The fire crackled away in the solid-fuel stove as the lights on the tree twinkled gently against the dark backdrop of evergreen branches and funky ornaments that chronicle our life, our travels, and our family. I snuggled on the couch deep under the quilt as my 2-month old fed at my breast. It was Christmas day in Ireland. That might sound like the most idyllic, romantic Christmas in the world. Ever. Yet what I didn't tell you was that it was one of the harshest winters Ireland had ever seen. Our pipes were frozen and our radiators had broken the night before. I was fresh off an emergency c-section, with plenty of complications following. And though it was our second Christmas in Ireland, it was our first Christmas without extended family of any kind since we had had children - our oldest would turn 6 two weeks later.
To say that holiday season was a struggle would be a bit of an understatement. And yet, it is also tucked away deep in my heart as one of my favorites. Living far from family - grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings - is hard. Whether you're 2 hours away or 2,000 miles it's just hard. And around the holidays the difficulty seems to be magnified.
I'd like to share with you now...
5 Steps for Surviving the Holidays "Alone."
1. Make your own traditions. These can be simple, they can be grandiose. Tailor them to fit your needs, your family, and your stage of life. Some of our favorites have included baking melted snowman cookies on Christmas Eve and inviting another family over to share Thanksgiving dinner - especially fun since we live overseas. Its fun to share some cultural traditions with our new friends!
2. Call, Skype or Email those you miss. Every holiday and birthday we make a point to call all the extended family just to hear their voices, share stories, and just tell them we love them. If your loved one(s) have passed on, do something in memory of their life. Light a candle, put a special flower in a vase, write a letter to them and put it under the Christmas tree. Acknowledge those who have journeyed with you and helped you get to where you are, even if you aren't physically present with them.
3. Include a "taste of home." Make that apple-celery salad your mother-in-law is so famous for. Shell out the few extra dollars to get the canned pumpkin at the weird little import shop down the street so you can have that pumpkin pie. Let your kids help in the making, and tell them about the aunt or great-grandma who passed the recipe down to you. Let the smells and tastes of your former home fill your current home with memories...and help create new ones! Use this as an opportunity to connect the generations.
4. Let your kids (and yourself) express what they are feeling. If your son is missing his grandpa so much he's crying into his sweet potato casserole, talk him through it. It can be tempting to just ignore the elephant in the room. After all, won't talking about it just bring it more to attention? Perhaps...but helping your kids talk through their sadness, disappointment or confusion can help bring you closer together. Not to mention fostering a valuable life skill!
5. Have FUN! Even if you have no water, no heat, and a colicky newborn try to enjoy the little things. Take photos of you all huddled together in front of the fire. (Or on the beach in flip flops if you find yourself in a place that feels nothing like the holidays because it's still 80 degrees outside!). Build the memories, revel in the now that you are blessed to share with your family.
How do you survive the holidays? And is there a family near you who needs a surrogate set of grandparents, aunt/uncle?