able to in a long time. I was so angry this morning I said to myself there’s no way I am allowing one human being to ruin the rest of my life! I am still here and I am still living. It must have been something I read yesterday that just clicked.”

Someone else responded,

“I have decided that one dumb person who didn’t get me isn’t going to destroy me or define my future.”

Commit to yourself that during separation or divorce, your ex isn’t going to destroy your holidays either. You can decide to make them more beautiful and meaningful than ever!

The holidays endure through everything because they drive us to appreciate our deepest values and celebrate our most important truths. During the holidays there is something deeper than our external circumstances to remember and recognize. Holidays have been celebrated during wars, the Great Depression, and great national tragedies like the 9/11 terrorist attack. And now, we must celebrate during personal catastrophes like divorce, too.

2. After divorce, share love … even if it’s just for yourself

Use societies new tools to survive being alone during the holidays.

The holidays have become times for getting together with other people. It wasn’t too far into our past, that older generations did’t have the luxury of traveling great distances or connecting by phone or via Zoom or video chats during the holidays. People tended more to remember loved ones from afar, but to actually physically get together with people who lived close together.

More and more people now are doing friends-giving celebrations. But even when we cannot be physically together with people we love, we should always love ourselves if we are alone during holidays as often happens during separation and divorce. Be thankful for your physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual self. Pamper yourself for that one day. Cherish yourself and plan special things to show appreciation for the miracle you are. (Yes! Celebrate yourself!)

3. Be flexible with holiday schedules and traditions after divorce

During separation and divorce, there is always the challenge of how to handle the holiday schedules during and after divorce. Most of the time, it’s good to get the holiday schedule set up in your divorce and custody agreement. Trying to keep track of who had what holiday on what particular days can become a nightmare unless the schedule is clearly laid out, and followed. You would’t believe the stories I’ve heard about holiday schedules.

Remember, that the holidays are just one day or a few days. You can have just as much fun together with your family no matter when you celebrate. When you’re worried about keeping your emotions under control during the holidays, just being together and having a peaceful, fun celebration that’s important. Things will be different. Some traditions will be gone or be changed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a wonderful holiday time together with your family after divorce.

4. Be grateful and gracious during and after divorce

No matter what fall and winter holiday we are celebrating, we need to be calm and relaxed and full of peace and joy. I know that sounds impossible when our ex may be trying to mess the holidays up at every turn. But your children especially will remember the time you spent together and if it was fun and easy and joyful more than what you spent on the gifts. Or what day you actually celebrated. Also, in a survey I saw, more people want the holidays to be more simple. Now is a good time to do that.

Advice from our Members about celebrating the holidays while going through divorce

Below are a few messages from women in our MasterPlan Divorce Recovery Program & Community about surviving the holidays during divorce.

“If you’re going to be with any part of your family at any time during Thanksgiving, just pour yourself into those precious moments just with them (without your ex!). It can be magic! But then you have to plan for when they go home (or you go home) and you’re by yourself. Figure out how to make that “pinch point: a little softer. When you get home, put on your favorite music, light some candles, turn on lots of lamps, take a bubble bath… anything to take the sting out of coming home alone. And remember, this will get better. I promise.”

“ I have come to realize this (divorce experience) is a season for growth in appreciation in the blessings I have each and every day … even the dogs! I cherish and value in the most absolute way, all my blessings. That’s instrumental in the peace and acceptance I have experienced today. I intend to use the love and compassion you have all given me as an example or model to follow and hopefully give it to help others who may need it.”

“Part of healing is being honest with our feelings and expressing them to someone else. Sharing heartaches and solutions is one of the best parts of the MDRcommunity. Especially at this time of year. Our friends and family may be doing their own holiday stuff, and sometimes we feel so left out and alone. Having a place to talk about it is a help, and there is great advice like the example above. By all of us dealing with the issues of divorce and the holidays, we make them easier to deal with and lets us know we aren’t alone and won’t feel like this forever!’

Something else that helps during the holiday season after divorce is getting involved in helping someone else. There are all kinds of people … kids, women in safe houses, people in prison, or homeless people … who are suffering. Most churches have an angel tree at church that you can take a name or two off of the tree and get gifts for those people. (Or our church is currently collecting money for Thanksgiving boxes to take to people who are struggling financially.) We all know the holidays are hard after divorce, but reaching out and helping someone always makes us feel better, too.”

Here’s one more suggestion from the MDRcommunity for making the holidays better.

“If you have children or grandchildren, it’s a great way to teach them the importance of sharing what we have with others. Our church recently had a motto for the year: It was simply: “Love does.” During our divorce, we have found out what love doesn’t do, but especially now, we can be a real example of love in action after divorce. There is no better time to share love and shine our light than when we know exactly how much feeling unloved can hurt.”

Remember that the holidays are about celebrating things and events that are above and beyond what we do every day. Even though we should be practicing the meanings of the holidays every day, we can learn to appreciate them and what they mean while we are going through divorce. Holidays transcend our daily lives. Let’s remember that if we are facing the holidays during or after divorce. They can be the most meaningful celebrations ever.