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16 Holiday Traditions to Start This Year If You Had a Difficult Childhood

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For folks who grew up in difficult circumstances or have less-than idyllic family situations, the holidays can often be a painful time of year. If you can relate, you’re not alone.

To deal with the complicated feelings that come along with the holidays, some people choose not to celebrate at all. And while it’s more than OK to forego celebrating, we want you to know it’s never too late to create traditions of your own if you want to!

That’s why we asked members of our Mighty mental health community who grew up in difficult circumstances to share one tradition they do now that brings them joy and peace in adulthood. We hope their suggestions give you inspiration for traditions you can start this year, as well as remind you that you’re not alone in your struggles. If you have any traditions we didn’t mention, share them with us in the comments below!

Here are the holiday traditions our community members shared with us:

1. Going to the Movies

Simple, I don’t spend the holidays with my family. I go to the movies on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. It means I don’t have to deal with them ganging up on me. I don’t have to deal with holiday traffic. I don’t have anxiety about being around them.” — Brian S.

“My daughter and I go to the movies. We spend time together before she goes to her dad’s house. Then I read the rest of the day.” — Jenny J.

2. Setting Up Holiday Decorations for Yourself

This is my first Christmas in my own home and I kept the tradition but made it my own of setting up my own Christmas tree with ornaments that are very very special to me and buying my own nativity set for under the tree. I’m learning to build a life worth living and that includes building traditions of my own with pieces of my past and pieces of my present.” — Sarah H.

3. Baking Cookies

“When I was younger I was sexually abused by my real dad and don’t remember any good memories from my childhood… Now that I have children of my own, we bake cookies and snuggle on the couch and watch Christmas movies and enjoy just being together. I try to stay away from family members that may be triggers to me because I have to protect my mental health.” — Holly M.

4. Making a Special Dinner for You and Your Furry Friends

“I make a special dinner for my cats and I, turn off all the lights, just have the tiny Christmas tree lit, and we eat together on the floor while listening to instrumental Christmas music. It gives me that sense of ‘family’ and ‘togetherness’ I’ve never had.”  — Aeden S.

5. Having a Game Night With Friends

“Since I’m not going to visit ‘my family’ anymore, I’m trying to make the best out of it by inviting friends who also can’t/don’t want to see their family and would also be alone. I’ll cook for them and we sit together, maybe we play some games and later we can go to a tavern in the city where ‘Grinchmas’ is ‘celebrated.’” — Jennifer S.

6.  Going to a Yoga Class

“I like yoga, but don’t go to classes much during the year. At Christmas and New Years time though, I have a tradition of going to a few classes because it helps me center myself and take care of myself in the midst of the hustle of the holidays. It also helps me prepare emotionally for the new year.” — Emily B.

7. Having a Craft Afternoon

“I started doing a family craft afternoon where we can laugh at what we’re doing and spend good time together.” — Heather H.

“I love hand-making ornaments or cookies with my kids. Mostly my daughter now because my son is ‘too old.’ My mom never made a single thing with me.” — Nicole F.

8. Making a Special Holiday Breakfast

Christmas morning is a breakfast we don’t have regularly. To make it special.” — Megan L.

9. Donating to a Food Bank

“This is my first Christmas just my daughter and me and I want to make it something special. We’re going to bake cookies for Santa and donate to the food bank.” — Joy T.

10. Connecting With Your Spiritual Side

“I focus on the religious/spiritual aspect of things. I tell myself that tangible gifts and humanly attention is nothing compared to God’s love. I’m going to put up birthday banners instead of a tree, sing ‘Happy Birthday’ instead of carols and bake a cake for Jesus’ birthday.” — Jennifer C.

11. Watching a Dog Show

“Last year my boyfriend was looking at what was on TV and found a dog show. We watched that, and if I remember correctly, we ate cheese and crackers and had wine! I joked that should be our new Christmas tradition. I fully expect to do that again this year!” — Lexi G.

12. Giving Yourself a Gift

“I always get myself a gift. I put it up and open it on Christmas. It’s usually something I always wanted as a kid. I was always used to never getting anything for years.” — Hayley B.

I buy myself a Christmas present. I’ve done it for the past couple of years and noticed it really helps my depression to have just one thing I really want a year.” — Angie H.

13. Spending the Day in Your PJs

My husband, kids and I open presents in onesie pajamas. It’s a tradition we created and it brings me comfort.” — Codi W.

Jammies. We got a new pair of pajamas every year for Christmas Eve from my mom. I was never allowed to leave the house often, so I practically lived in them and I always wore them until I literally couldn’t anymore. Now that I have my own family, I do it for them too. Mostly as a way for us to spend some extra time together on Christmas Eve night.” — Cheyenne W.

14. Sleeping In

“I don’t make any Christmas plans until afternoon so I can sleep in with no alarms because I was forced to get up at like 6 am as a child to celebrate all day and night which was exhausting and overwhelming.” — Chloe L.

15. Picking Up a Poinsettia

“I buy a poinsettia plant and go to my church’s Christmas eve service.” — Olivia V.

16. Going on a Tour to See Holiday Lights

“Visit Christmas lights, go on drives out to see lights with my child. Watch a lot of family Christmas stories where the family is happy and loves each other.” — Vicki V.

What holiday traditions do you keep?

GettyImages photo via Kumer

Originally published: December 20, 2019
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