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How can we make the season joyful when the ground has shifted under our feet?
Fall and the holidays is a special season for most of us. A time of family, celebration, crisp and bracing weather, glowing lights on trees, great food, and gifts. When your children have left home, it’s only natural to wonder if any of those things will ever feel the same.
I wrote this post on the first day of fall.
Here in California, that means we’re having weather in the 80s or above. Although the calendar says it’s Fall, it will feel like summer for a few more weeks.
I wish I could be in Maine right now, where my youngest is attending college. I imagine he’s enjoying his real season and loving the change of the colors.
This season is all about transition, so it’s fitting that I’m looking at it more closely during the biggest transition of my life. All of our kids are gone and my husband and I are alone in our house.
Fall is more than just cooler weather and pumpkin displays.
It’s also when kids go back to school and everyone gets back into a school-work routine. You put away the bathing suits and paddle boards and air out the sweaters. The first chilly day has you pulling out the electric blanket and your mother’s recipe for spiced apple cider.
For those of us whose children are all returning to college campuses, it’s a bigger transition. The kids aren’t coming home in the afternoon, hungry and tracking mud in from their walk back from school. The evenings don’t involve checking math problems and editing papers.
The quiet makes the wind seem louder than it usually is and the lights you turn off behind you stay off, casting the house into shadows.
The holidays are looming ahead and you may find yourself excited that your family will be home again, yet dreading them because they will never be the same.
We have many holiday traditions in my family. We put up the tree and decorate it after Thanksgiving. The boys usually need rides to the mall in the last few days before Christmas to shop and the girls have taken over the gift wrapping. We have a Christmas Eve open house for friends and family and we make a family favorite dish to celebrate the new year.
This year, school schedules and travel plans mean only some of the kids will be home for Thanksgiving so we won’t all be there to decorate the tree. I’ll be doing the wrapping by myself because otherwise it won’t get done in time. I kind of want to cancel the open house to spend more one-on-one time with the children. And one of my sons has to leave for winter swim camp on New Year’s, so we’ll be rushing to help him repack and off to the airport instead of lolling on the couch and eating oreilletes.
The holidays need to be a reflection of the change our entire family is going through. We don’t have to discard traditions but we need to be resilient and adapt them or we will feel disappointment at what we can’t have when we should be celebrating what we do have.
One note: My family celebrates Christmas but I am sensitive to the fact that many readers celebrate Hannukah, or Kwanza, or any number of other holidays. Please forgive me for mentioning only one for the sake of writing, but I’ve tried to make this relevant to whatever the holidays mean to all of you.
10 Ways To Make The Season Joyful
1. Ask yourself what the most important thing about the holidays is for you.
Not what you think they mean for your husband and children, but what they mean to you. For me, it’s that blissful hour before our annual open house when everything that can be done is finished. It’s a signal to me that I can be a participant in the holiday instead of the general, housemaid and cook! What is that thing for you? Is it something that you can still enjoy or do you have to find a new moment to enjoy?
2. Have your children help you in cooking (and cleanup).
Have you always been the holiday cook, with your children helping only in potato peeling or with setting the table? Put your new adults to work and give them ownership of the holiday by having them prepare some of their favorites. You’ll get to spend some precious time together, pass on a tradition, and recipes, that they will enjoy with their own families someday and you get a break from being relegated to the kitchen for hours.
3. Think about adapting your holiday decorating.
If you are going to put up the tree and take it down yourself because the kids are arriving late or only for a day, you might want to think about reducing some of the decorating. If you have always gone out as a family to choose and cut down a fresh Christmas tree, maybe it’s time for a more manageable artificial tree. Exterior lights are beautiful but it may be time to dispense with them if you or your husband are not up to doing it alone. The most important thing about decorating is not the objects, it’s about what they mean to you. Please yourself with the level of decorating you do. If you’ve been doing something with and for the kids for years and it no longer pleases you, give yourself permission to stop doing it.
4. If your children are not coming home at all, plan a trip.
There are some beautiful destinations that cater to people who want to celebrate away from home. Perhaps a quiet holiday with just the two of you at home sounds like a great idea. But if it doesn’t, consider a wonderful destination holiday. Travel and Leisure magazine has a great article about The Best Places To Spend Christmas. I’m dreaming about Charleston’s Wentworth Mansion with its fireplaces and delicious food. Or the Balmoral in Edinburgh and dinner at The Witchery by the Castle. Who says you have to stay home for the holidays?
Or, make it about your parents or other elderly relatives. When was the last time that they had the opportunity to host the holidays? Pack up decorations to make it easier on them and give them the gift of coming home for the holidays.
5. Volunteer to spend the time giving to the less fortunate.
Many charities desperately need help during fall to make the holidays just a little brighter for the homeless, the poor and people in the hospital. Nursing home residents sometimes have no visitors during the season. Your time would mean so much for people who struggle most of the time but especially then.
If your own holidays leave you with time on your hands, use it to make it a brighter season for others. And if you are lucky enough to have your family with you, create a new tradition of giving together.
6. If the timing doesn’t work, reschedule the holiday.
I mean it! Why have a calendar dictate when you can be with your loved ones to celebrate? Is your son or daughter in the military unable to have leave until January? Or even November? Reschedule Christmas for that time. Roast your holiday turkey in another month and exchange gifts when you can be together, not when the date says you should. Moving your celebration by a few days or weeks will mean nothing if you can have time together as a family to come together.
7. Move the celebration to where your kids are.
It’s inevitable. The time will come when your children cannot come home for the holidays. Work obligations, a sick family member, any number of things could happen. If they can’t come to you, then go to them! Holidays aren’t really about a place. They’re about who you are with. Pack up your ugly Christmas sweater and gifts, and go make the holiday where your children are.
8. Create new traditions, especially if not all the children can come home.
If being home without your family complete makes you sad, then consider changing things up. Make reservations at a wonderful restaurant for your holiday meal, celebrate by going skiing as a family, or spending a few days away from cold weather on a warm Hawaiian beach. Make the holiday a mini-vacation with the family that has gathered together. Get online before the holiday season and see what your children want to do and what they’d like to try as a new tradition. Be adventurous! For more ideas, check out How To Create New Traditions You’ll Treasure for a Lifetime.
9. If you are a big holiday baker, don’t change your plans.
If baking is your favorite thing to do during the holidays, don’t stop because you won’t have the whole family coming for Christmas. Instead, Michelle from pennyrecipes.com will be sharing Cookies Made To Order in our Kitchen Transitions column on December 5th. Use her recipes (and your favorites) to prep and freeze your cookies, to bake later whenever you have company drop by, You can still have the marathon baking sessions you love without any delicious morsel going to waste. Because no one but you has your grandmother’s recipe for snickerdoodles!
10. Extend the season.
Instead of putting up your tree on the first day of December and taking it down right after the new year, put up your decorations on the first chilly day and take it down whenever you feel like it. If your holiday decorations bring you warmth, why not enjoy them longer? Or brew up your special eggnog recipe and enjoy it on the first chilly day of the season. Collect red and gold leaves and scatter them on your table to bring the fall indoors. Find joy in the small things that mark this time of year and enjoy them in every way, no matter what the calendar is telling you.
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