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Common Humanity
with Dana Belletiere, LICSW, MSED

Traditional Holidays Not Your Thing? Here’s a Few Ways To Make Them Your Own.

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I’ve never been a big fan of being told what to do or how to do it, and the holidays are no exception. There is a general societal expectation of holiday participation in a very specific way, and that seems to stand no matter how financially challenged or far away or introverted one might be. Gifts are the norm, travel is commonplace, and socialization (HOURS of socialization) is scheduled for days on end. To those that enjoy the holidays as they are, I tip my hat to you and wish you a fun and wonderful season. To all the rest of us, I offer a few out-of-the-box ideas to help us get all the way through to January 2nd (because, let’s face it, New Year’s counts in all the holiday-ness, too).

Make it a spend-free holiday.

So much of the stress that surrounds the holidays originates from the expectation of gifts and spending. People routinely go into credit card debt around the holidays to meet this expectation, and that’s good for no one. (Except the retailers. And the credit card companies).

Deciding as a family or friend group to make it a spend-free holiday is a great way to alleviate all the added financial stress and focus on the meaning of holidays in the first place: connectedness with loved ones. Maybe handmade gifts or cards are the new plan. Or nothing at all but the pleasure of one’s company.

Get together, but not on the traditional date.

Holiday travel is nutty. It’s snowing and icy in much of the country, the roads are clogged with cars, and planes are full and tickets cost a billion dollars. Why are we insisting that we all travel and be together on THIS ONE DAY?

I propose getting together on a date and time of your own choosing. A family vacation complete with dinner and gifts in the middle of July? Great. A weekend get-together at the beginning of December? Awesome. The date of the connecting is completely arbitrary – it’s the connecting that’s the important part.

Refuse to make it a Whole Big Thing. 

The perfect table setting complete with name cards, gifts neatly stacked under the pristinely decorated tree, and a five-course meal sounds fantastic, and I’m sure there are many who pull this off without a hitch (my mother-in-law is a master at this kind of thing, and loves it). But for many of us, that’s a LOT of unnecessary pressure. If you fall into the lots-of-pressure, I encourage you to do one of two (or both!) things:

  • Ask for lots of help, and accept the help that’s offered. Do a potluck, or a wine sampling and decorating party, or make a list and dole out almost everything that needs to be done.
  • Scrap the perfect idea in your head, and shoot for perfectly OK. Have lopsided presents, and lumpy mashed potatoes. Run out of drinks, and let your kitchen be a mess while you sit down to eat. Go for B minus work, and pat yourself on the back for   just showing up.

Create your own tradition.

I recently heard about an Icelandic holiday called Jolabokaflod. Apparently, on this glorious holiday, loved ones gift one another a book and some form of chocolate, and spend the evening reading and eating the chocolate together. It sounds utterly simple and peaceful, and is clearly composed of the very best things life has to offer.

If Christmas looked like Jolabokaflod, I’d be ALL IN.

What if we took it upon ourselves to tweak the holiday traditions to look a little more like something that’s lovely and festive to us as individuals? I read on Facebook that a friend does a make-your-own-pizza every Thanksgiving, because to her, that beats turkey any day. Brilliant.

Let’s allow ourselves the space to exhale, to get creative, and to choose our own holiday adventures. How do you want to make the holidays your own?

Traditional Holidays Not Your Thing? Here’s a Few Ways To Make Them Your Own.

Dana Belletiere

I am a licensed therapist serving clients in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. In my practice, I focus on helping clients to shape their own narratives, accept and value all parts of themselves, and empower themselves to cultivate an authentic and meaningful life. Learn more about me and my practice on my website:

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APA Reference
Belletiere, D. (2018). Traditional Holidays Not Your Thing? Here’s a Few Ways To Make Them Your Own.. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Dec 2018
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