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5 Ways to Create New Holiday Traditions After a Loss

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As we head into the holiday season, many people look forward to various beloved family traditions, like sharing meals, decorating cookies, hanging lights and singing carols. 

But, what happens when you lose an integral part of that tradition?

After a loved one passes, you may be tempted to keep things exactly as they were before. Or, you may feel like you need to change or skip a tradition altogether. Either way, it’s important to acknowledge that things will be different after his or her passing, and that’s okay.

Below, we offer suggestions on how to keep old holiday traditions alive, while creating new memories for your family to cherish for years to come.

1. Share a Meal

Food is tied to tradition and the people we love. And for the majority of us, gathering for a meal is an integral part of any holiday we celebrate with our loved ones.

As you gather this year, there may be an empty seat at the table where your lost loved one used to sit. You may notice a missing dish that your loved one was famous for. Or, perhaps it was your loved one who was in charge of planning the menu and cooking for the family.

If this is a tradition your loved one usually spearheaded, see if someone else will take the lead this year, or do so yourself. It won’t be the same, but continuing a cherished tradition with a new twist is a unique way to build on old memories. To symbolize your loved one’s presence as you gather for a meal, consider the following activities:

  • Add an extra plate at the table.
  • Light a memorial candle.
  • Offer to make his or her favorite dish.
  • Share a lyric, poem, quote or verse in his or her honor.
  • Take turns telling stories of your loved one around the table.

You may also want to consider bringing a new dish. Try out a popular recipe you think your loved one’s will enjoy. Who knows, it may become the dish your family remembers you by.

>>>Related Resource: Explore 25+ conversation-starting questions for around the table.

2. Play Music 

The relationship between music and memory is powerful. It has the ability to take us back to a different time and place.

Did your loved one enjoy seasonal music? If so, create a playlist full of your loved one’s favorite songs to play as you frost cookies or hang stockings. Or, consider attending a concert or show. This will trigger positive memories, like special traditions you once shared with them.

3. Decorate a Remembrance Tree

If your loved one enjoyed decorating during the holiday season, keep that tradition alive with a remembrance tree. Each year, buy a new ornament that reminds you of your loved one. This could be an ornament that symbolizes something about him or her, including a passion or place.

Consider buying a tree specifically for these remembrance ornaments. Then, have each person share why they chose the ornament they selected. This gives you time to reminisce over shared memories. You can create a new tradition for decorating and lighting this tree together every year.

4. Give to Charity

Did your loved one have a favorite charity or a cause they cared about passionately? If so, consider contributing to this cause in his or her honor during the holiday season.

If you don’t want to just make a monetary donation, gather your family together to serve meals or give gifts. The holidays can be stressful, especially after losing a loved one, so volunteering provides an outlet that you can escape the hustle and bustle of the season. It also makes us appreciative for the things we have in our lives, and allows us to give back to those less fortunate during the season.

>>>Related Resource: Discover various volunteer opportunities in and around Cleveland.

5. Visit Your Loved One

During the holidays, it’s common to visit with close family members and friends. If you normally saw this person in the past, make time to visit with them.

Start a tradition of visiting your loved one’s memorial, or another place where you feel close to them, like their favorite park. Place your loved one’s favorite flowers at their gravesite or where you scattered cremated remains. While there, take a moment of silence. This can be a time for healing, as you reflect on their life and legacy. Choosing a designated time and place makes it easier to uphold this tradition year after year.

Making new traditions isn’t always easy. You’re used to old traditions, which involve your loved one, but there are ways to celebrate and commemorate them with the people who matter most. 

>>Related Resource: Explore three ways to create more meaning with loved ones this holiday season.

Get the Grief Support You Need This Holiday Season

In the days, weeks and months following a loss, it’s important to remember the grieving process has no set timeline. The stages of grief are often unpredictable, and some days may feel better or worse than others. To help guide you through your grief journey, we encourage you to subscribe to our weekly grief support newsletter, A Journey Towards Healing. You’ll receive weekly emails of encouragement across an entire year of your grief experience.

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Cathy Nichols
Cathy Nichols
Considers it an honor as a Certified Celebrant to listen to life stories, and then design and conduct meaningful tributes. Cathy also trains celebrants nationally, equipping them to share those legacies in ways that comfort and enlighten. Honorably serving Busch families since 2004.

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