How to Incorporate Loved Ones into Holiday Traditions

By: Flora Richards-Gustafson

Holidays are when families get together. If you're grieving, commercials and programs showing happy families celebrating together can make this most festive season seem like one long reminder of your loss. Thankfully, by incorporating your memories of your passed on loved one in your traditions, you can honor your grief while celebrating the holiday season. Here are a few ways to incorporate lost loved ones in your holiday traditions.

Gift Giving in Their Name
A tradition that is gaining popularity is to continue to buy presents for the deceased. Instead of leaving the gifts unopened in the home, they are given to the needy in the loved one's memory.

Include a Loved One Lost in Gatherings
Many people keep a photo of the person who has died as a keepsake. Bring out this special picture during gatherings and light a candle on special days.

During holiday dinners, family and friends can take turns sharing a favorite holiday memory of the deceased. If this is uncomfortable, a moment of silence can be taken before a meal or gift giving so others can gather their thoughts and memories about the departed.

Many families set a place at the holiday table for the departed loved one. This setting can be adorned with a candle or a small flower arrangement.

If hanging stockings are a tradition in the home, do not exclude the one that belongs to the deceased. Hang that one up too, and instead of filling it with toys or treats, have people write messages or memories on pieces of paper to stuff the stocking.

Tree of Life and Lights
Many organizations and families have a tree lighting ceremonies during the holidays. Tree lightings can be a way of remembering a loved ones. Such ceremonies unite those who are experiencing similar feelings of loss. Coming together in this way can be a way of showing support to one another.

A person mourning the death of a loved one can sponsor a light on a tree, or bring an ornament to place on the tree. Once everyone has placed their special item on the tree, the tree becomes a visual tribute to those being remembered. Because they bring together mourners, tree lighting ceremonies are healing and uplifting.

A more personal tradition is to place a small fir tree next to a loved one's headstone. The tree, if it is live, can then be planted after the holiday season in a memorial garden, forest, yard, etc. A live tree can act as a long-lasting memorial that can benefit others in the future.

Make Home Decor in a Loved One's Honor
Some people make ornaments for passed on loved ones. One may add this new ornament to their own collection, give it to a person in need of a holiday ornament, or use the ornament in a tree-lighting ceremony. A family member or friend may also choose to place the ornament at the person's grave with some other items to help dress it up for the holiday season.

Do not try to pretend you are not thinking about a loved one during the holiday season. Instead, work through grief over the holidays by including a loved one's memory into both old and new traditions.

~Flora Richards-Gustafson, 2009

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Grief during the holidays is common. You are not alone. Visit the Valley of Life grief and bereavement forum to talk to others like you.

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