Make Holiday Traditions Yours
My friend Bryn is a great party planner and fantastic sentimental gal. When we're doing something fun, she has a saying that dubs it "The First Annual". It could be the First Annual Snowshoe Weekend or the First Annual Groundhogs Day Brunch. What I love about the saying is allows people to create their own traditions. That's how traditions get started in the first place! The important thing to know about traditions is that they often reinforce a value and celebrate what's really important to you in life. Around Labor Day in Seattle the rain begins to settle in for a long, cold, dark, wet winter. While other parts of the country were celebrating the last few days a the pool, it was already looking like a wet fall in the Northwest. While living there, I decided to create the tradition of going to the yarn store every Labor Day weekend and start planning my winter knitting activities. It was hard for me to view Labor Day as a winter tradition at first, but that is what eventually help me accept it, and ultimately look forward to it! Now that I live in Asheville and it actually is sunny and warm on Labor Day weekend, I still go to the yarn store.
Creating your own traditions has been a theme in my fertility counseling practice in the last week as the merry season looms. Many of the women I work with have been through an infertile holiday season once (or twice) before, and are now learning to look toward it with better armor than in the past. First it takes creating meaning about holidays as an adult. Traditions are beliefs or behaviors repeated over time. They can be meaningful to a group, or an individual.
The problem with celebrating holidays as an adult struggling with infertility is we all grew up as children who had adults in our lives that were parents. We don't have a good idea of how adults without children celebrate or experience the holidays because often times we're all reinventing the wheel with each child-free adult. Let's face it, Christmas is all about buying stuff. Most of what's thrown in your face at Christmas time is creating warm fuzzy memories for children which almost always means buying them stuff. So what is Christmas if you're not doing that? You could start with imagining a child-free uncle or aunt you had in your life growing up. Did they attend every family gathering? Was there that one time that Aunt Sally couldn't make it to Thanksgiving because she was in Costa Rica? Maybe your relatives are not a good place to look for examples. Even better - you get to make this thing up for yourself, and maybe even be inspiring to your nieces and nephews some day. Since children are most likely not in the cards for the immediate holiday season, take some time to zoom out and wonder what else this time of year could be about for you and your spouse.
In order to get some clarity try this: take 5 minutes, go outside alone, preferably where you can't see any people or stuff (this might be difficult). Find a small patch of grass or leaves to stare at, or just look up into the grey cloud-covered sky. Breathe in and out a few times. Ask yourself: What really matters to me this holiday season?
Traditions can be about having certain sensory experiences you don't usually have throughout the year. Watching movies, drinking hot chocolate, making a craft for yourself or as a gift for others, going on a winter walk in your favorite summer places to see how it's changed, the list is yours to make. Another way to find inspiration is to think about what our ancestors in the northern hemisphere were likely doing during the darkest winter months. Christmas Day closely corresponds to the date of the winter solstice.
Especially during this year of limited family gatherings, there is a great opportunity to simplify and fine-tune your holiday traditions. Everyone is exhausted in their own unique ways. Consider each small action as a way to nourish your self and your spirit. You've worked hard for everything you have, even if that's not a child yet. Let the small good things nurture new beginnings next year.
Allison Ramsey is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and fertility counseling specialist seeing clients online throughout North Carolina, Washington State, and internationally. She’s a member of Resolve, The Infertility Association and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Contact her to start feeling better.