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Why do holidays hurt?

The end of the year is such a great time to spend with the family but it can become a time of fear and anxiety. Understand how it happens.

Image: dan whale

Grieving comes in waves that seem to be bigger than us. Some of them are quite predictable and seem to be “scheduled”: on special dates, we begin to feel the “tide” something like 30 days before and the peak of anxiety reaches its climax on the specific date, it may be a birthday or even the death anniversary. And then we have the holidays: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, New Year … The same uncomfortable feeling, that pain we have already known, it all comes up again. But after all, why do holidays hurt?

Holidays may create conflict.

It is easy to see how conflicts can unfold. Family and friends want everything back to normal so that holidays can take place. You know there will never be “normal” again. They want the parties happening exactly as they were and you know that “parties like before” deny the loss and make it trivial. The pressure can be very intense “we need Christmas to happen regularly for children” or “this is what he would want”. There are several ways of saying it, but the subliminal message is always the same: it’s about time you got over your grieving and putting things back in place. But sometimes this cannot be done.

Holidays can interrupt the grieving process

Grieving is a full-time job. It takes over every moment and demands full attention. Especially in the early months. Grieving is a transition: where you are today will not be where you will be tomorrow. Every day new feelings and thoughts present themselves and they need to be processed. Grieving also demands all the energy you can gather. Thus, you probably do not have the time and energy needed for the holidays at the end of the year. Often just thinking about the preparations can already be exhausting.

Grieving means you are living on a survival mode. The only thing you can do is to survive day after day. You may sometimes feel that you are becoming a selfish person and that deep down you are just feeling sorry for yourself. But you’re not. Surviving is an internal defense of each one of us that directs all the energy we have inside to protect our sanity and well-being. When you are surviving, the holidays seem very far from everyday life, to be considered.

This means that the idea of shopping for Christmas, getting ready for Hanukkah or joining a Secret Santa requires a lot and can be exhausting.

Holidays bring demands you can’t possibly meet.

The end of the year demands a kind of focus that you cannot give – you may feel like a “zombie” during this time. The end of the year demands emotions that you cannot deliver – the depression of grieving justifies its presence not only by sad feelings but sometimes by the complete absence of feelings. You feel like a fish out of water and emotionally it feels like you’re “out of your body”. The end of the year demands a certain amount of acting that you cannot stage – you have to put a smile on your face and participate at level that is not available at that time. An hour of acting like this could amount to a long hard working day. It’s exhausting.


Allow yourself to do what you can do. And be where you need to be. Feel free to decide what you want and what you can do, without guilt. Allow yourself to change the traditions. Feel free to transform whatever is needed. Plant a tree instead of a Christmas tree. Sleep early to enjoy the morning of day 1. The rule is: if it hurts, you do not have to do it as you always did. Creating new traditions can bring another meaning to the date. Allow yourself to relate to God in another way. Any God can be large enough to withstand our anger or indignation. Rebuilding or destroying a God is also permitted. Allow yourself to meet “safety people”. Those are people who make you feel comfortable, who listen and tolerate and want to be close for a hug or a moment of silence.

A text inspired on “Thoughts For The Holidays” – a book by Doug Manning.