The holiday season has always been a time of joy for me. My family is close, and my parents always gave me and my brothers these epic Christmases. We all have holiday traditions; some of the traditions in my family include watching our favorite holiday classics like Elf and It’s a Wonderful Life, going to see The Nutcracker, going to look at Christmas lights, and baking sugar cookies and then switching the tops on my mother’s holiday cookie jars when she’s not looking.
This is not the case for so many, though. For many, the holidays can be a time of stress. Some people feel inundated with obligations. Whether it’s a holiday work party, a family gathering, or even something that’s supposed to be festive and fun, some people get stressed simply by looking at their calendars. Others feel bombarded by the commercialism of the holidays with the pressure to buy so many presents.
The holidays can also be a time of sorrow for many. It may be the first year without a loved one at the table, the first holiday season after a divorce, or a season that brings feelings of isolation for those who live alone. Even simply turning on the news and hearing about everything happening in the world can have some people wondering why they should even bother celebrating at all. We all know those who would do anything to sleep through the holidays and come back to the world in January.
A Time of Grief
My partner and I recently drove from Georgia to Florida to visit his parents for Thanksgiving. When we got home from a long day of driving, my cat, Julian, was lying in the hallway in obvious pain. We rushed her to the emergency vet, and we ended up having to put her to sleep.
When Sean and I met in 2019, we had four cats between the two of us. Both of our boy cats passed around the same time in 2021, and by the time he moved in earlier this year, we only had Julian and Maddux. Maddux had just passed in October so we were still getting used to having just one cat, and now, we had lost Julian too.
One of the things that initially made me fall in love with Sean was how he loved cats as much as I did. The last time we had both lived in houses with no cats was essentially two decades ago. So needless to say, we were both devastated.
The Service of Remembrance
They recently had a service of remembrance at Unity North Atlanta for everyone to remember their loved ones and after, we all went outside where they unveiled all the Christmas lights they had put up on the trees, throughout the parking lot, and on the building. There were reindeer and angels made of lights, and they let people adopt the trees in dedication to their loved ones.
The tree I adopted for Julian & Frank and Charlie & Maddux
The service was beautiful. The prayer chaplains all said prayers for our lost loved ones—those who had lost spouses and parents, those who lost family due to violence or global conflicts, and those who had lost children. Mostly, though, we all sat in silence, holding the space for each other to grieve and honor our loved ones. During the prayer for people who had lost their pets, tears flowed down my face. It was a sad, beautiful release.
But as I sat there listening to the prayers and thinking about everyone who has lost someone they loved, I started to understand the urge to turn the calendar to January. In my own grief, I couldn’t think of possibly watching Elf or messing with my mother’s cookie jars.
A Spark of Joy
My therapist said something recently about the holiday season being a time for “light in the darkness” and it shifted something in me. The holiday season is the darkest time of the year, and yet, it’s all about light. Whether it’s the light of the Hannukah menorah, the Kwanza kinara, or lights on the Christmas tree, this time of year is filled with light.
And when I thought about the Christmas lights outside Unity North Atlanta after the service of remembrance, I thought about how the lights represented the Divine. Because ultimately, we know that we are all connected, we all have that inner divinity, and those we love are still with us.
Then I thought about how the holiday season is all about creating moments of joy—even in a world with so much darkness. The holidays are about gathering with those you love—whether it’s biological family, chosen family, a spiritual community, a group of close friends, or even fur babies. It’s a time to show appreciation and gratitude for the people in your life, a time to help and serve those who are in need, and a time for compassion.
I started to realize how all the stress and sadness so many feel around the holidays can be a gift. I may be feeling sorrow now about Julian, but if she hadn’t given me 17 years of joy—if I hadn’t loved her as much, would I be feeling this depth of sorrow? Or if I turn on the news and I feel despair for everything going on in the world, can I appreciate the fact that I have empathy and compassion? If I get stressed about gift giving, can I not find appreciation for the act of crocheting a blanket as a Christmas gift or taking the time to wrap a present in beautiful paper? If I get overwhelmed about commitments, can I not feel grateful that I have so many people in my life that I’m able to have those commitments?
The holiday season is not easy for everyone, and treating anyone you encounter with kindness and compassion is so important for this reason. But if you are one of those people who find this season to be a challenge, try to find a spark of joy—whether it’s lighting a candle or going to see The Nutcracker or switching the tops on your mother’s cookie jars.
The cookie jars in my parents' kitchen