Q: This is the first holiday season for my family since my father passed away. I'm dreading Christmas because I am afraid it will be so emotional, especially for my mom. What can I do to make it easier for her?
Juli: I am so sorry for you loss. Grieving someone you love during the holiday season can bring about many of the conflicting feelings you describe. Everyone around you seems to be celebrating while your heart is aching.
For both you and your mom, it is important to recognize and accept that this holiday season will be different from years past. Don't feel pressure to pretend that life goes on as usual. It is perfectly fine for your family to cry and grieve, even on Christmas morning. Instead of fighting against the grief, it may help to acknowledge it. Some families, for example, choose to set a place at the table for the family member who has died. But it is also appropriate for your family to celebrate. Some people feel as though they don't have the right to be happy or to laugh through grief. Give yourself and your mom permission to experience whatever emotions arise.
This Christmas will be more emotionally taxing than others. While maintaining family traditions can bring about feelings of normalcy and stability, it is also fine to scale back. Help your mom be realistic about what she feels up to.
Finally, Christmas provides a variety of opportunities to bless others who are in need. Consider helping a needy family or giving to a charity in your father's name to honor his memory. You may find joy even through grief as you look to ease the burden of someone less fortunate.
Q: We didn't build many Christmas traditions when I was young. Some years, in fact, my mom couldn't even be bothered to put up a tree. How can I make Christmas special and memorable for my own kids?
Jim: Author Lynne Thompson has developed an age-appropriate list filled with just the kind of ideas you're looking for. Here are a few of them:
1) In order to avoid making Christmas a "don't touch" holiday for little ones, give them fun things they can touch.
2) Mold a nativity scene from clay dough and display it in a prominent place. Tell the story of Christmas while you do this.
3) Decorate cookies and build gingerbread houses together.
1) When you receive Christmas cards from friends and family members, place them in a basket on the dinner table. Take turns drawing a card each night and then pray together for that person or family.
2) Pick out a new holiday picture book to read each Christmas Eve.
1) Assign a country to your child, and ask him or her to report on how that country celebrates Christmas. Encourage your kids to prepare a traditional dish from that country, or perform a folk dance, etc.
Lynne also recommends several activities that are suitable for all ages. For example, join with some other families and go Christmas caroling. In addition to singing around the neighborhood, consider visiting a hospital, homeless shelter or nursing home.
Finally, many families choose to celebrate Advent -- the days leading up to Christmas Day. There are fun Advent calendars on the market, some with doors that open and play songs, others that hide chocolate candies or other treats.
For the full list, as well as other Christmas ideas, visit focusonthefamily.com. Best wishes to you as you seek to build special Christmas memories with your kids this year!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.)
(Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com)