Creating Meaning During the Holiday Season

December 18, 2020

Here in Charleston holiday traditions abound. Walk downtown and you will see traditional Southern holiday charm in the form of poinsettias, garlands, and wreaths adorned with citrus on many of the houses. This, in itself, is a holiday treat to behold! Three more of my personal favorites include the Charleston holiday festival of lights on James Island, the holiday parade of boats on the Charleston harbor, and strolling through the Historic City Market for unique gifts made by local artists and craftsmen.

At Rockefeller Center in NYC, people gather for the annual lighting of the Christmas tree each year while across the country families watch the broadcast of the event along with entertainment including the infamous Carnegie Hall Rockettes.

Mystic Seaport, in Connecticut, celebrates the holidays with actors staging an interactive play that is set around Christmas Eve. One never knows who will be called up to play a part or how the audience as a whole will be brought into the holiday story line!

And in Lindsborg Kansas, the home to many residents of Swedish descent, the community hosts a traditional “St. Lucia Day” festival complete with the eldest daughter of each family wearing a white robe and crown of ivy and candles.  After a procession and song, meant to honor the martyred saint, the celebrants enjoy traditional Swedish food and mulled, hot wine.

These are just some of the holiday traditions found across the country.

Traditions are an important aspect of family life, especially during the holiday season, providing context and meaning to our lives and connecting us to our broader history. Traditions are comforting in that they provide a sense of meaning and reassurance. During the holidays our family traditions come alive in the form of baked goods, favorite songs, holiday décor, gift giving, and even expectations. Typically, traditions get passed down through generations, within the family and community. Even as we create our own families and develop our own ideas of what is meaningful, we hold on to what we cherish from the past. We pass down stories, memories, and recipes that make the holidays special in order to keep these traditions alive. Even outside of the holiday season, traditions help keep us moored and provide familiarity, especially when the world feels somewhat chaotic and unpredictable.

This holiday season in particular, with many separated from loved ones, it is an ideal time to reflect upon what traditions provide you comfort and joy and also, what new traditions can be created to add to or replace some of the old ones? Are there traditions that perhaps no longer hold meaning for you, or make you feel sad because they remind you of someone or some place that is no longer part of your life? This year many have lost jobs or businesses and holidays may be looking quite different than previous years. And for communities, such as in New York, Kansas, or Mystic Seaport, or even here in Charleston, public and larger gatherings may be curtailed or limited to a certain number of participants due to concern for transmission of the virus. Yet, these current challenges do not have to take all the joy out of our holiday cheer. Ask yourself and your loved ones: Are there new activities, recipes, and gift giving ideas to replace the expensive and trendy gifts you are used to giving and receiving? Are there perhaps traditions that can be modified and still enjoyed despite the physical distance from family and loved ones? What can we do as a neighborhood or religious community to connect and keep meaning and purpose in our holiday?  Sometimes we hold on to traditions “because, well, that’s the way we have always done it” or we feel pressured to keep up with the neighbors or please others, and yet, this challenging time can be met with some creativity and renewed purpose for many.

Take a moment to reflect on if this resonates with you. If so, consider preserving only those traditions that are truly important, and creating new traditions that are special to you and your loved ones this holiday season. With all that has happened this year, consider making some space for some self-compassion. Take time to ask yourself what you want and need, not just what does everyone else want and need.  Instead of another sweater, scarf, or Amazon gift card, consider giving the gifts of kindness, patience, and awareness, to yourself and to those you love. Consider giving the gift of joy through creating and exchanging DIY gifts such as a favorite photograph is a beautiful frame, a scrap book of adventures and favorite memories from the year, or a recording of a sentimental song or poem. Consider giving the gift that so many crave: the gift of time. Make “love coupons” to gift to busy family members that can be cashed in for spending time together, taking a drive or a hike, or family game night. Perhaps families can do some Christmas Caroling to their neighbors, or to relatives and others who they know may be alone this holiday?  Decorating the trees outside of a senior residence or a local hospital is another new tradition to spread the holiday spirit and contribute to brightening someone’s season. Or, children might create holiday cards to send to Veteran’s homes or eldercare centers.  Who knows, these traditions may end up being so significant that they carry on well beyond the holiday season.

Happiest of holidays and cheers to traditions old and new!


By Tina Kaminski, MA, MSW, LISW-CP