16 Ideas for Creating New Holiday Tradition After a Death

Someone you love has died and now the holidays will never be the same.  I’m sorry to put this so plainly, but it’s true and you need to acknowledge it.

Too often people stumble into the holidays after a death believing things can stay the same. Some passively assume everything will work out, while others believe if they try hard enough to be positive and maintain tradition that PEOPLE WILL ENJOY THEMSELVES DANG IT.  I hope these approaches work out for some, but I can promise you they won’t suffice for all.

I hate to be Grinch, but even if you manage to rebuild your tradition to the closest approximation possible, there will still be sadness. In the immortal words of the “King” Elvis Presley…

“And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That’s when those blue memories start calling”

We’ve written posts on how to handle existing holiday tradition after a death and we’ve written about honoring deceased loved ones at the holidays, but we’ve yet to get in-depth about creating new tradition after a loss.  The creation of new tradition and ritual provides you the opportunity to find meaningful and lasting ways to remember loved ones. Further, it allows those who have died to play a continuous role in holiday celebrations going forward.

We’re going to provide you with a few ideas for creating new holiday tradition after a death, but we encourage you to really think beyond this list and create traditions that are reflective of who your loved one was and how you want to see their legacy continue.  New traditions can be simple things you decide to do on your own or bigger rituals that you create with your family.  As you think about this, remember traditions are meant to be repeated year after year, so choose something that your family can realistically keep going.  Even better, choose a tradition that can be handed down to future generations.

1.  Food:Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 12.06.31 PM

  • Holiday dish: Choose your loved one’s favorite dish (or recipe) and make sure the dish is present at your celebration year after year.  For example, my family makes “Autie’s beans”.  Why are they “Autie’s beans”? I have no idea, I’m pretty sure “Autie’s beans” is the same thing as plain ole green bean casserole!
  • Favorite dessert:  Instead of choosing a dish, choose their favorite dessert to make every year.
  • Breakfast: If the holiday dinner is crazy, crowded, and hectic, start a tradition of having your loved one’s favorite breakfast foods with just your immediate family.
  • After dinner drinks: If the person who died wasn’t a part of the family celebration, start a tradition of meeting friends and family in the evening to remember the person who died over hot cocoa and eggnog.
  • Cookie recipe: This is my personal favorite, use your loved one’s recipe to make Christmas cookies.  I used my mother’s recipe this year and shared them on Facebook with my far away family.

2. Music

  • Holiday playlist: Have a go-to list of holiday songs that remind you of your loved one.
  • Sing:  Start a tradition that involves singing your loved one’s favorite holiday songs.  My family always sings Silent Night just before going to bed on Christmas Eve and it always makes me cry.  (Here’s a post about when holiday songs become sad)  You could also try traditions like these…
    • Have a caroling party before the holidays where you invite all your family and friends
    • Have a sing-a-long after holiday dinner

3.  Memory tablecloth:

This is an awesome idea that I saw here.  Every year, lay a special tablecloth and fabric markers or sharpies. Ask holiday guests to write down their favorite holidays memories, especially those that involve family members who are no longer present.

4. Light a candle:

As a family, light a candle at the beginning of the holiday season and allow it to burn throughout.  If you’re not comfortable with a real candle, use a fake candle or a special light up decoration.

5.  Candle ceremony:

On the night before the holiday or on the night of the holiday, gather everyone for a candle ceremony.  Give everyone an unlit candle.  The first person lights the first candle and shares a memory.  They can share a memory of their deceased loved one(s), a memory from past holidays, or a time during the year when they felt their loved one’s presence – you decide (it’s your tradition after all)!  After the first person shares their memory, they light the candle of the next person and that person shares a memory – so on and so forth.  Once the last candle is lit, do something to close out the ceremony (for example: sing a song or say a prayer).


6.  Blessing:

If a blessing is traditionally said at any point during the holiday, add a lyric, quote, verse, poem, or saying that reminds you of your loved one.  Choose something that really reflects your loved one, even if it’s silly or out of context.

7.  Secret Signal:

Create a secret signal for your family members to give one another when something reminds them of the person who has died.  This could be a signal used at any moment, happy or sad, throughout the year.

8.  Give to charity:

Every year chose a charity to give a gift to in your loved one’s name.  Keep the same process for choosing the charity each year – maybe you decide over Thanksgiving or you gather on the first Sunday of December, for example.  Allow everyone to offer suggestions and then choose as a family.  If you don’t want to just make a monetary donation, look for shelters doing “adopt a resident” programs or opportunities to buy gifts through an angel tree.

9. Go somewhere where you feel close to your loved one:

Start a tradition of visiting your loved one’s grave or another place where you feel close to them on the holiday.  Choosing a designated time, like first thing in the morning, may make it easier to plan and uphold this tradition.

10.  Moment of silence:

At your holiday celebration, allow people an opportunity to share the name of loved ones they’ve lost and then have a moment of silence to remember those people.

11. Tell stories:

Every year on my daughter’s birthdays I tell them about the day they were born. Why not start a tradition of telling special holiday stories on the holiday?  Instead of reading the kids ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas when you tuck them into bed, start the tradition of telling them a story from a holiday when their loved one was alive.

12. Add an extra plate:

Always add an extra plate to your dinner table to symbolize your loved one’s presence in everyone’s hearts and minds.

holiday tradition after a death

13. Holiday memory/Gratitude box:

Leave a box, slips of paper, and pens out, and ask friends and fanily to write down their favorite holiday memories, memories of loved ones, or gratitudes. Ask them to put their slips in the box and read them over dessert. If you feel as though your family has had an especially tough year, writing down gratitudes might help people to shift their perspective a little bit.

14. Remembrance ornaments and trees:

Buy a new ornament every year that reminds you of your loved one.  This could be an ornament that you think is pretty, a photo ornament, or an ornament that symbolizes something about your loved one.  If children are affected by the loss, invite them to help you select the ornament or even allow them the opportunity to make the ornament themselves.

  • A tree for your loved one: Consider buying a small tree specifically for these remembrance ornaments.  This will give people an opportunity to look at the ornaments all together, ask questions, and reminisce.  You might even consider having a specific tradition for decorating and lighting this tree.
  • A remembrance tree:  If you will have a lot of people at your celebration, or if you have a lot of visitors throughout the season (or if you work at a grief center or hospice), put up a remembrance tree.  Set up a table with sharpies and ornaments people can write on close to the tree. Allow anyone who passes through to write the name(s) of their deceased loved one(s) on an ornament and invite them to hang their ornament on the tree.

15. Stockings and garlands:

The holidays can be really tough when you’re grieving (oh, you already knew that?).  Set out slips of paper and pens and instruct people to write any of the following of the slips of paper.

  • memories
  • moments when you thought of/missed your loved one
  • words of encouragement to other family members
  • words of appreciation for other family members
  • gratitudes

Have a designated stocking or garland (here are some awesome garland ideas) where people can share their slips.

16. Put regrets to the fire:

Henry Havelock Ellis said, “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”  In addition to the memories and traditions you keep with you, you may also be holding onto things like regret, guilt, and feelings of resentment.  Start a holiday tradition of lighting a fire, writing down your regrets from the past year, and then throwing your regrets into the fire to symbolize a fresh start.

holiday tradition after a death

What holiday traditions have you created since your loved one’s death?  Share in the comments below.

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December 10, 2018

67 responses on "16 Ideas for Creating New Holiday Tradition After a Death"

  1. I lost my husband of 36 years 4 months ago and the pain is unbearable at times… but I am dreading Christmas! Christmas was huge at our house, we have 5 children and 10 grandchildren and out house was always decorated completely… we would fill everyone s stockings and have a huge tree and we enjoyed Christmas so much but my husband was a huge part of our family now nothing is the same! I get an anxiety attach thinking about it… I know Christmas is a ways away but I don’t know what to do… I have 2 grown children who live close and they have there own families and they surround me a lot so I’m not hurting but I know they are hurting too!! Any ideas on any new traditions

  2. I just lost my 24 year old daughter Faith on New Years Day (2019) to Kidney Cancer. Getting through everyday without her has been so hard. I am dreading Christmas which is her favorite holiday. Ever since she was about 6 yo at about 2 am she would come all excited and say “it’s Christmas can we open our gifts?” And every year she was sent back to bed until morning. It became our families tradition. She did it without fail every Christmas! Last Christmas from the hospital she called my phone (I went home to tend to my youger daughter and left her dad there) and said “It’s Christmas can I open my gifts?” I without fail told her to take her butt back to bed until morning when I got there with her gifts! I lost it knowing that it would be the last time I would hear her say that on Christmas! I think at around 3 am every Christmas we will open a gift for Faith in her honor! My angel 💛

  3. I have lost my Mother,Father and Soul mate with in 26 months
    I can’t even bear the thought about Thanksgiving and Christmas 2019.

  4. Reading all these posts make me realize I’m not alone, just lost my younger sister at age 53 to pancreatic cancer, it hurts for me and all of our family.
    Thank all of you for sharing, thanks so much!

  5. Our want of holiday celebrations and traditions with the dead is the result of our Western beliefs. Although most funeral sermons repeat that the dead are not really dead and those in attendance nod in vague agreement, we don’t get it. Not really.
    We do our best to believe that we will see our loved one again in some sort of a heavenly realm that we assume is inaccessible to the living – in spite of the fact that we have been clearly told by many who seem to know, “Heaven is spread upon the earth, but mankind doesn’t see it.”
    Heaven is here and the dead are with us. To know this truth, you have to go beyond belief to experience it, for it is one of the mysteries of existence that no deep truth can be known until it is experienced. But you must allow for the experience. The holidays are a perfect time to begin.
    During the twelve days of Christmas LOVE flows. Abundantly. Vibrantly. Contagiously. And it is love that opens hearts to the possibility that those who have walked into death before us can be found. A very simple suggestion for a Christmas love-quest: download Raymond Moody’s 1980 documentary, Life After Life, and watch it with your family and friends.
    Merry Christmas Aaron the Baron, Leifer, Diana, Efrain, John, Conn, Dulce, Danny, Tim, Jerry, Dana, L. J., JoAnn, Joe, Terri, Kathy, Greg, Steve, Jeff, Dad, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Aniceto, Laura, dear Marisol and dear Lucy, and so many more. You are loved

  6. We lost my dad on January 12th, 2018; he died of a heart attack at age 76. He was a very loving father whom enjoyed Christmas and always made our family dinners for special occasions. My only son took his own life 5 months later at the age of 22 on June 25th, 2018.
    Christmas was always my favourite time of the year. I have not put a tree or decorations up this year. All that I have hung are my late son’s and my only daughter’s stockings.
    Christmas music makes me cry but I enjoy listening to them. I bought ornaments in their memory and have bought my son a Christmas card to put on his grave.
    I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to celebrate anything in life again. This grief has exhausted me mentally and physically. I’m sending my prayers to each and every one of you for strength to get through the holidays in the best way possible.

  7. My dad passed unexpectedly in the spring. We crawled through thanksgiving by trying to pretend everything was normal. You probably know how that went… I want to thank you for these wonderful ideas. For my family, the memory box will be perfect this year. I think I’ll also incorporate it into my upcoming wedding as well. It will be bittersweet to see what memories family and life long friends will come up with, and it’s something we can hold on to forever.

  8. My daughter passed away unexpectedly on the 3rd of September 2018 and I’m trying to pull together some sort of “normal” Christmas for her 4 siblings left behind. We are all an absolute mess😢
    We had bought a special angel decoration with her name ingraved for our tree and are trying to find some special way to honour her memory. Thank you for your ideas, I felt so lost but at least have astarting point. Xxxx

    • Prayers for you and your family. I lost my brother this year and my family is doing everything possible to keep it positive for my little ones that was very close to him. It is definitely hard and not the same. Most important is just keep his memories going and try to just talk about all the good memories you have. Merry Christmas to your family

  9. I lost my mother December 13, 2018. One month after my birthday. This is my first Christmas without her. I stood in the card aisle today at the store unable to move because I couldn’t get her a card, my first year of not getting her a silly gift. It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve heard her voice. She was on a ventilator for 2 weeks before she passed and I feel as though I’m slowly dying inside. I have to be strong for my son but I feel as though this year, Christmas is nothing to me without her being there with us. Her smile as he opened up her gifts, her laugh. Just everything.

    • I am sorry for your loss. Why not continue to buy her a card and put it on the tree or her grave. I believe our loved ones are still with us. At Christmas, we share funny stories of our loved ones or make ornaments for them. We do what we can to cope. You never forget, but it does get easier. I hope you find some peace and comfort.

  10. I lost my Mommy in May of 2018. Sometimes it hurts so bad I want to disappear. she had cancer, I knew it was terminal. i just don’t know I will make it without her. I loved her so much I wish I could see her again. Christmas means nothing to me. They say a year passes and your better. That hasn’t been my experience. I can think more, but I ache still

    • Hello darling, I’m sorry that you list your mommy. My grand daughter is having a empty feeling during this time after the loss of her mom, me too. We have to take the time to cry and move through our strong emotions. What would your mom normally do. I like the suggestions in this article. Reach out to your other family members. Ask if you can join them in some activities. What did your mom and you do during Christmas? My love to you darling.

    • My mom died of lung cancer. I’m in mid 40s. While she was still up and about, my best friend and light of my life for ten years, found a sugar daddy on facebook, stuck around till mom passed, dumped me night before first thanksgiving. My girls grown, I’m in the house I grew up in, alone since. Big mistake. Falling apart, was easy. I refuse to participate. No more. Xmas carols, are like torture. One event or the other, things were too much for both. Last two people I could trust, gone. (Love my kids, try not to inject my dark cloud into their lives) year one, almost didn’t make it. Year two really repeated the first, but I wasn’t looking out for me. I looked in, you know? Year 3. I’m not going to lie, but I’ve found good work, built a shelf up into a” shrine” or memory shelf, candles, photos, rotate some, some will stay there until we are all gone. I’ve realized, it’s going to be as bad as you make it. (Which I Excell at). May not make it better, just don’t make it worse. It sounds crazy, I may be, but I see her, in the trees so convincingly, the first time I wept, and stood there shaking. TMI, sorry. Nothing wrong with not going overboard, over stressing and making it harder on yourself. Thas easy for me to say, no relatives in the south. Only friend I thought I had, on back of a harley with some jerk…so, I hope it gets… less painful. For both of us.

      • Dear Scott, I’m so sorry for your lonely journey through your loss. I will think of you often, so you aren’t completely alone. I lost my son last May (2019) three weeks after a cancer diagnosis. You and I will never be the same.

  11. My Father went to heaven on April 03, 2018 with failing health issues. My Mother is home with me on Hospice care.
    My Brother and I had been blessed to have our original parents for our life time and were privileged to celebrate their 60th Anniversary with them in December of 2017..
    I knew the Month of December would be difficult for my Brother and I as our Father really was a big kid at heart and growing up, he never had a big Christmas with presents to open, so I always made sure there were lots of little gifts for him to open. This year will be so different. Our Christmas week always began on my Fathers Birthday, December 20th, followed by my parents Anniversary celebration, on the 21st and then our family Christmas Party and then Christmas Day. The unwrapping of gift, the smell of my Dads very own Turkey to carve, visitors popping in etc..
    2018 was a very painful year.
    My only sibling, my BROTHER, went to heaven, August 12, 2018, 4 days after my Birthday and four months and nine days after our Father left us. It was a tragic accident and know one expected the loss of my only sibling.
    My brother left behind six grown children. Their Holiday will never be the same either.
    AND, now, here at my house, for the first time, our celebration will be just myself and my mother. I honestly don’t know what to do do…God Bless each one of you during the holidays and I pray we all find peace and gentle blessings.
    I think I will bake a birthday cake for Jesus this year to start a new tradition. 🙏❤️

  12. I lost my husband of 32 years September 13, 2018 two days before my birthday. He died from stage 4 cancer. this will be our first Christmas without him tasting all the food to let us know if it is suitable for guests. I can’t get myself to do anything at all. I had my boys put up the tree, but here it is Dec 11th and still no decorations a bear tree sits against the wall, I wonder why I even got it out. Still I plan to have guests, so I must decorate the tree. Sounds like an easy task, but you see we have no ornaments to place, our tradition has been to make ornaments to put on the tree and on Christmas my family would take the ornaments and give as gifts to guests. My husband would buy a box or two of a nice book to wrap we would top with an ornament. Christmas Day he and the boys would pass the wrapped packages to people on the street in need of a little Christmas. This year I will surely be changing the tradition since I am still pulling myself out of the dumps, not even sure I want guests. With Gods strength, I will get through it and have a new joy in my heart for not giving up on Christmas… Thanks for your Ideas and all the comments .

  13. My son died by suicide on the 1st of May 2018. Its been 6 months but I still wait for him to walk through the door. He was 27 years old when we lost him. Just the thought of his dad and I finding him hanging from the ceiling bulk with his dogs belt leaves us broken and struggling to cope. This will be our first Christmas without him. This young man lost both his babies 4 years ago, one at three months pregnant and the other at two months and three weeks after losing his battle to a rare cancer. This broke my son he was never the same after that. Before all this he was well on his way to having all his dreams come true until the tragic day he lost his son and now I lost my son. I don’t know how much more I can take after laying my grandson to rest and 4 years later laying his dad to rest. The only thing that keeps ringing through my head is that my son use to tell me how he was empty and alone and he felt tired and all he wanted was to be with his son. After a few attempts of hanging himself to overdosing on drugs the final day arrived where he succeeded in doing so. My heart bleeds for him. For us Christmas will never be the same. I died the day my son died, I am trying to pick up the pieces but they are so many and I don’t know how I will ever heal from this. I prayed for my son more than I prayed for myself, I carried him in my spirit daily and prayed for the day God would heal him. Unfortunately that day never arrived , he could not fight anymore. Just the thinking about him leaves a hole in the pit of my stomach. I loved and still love this boy so much. I pray that your Christmas will be better than ours , hopefully some day we can find ways of reminding ourselves of all the good memories and times we shared. But for now all I can think of is never hearing his voice again or being able to prepare a meal for him or just running a bath for him. Just to hear him say ” Hello Mom are you ok” I will never have him say that to me ever again. Lord help me for this heartbreak I was never prepared for but find myself heart broken into a million little pieces. Father give us the strength to make it through this festive season with our boy.

    • Dearest Bernice, I cry for you at the unimaginable losses you have experienced. I’m glad you told your story b/c I think it helps to just get it out there. When my two precious grandchildren were killed, ages 18 and 11, in a tragic car wreck on their way to school Jan 18, 2017, my heart was ripped from my chest. Not only b/c of the enormous loss, but also b/c I could not “fix it” or make it better for my daughter and son-in-law. I have since learned a few things , and I hope in some small way you might find them helpful as well; if not now, maybe later.
      1) Everyone grieves differently; some in silence, some in tears, some in anger, some in talking. It’s all okay.
      2) Read and learn from others who have experienced suicide and/or death of a child.
      3) Memorialize your son and grandchildren in some way–plant a tree, have a memory garden, etc. I decorate their grave site with the changing seasons. I also have a sofa table filled with their pictures and other special things of theirs.
      4) Write. Write down your emotions, feelings, memories, prayers, thoughts.
      5) Live your life in such a way as to honor them–donate in their memory to a special charity or organization on holidays, birthdays, etc.
      6) Great grief is natural with the loss of great love.
      7) There is no “shortcut” with grief. It will be what it will be.
      8) You don’t know how strong you can be until there is no other choice.
      9) Get up every day and make your bed. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you just want to crawl back in it. Just make your bed so you will feel a sense of accomplishment.
      10) Baby steps are okay. When you can’t imagine a future without them, just take it a day at a time, or as my daughter has said, “a breath at a time” if that’s all you can do.
      11) And if you are a believer, pray, pray, pray. God knows what it’s like to lose a son to a very cruel death. Cling to that unimaginable, enormous love and find comfort in Him.

      Praying for you and all who have lost dear ones that you may know your worth, know you are loved, and know some day the grief will be more bearable. Baby steps, dear friends, baby steps.

  14. We lost our son on Sept 1, 2018. He was hit by a car. I am having a hard time with Christmas as I feel like our family is incomplete. I have grandchildren living with us so I know I must do the Christmas thing but if it wasn’t for them I don’t think I’d even do it at all. I’m just not sure how to pull this off. Took my 8 year old granddaughter and her 11 year old sister to see the Santa who was visiting the neighborhood on the fire truck tossing candy to the kids. She took off running back to the house. She said she was scared and missed her uncle. I am more concerned with the kids then myself but have to figure a way to pull this off. Thanks for the ideas in the article. Hugs to all here b

    • I feel your pain as we lost our 17 year old son on Christmas Eve 2017 after he was knocked of his bike by a car. It’s 4.30am on Christmas Day 2018 as I type this, I’m still up, can’t sleep. We’re having an awful time right now with no Christmas in our house at all, it feels like I’m disrespecting my son to carry on as if we’re ok with him not been here because we’re not. All his presents from last year are still in his room, never to be unwrapped so this year we have done nothing, no tree, no lights, no cards, no gifts, no Christmas food and it sucks. We spent the money we would have on food and gifts for those in need and the homeless and to be honest I can’t wait for it to be over. Just sitting remembering past memories we all shared is torture at the moment and the longing I have to see him again is too much to bear at this special time of year but from now onwards all that the 23rd, 24th and 25th will be for us is the anniversaries of his accident, his death and the day he donated his organs to save others. Nobody should have to go and visit an accident site with flowers and candles on Christmas Eve but we do and more heartbreaking for me is that my daughter, his sister does as well.

  15. Our Mother passed away on 4/15/2018. My sister and I are reeling still. I changed jobs and am going after my post-graduate degree- anything to keep me from thinking about it. I live on the west coast and my sister is on the east coast. We do not even know how to comfort each other. This is so hard sometimes I can barely breathe. On top of that our oldest dog passed away in July and my spouse lost his job in September. I barely made it through Thanksgiving. I put up the Christmas tree anyway and I have little holiday cheer. I am just trying to get through this year. I am so sorry for everyone’s loss that has posted on this page. This actually made me feel a little better to write about it.

  16. Three months ago today, our Mom passed unexpectedly. Ten days later our Dad passed nearly a year earlier than expected. My sister and brother are very close in our bond. Our heads are still spinning ! We limped through Thanksgiving . We thought it would be a good thing to have Thanksgiving dinner in our parents’ home. It was harder than we realized for all of the adult grandchildren. We will not be having Christmas at their home. But I realized today something very significant. The wonderfully anticipated moment on Christmas Day when we give our folks their Christmas gifts will not happen this year or ever again. I called my brother and sister about this to confer about how we will manage. Mom and Dad was the center of Christmas Day. Brainstorming how to fill that void for all of us. Playing family games doesn’t seem to be it nor does “in memory” activities.

    • Your emotions are so raw right now. That is a lot of loss in such a short time. Those first holidays and special occasions without your loved ones are difficult to get through, much less plan something. The idea of celebration is not paramount when you are grieving; its more about survival. Perhaps in time you will feel more like observing holidays and special occasions. But they will be forever different. I can no longer put up a Christmas tree b/c each year I always added another photo ornament of each grandchild to the collection. I had 18 years of pictures of my granddaughter and 11 year of my grandson. I cannot continue that tradition. Instead we are trying, almost two years after their deaths, to reach out to others in need and give of our time and/or money to make things better for someone else. We are trying to spread kindness in their honor, b/c they were the epitome of kindness.

      Prayers for your strength, comfort, and direction as you learn to live again.

      I hope

  17. We lost our mother March 12, 2018. She was 91 years old. She was the mother of 17 biological children. There is 11 daughters and 6 sons. We lost our father in 1988 but we lost a brother in August 2017. Mom grieved for him. He was the oldest of us 17. Im really grieving mom’s passing. She was amazing. She was the best mom ever. I’m trying to find a way to honor her memory this first Christmas without her.

  18. We lost our precious father 12/26/16. Difficult times, very difficult times followed as he was and continues to be our anchor our source of light and stability. That said, life is for the living. We are here today to embrace the beauty and strength of what was and still is on a different level. My challenge is to Live today channeling his best as it impacted me and Embrace the wondrous gifts of family and breath and life before me now. I write this humbly because it takes time… one cannot force it, however, we must look toward the future with hope and light and have Faith.

  19. I’m saddened to hear of everyone’s lost. I’m not alone. My luner twin” 2 years” passed away in a car accident right after my first daughter was born, then my best friend, “my baby brother” took his life at Christmas just a few years ago. This is the first I’ve spoke about this, but now I need to start Christmas again . Not only for me , but for my three daughters my two grandbabies and my mom and dad. I just don’t know how to do it.

    • First of all I’m sorry for your loss I know the hurt of losing a loved one my wife after a lengthy illness of 16 years passed away December 15th and even though it’s been about 12 years ago to hurt still there we never had any children but we tried to adopt but we couldn’t because she was too sick every time this year I look for a family that’s hurting I start looking around Thanksgiving time and I picked all the family there are a lot of hurting people in this world. Last year I picked a lady who had two little girls and her husband walked out on her and she was left to raise the girls after Thanksgiving the Friday after I took some money out of the savings and I went Christmas shopping had the time of my life what Joy brought to know they would have a Christmas and it did.
      Thanksgiving Day after dinner get with your daughters and grandkids. And make it a family project to pick someone maybe lost their loved one and won’t have a Christmas this year maybe you can’t buy anything but bake cookies cakes you can make things for him if you can Sew make them things. And then maybe a Saturday before Christmas or something make a dinner it don’t have to be fancy sloppy joes and chips Kool-Aid play games and then take them in the living room and give them their gifts under the tree. What joy that brings. God bless have a blessed holiday.

      • Mark, I am sorry to hear of your wife’s passing. So very thoughtful of you to support a family in need for the holidays. It’s such a wonderful thing that makes you feel so good, and way to begin new traditions and memories. Your Angel’s heart and soul is forever with you, every step of the way when helping families. Her spirit is beaming through you. I know she loves and adores you starting that tradition and absolutely loves doing it with you, whether it’s sending a donation or physically helping. I too have done the same and sponsored a family going through a hard time yearly and I can’t explain the feeling. Unfortunately I won’t be able this year as my family is going through hard time ourselves from a tragic accident, but I am so happy to “know” you, and that you are doing this too. God bless you Emily. [email protected]

      • My husband died 4 months ago and I am trying to get my feet back on the ground. I think your idea of bringing joy to others who need help is wonderful. Last year, when my husband was alive and well, we did an advent food box and 3 days before Christmas was able to give it to a single mom with 2 children. I had about decided to not do anything, but I am encouraged now to look for a family and bless them. You are right, something as simple as sloppy joes, chips and a drink with a few gifts for a family in need is awesome. Bless you.

  20. my daughter lives 5 minutes away from me she sends me a text 2 or 3 times a year i see her 1 or 2 times a year. my husband passed xmas day 14 years ago i cant bear christmas the very word makes me feel ill but every year she asks me to christmas dinner. i feel shès a stranger and cannot face going to her home again.

  21. We lost my mom suddenly this August (just over 2 months ago) due to a freak accident that occurred on their property. My dad is having a really hard time because he was there when the accident happened and he wasn’t able to help her. He spends most of his time at the cemetery, and I live 10 hours away. My brother, sister in law, husband and I purchased a memorial wind chime for the tree that sits at the foot of my moms resting place.
    My brother and I both have grown children, so we may not all be able to get together this first Christmas since my mom’s passing. I am lost as to what we can do together as a family if we are miles apart, in order to honor my mom. She was the center of our world – the most loving, caring, thoughtful, hard working person you could ever hope to love. Christmas was her special time. I still find myself waiting to have her call and ask for my Christmas list (even though I’m 48 – she did it every year). The traditions she started I’d like to keep going – like the Christmas Eve pajamas for the grandkids, the stockings, baking, etc. This was her favorite time of year and we can’t imagine it without her; but we want to honor her memory as I know she will be with us in spirit.

  22. My first born son Charles was killed on Mother’s day May 9, 2004. This year marks 14 years now , his birthday is coming up next month in November and I’m looking for some ideas on what to do, my children and myself have shared memories on his birthdays as well as making different art projects, l believe that l will release ballons this year, l as post different pictures of Charles on my Facebook page in his memory leading up the his birthday. I have made a beautiful Memory Box with beautiful pictures in it a different cards that people have given me over the years. This hasn’t been a easy journey to walk on but God is keeping me.

    • I lost my son in 2015 to gun violence. I always celebrate his birthday with the release of balloons. Whatever age he would have been turning is how many balloons I release. I also invite people and ask them to bring at least 1 balloon. It warms my heart just thinking of it. I hope this helps.

  23. My son left us when he was 33 he had suffered with cancer for most of his life.
    David was such a wonderful young man. He never wanted anyone to pity him and acted like everything was okay, even when he suffered so badly. I will never know another person like him. I am so proud to have raised such a wonderful son. In spite of all his suffering he always was concerned about everyone else, and he made people laugh. I miss him terribly every day. September 17 2017 will be one year since he left us. David’s favorite holiday was Christmas, last Christmas I used the Christmas lights that he always hung on his own Christmas tree every year and combined them with some new lights and I decorate a 20 foot Spruce tree in his honor. I walk outside every evening when it is glowing and think of him. I also have made a area in the yard with a memorial bench dedicated to him, I can sit on it and look at the lights. I know this is superficial but I feel like he would like that I do this in his memory.

  24. Ever since my mom died, I no longer give Xmas gifts. Instead, I give ‘Yule Gifts – something I hand-make in honor of her. I also leave the gifts secretly, wrapped & bagged on the recipient’s door.
    This way they don’t have to feel the need to reciprocate….

  25. I am truly sorry to read some of the tragic losses in the preceding comments. My father died December 24th 2016 and now every Christmas Eve will be a time of mixed emotions and not so great memories. Knowing this I would like to do something to remember him with love. I don’t want it to be all about sadness and I was looking for an idea that we as a family could do to celebrate the holidays and include him in it. I like the holiday tree idea and I was given a christmas tree ornament with his picture in it so I even have a beautiful start on this symbol of remembrance that is about to be born.

  26. My cousin & I were very close. He passed away suddenly a week ago. He was married and while my cousin was very sick, I tried to reach out to his wife with open-ended statements, I would ask how she was doing, she would say OK. I was not trying to be her best friend, she has plenty of friends, but it was obvious she didn’t feel comfortable sharing herself with me. I felt I was interfering and didn’t want to push myself onto her. I was very close with my cousin. We were a month apart in age and from infancy onward we had a special bond, so I’m hurting too. Today is the 21st of December and we laid him to rest yesterday. Christmas will never be the same and I understand that.and I’ve spent the last 25 years celebrating Christmas with them at their home on Christmas Eve. I’m lost for words and now it’s awkward for me. Fortunately for her, her daughter and grandchildren are staying with her. I have no children, I have a dog and my mother lives with me (who is 98). Any suggestions? Do I reach out to her on Christmas and say what? Merry Christmas?? I don’t think so.

  27. My heart aches for each of you. We lost my younger brother unexpectedly on Thanksgiving night 2016, He was 32. There’s no way around it, it’s a hard time for us. The holidays aren’t the same. It’s ok to grieve, it helps us slowly heal, but we also don’t want to be so “down” that we can’t get up. Our loved ones would not want that. Being surrounded by family and friends help make it through those especially tough holidays, but we have done several little things to keep his memory alive. On his birthday this past year, we planted a tree in my parents yard with a little memorial plaque and a small bench. We also have a lantern that my crafty cousin made for us for the holidays. It stays lit through the holiday season and its beautiful. I’ve seen them for sale online but if you are crafty, it’s something fairly easy to make. On the outside, it says: “Christmas in Heaven, What do they do? They come down to earth to spend it with you. So save them a seat. Just one empty chair. You may not see them, but they will be there.” Inside the lantern is a small chair with a tealight candle (the battery ones) and a small Christmas tree (dollhouse size).
    Like this one https://www.google.com/search?q=christmas+memorial+lantern&safe=active&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwidpfuO7InYAhVH1mMKHZFkAbsQ_AUICygC&biw=1920&bih=963#imgrc=TJp6hgHg31_poM:
    If you don’t want to use the link, just look up memorial Christmas lanterns.

    For Christmas at my parents, we have our normal tree, but then we have a smaller one set up on a table and it is decorated with all of his ornaments that he made or acquired growing up. We are going to add a new one every year for him, be it memorial type or just something he liked or reminds us of him. I think its great way to include his memory into the holiday. On my tree, I have a beautiful angel ornament that I hang at the top. I stumbled upon it last year while shopping. It was out of place and it was so fitting that I wanted to buy more for my family members. So I went to the ornament section and couldn’t find it and the employee could not find anymore as well. It’s my way of saying that my brother led me to that ornament. We all have of our own beliefs but I believe their spirit stays with us even when they are gone by giving us signs. It helps me heal and puts a smile on my face because I may not be thinking of my brother at that particular moment.
    I think this year I will make his favorite dessert for Christmas and have that become a tradition as well. I love the stocking idea and putting notes inside each year too.

  28. My 24 year old son died unexpectedly .thanksgiving was unbearable. It was hard to be thankful when your so sad. His birthday is Sunday. 12/10/17. And Christmas is right around the corner. Not s u re how to make it through thsee next few weeks. Your ideas are helpful. Thank yii

  29. My brother passed away suddenly on the 9th of October, 2017. He was 31, and I am 34. It was just the two of us in our family, with mom and dad. While it’s going on the month of Christmas, I am finding my mind gets the best of me and I struggle as to how to celebrate. I am married and have 2 wonderful children that have been supportive to me during this difficult time in my life. I have set up my tree, with feelings of numbness, I have also went Christmas shopping and was just not really feeling anything. I have decided to set up a small real Christmas tree in his memory every year as our new tradition in our home. He would always love to go out when we were kids and pick out the perfect Christmas tree. He preferred the smell of the fresh pine. I worry once Christmas day actually comes closer, I will become unstable and break down crying every night. I find it hard to sleep as it is, there will be so many firsts I will be doing in my life without him now. He was my baby brother, and I will always be his big sister.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. That’s so fresh. What you are feeling is totally normal. I still have that numbness even though it’s been 4 years for me. Be gentle and patient with yourself. ((Hugs))

  30. My mom passed away November 3, 2017. She had a heart attack. She was only 60 years old. It was very unexpected. We are struggling to continue on with the holidays but we know we have to for our children. I’ve been thinking about what we can do to keep moms memory alive and what can help us in the grieving process. thank you for the wonderful ideas. We will definitely incorporate a few of them into our family gathering this year for Christmas. God Bless!

    • I am sorry for your loss my mother passed away suddenly on March 26th she was 61. Christmas was her favorite holiday.

    • I am truly sorry for your loss. It is so very difficult going through the holidays. My mom just passed on November 27th, the Monday after Thanksgiving. She led a long life of 88 years, but the loss is still overwhelming. Smiling one minute and gone the next. Unexpected death is so very painful to endure. I have also lost 2 children, so grief is not new to me. Christmas is a happy/sad time. Keeping the memories alive is what I cherish. I love some of these ideas and have always lit a candle for my children, but I think this year I will be adding my mom’s favorite pie to my Christmas traditions. Please take care of yourself…sadness may persist but healing will happen, just let the tears flow and keep on with one foot in front of the other.

  31. My Mom died on 10/21/17, in large part due to amiodarone toxicity. This caused her to have pulmonary fibrosis and hyperthyroidism, among other things. I barely made it through yesterday; I have no idea how to push through Christmas this year. Thank you for the ideas.

  32. My stepson who lived with us just passed away on July 10, 2017. He was one of the Marines that lost his life in the plane crash in Mississippi this year. I made a candle holder using a tall glass candle jar, Modge Podge and a printed copy of his picture. It turned out very good and was easy to do. I plan to put a candle in it on all of the special occasions. This Christmas I will put it on top of a plate that I set at the holiday table in his honor.


  33. Thanks for good ideas… my 39 yr old daughter died 9 months ago from a sudden heart attack which was such a shock since she was a picture of health and had just returned from the gym!!!…..we are living a nightmare and trying to find a way to help her 2 boys 8 and 11 yrs get thru Christmas,,!! Your help is appreciated! 💔

    • Hi Jenny, I just wanted to reach out to you because youre situation seems So similar to that of my Family’s. My Older Sister Kelly was about to turn 41 on March 12 of this year. However on Feb. 26th she passed away suddenly, from cardiac arrest brought on and complicated by pneumonia. She was a single mom with her two twin boys, who had just turned 7. And not-withstanding her not feeling well, she was also extremely healthy and worked-out often. She was a Zumba Queen. One thing I’ve learned this year, is that God sometimes allows what he hates, to accomplish that which he loves. One positive thing that has come from this, is that my mother has been Clean and Sober for over a year now (for the first time in her life), which has been amazing. Also, I feel that this event has led me to God and brought a personal relationship with Jesus that I never knew could be possible. Anyways, thanks for letting me share, I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers throughout this Holiday season. All we can hope is that we will see their beautiful faces again one day. Merry Christmas and God bless!

  34. I lost my brother unexpectedly this April 28 2017 It was a very traumatic time in my life. The police and coroner were involved. I was in so much pain and despair. I had to learn to live life without my brother especially due to the sudden loss. I was lost at how to do Christmas this year until I read your ideas. I have decided to have a small tree with pictures on it to honor my brother. Thank you so much for the wonderful idea.

  35. My dad died on Chrisrmas morning 2016 . All i could think about is this is what Christmas will mean for me every year, the memories of his death, , its been a hard year but i do believe we will celebrate Christmas just like my dad would want us to considering this was his favorite holiday and he enjoyed watching the “Christmas Story” play over and over christmas eve and day. We will let it be dads christmas and i think the small christmas tree idea is an excellent way to really include the entire family. My dad was truly a special man who never met a stranger and I feel honored to honor a great man but a better father ! Love you Dad /Pop

  36. My dad passed away November 30th 2016. My sister found him that morning asleep on the stairs ..he didn’t make it to bed. He lived alone and died alone..We both feel guilt for not realising he was so ill and dying and we feel utter loss and devastation…nothing can ever be the same again. On Christmas day we will adopt a new tradition and still set his place at our table and light a candle for our special dad. Thanks to all for sharing these emotions and giving me the idea of how I can still have him with us.x

  37. I have a large family, 10 aunts and uncles and 9 cousins just on my mom’s side and we all see each other on a regular basis, family dinner every Sunday kind of thing. My grandfather (mother’s father), who is more like my father than my grandfather, passed away early in September. At the calling hours one of my uncles bought all his siblings dog tags with my grandfather’s name, birth date, death date, and ‘my dad my hero’. So for Christmas I bought all of my cousin one that says ‘Grandpa can fix it’ and my aunt engraved his nicknames for us on the back of each of them. I figure even if they don’t want them right now it’s something they will appreciate later in life. The closer we get the harder it gets, but we are a very giving family and we love to give gifts to each other so that’s what we keep looking forward to is giving to each other. My grandmother is understandably still very upset by the whole situation but the more we talk about it the better she seems. I am afraid to bring up any ‘new traditions’ to her even though the things I’ve suggested so far have seemed to ease situations if only a bit (we added an extra setting to out thanksgiving table and while at first she wasn’t into the idea she said it did help even though there was an empty seat having the rest of the table filled with love was comforting).
    We have Christmas brunch, my grandfather liked it that way, everyone was gone by 3 and he could have his nap in peace. It’s very informal and I think I might bring up #13 as something to do before we open gifts.

  38. I have just lost my dad end of July and his birthday is coming up along with thanksgiving. I am not sure I can handle any celebration at this time.

    • Dear Viv, I am so sorry for your loss. There’s no rules for how you mourn. I found it useful at some point to set aside time every day to write down a story I wanted to remember about my loved one, to look at pictures or light a candle on the shelf where I had placed precious mementos. I also made sure I was only around people who would understand on those hard anniversaries – and the first year almost every day was hard. This is a great list of ideas to think about if you are up to it, but there are no rules. May you find comfort.

  39. My wife died of ovarian cancer in November 1998. Our living room was still filled with flowers and plants from her memorial service as Christmas approached; I could not imagine a tree and decorating. A friend came to spend Christmas Eve with me though, and I had an idea. We went out and got a pine branch from the leavings at a Christmas tree lot. I wedged it in a coffee can and she put a strand of white lights on it. I sat down with some craft supplies and the big box of get well and sympathy cards, and made ornaments. Some I embellished; some were layered. I made some with pictures of her, with something she’d written collaged in. I wept over each one, and I hung them on the little tree. My friend held me, made hot cocoa with marshmallows more than once. We told lots of stories, and we were just quiet, remembering our beloved Joan.
    It was near dawn when I finally felt done.Deb tucked me in bed and sat with me until I went to sleep. I still have the ornaments, but have never again put up a tree. I have many years made a seasonal mobile, and I use some of them in it.
    Thank you for this great article. I am married (legally!) again now, and this wife too has cancer, now metastatic after 11 years of remission. I can hardly bear the thought of grieving again. Mostly I keep myself in the moment, treasuring every good day, every dear and ordinary moment.

  40. We lost my son Damon to suicide 16 days ago, the day after his 17th birthday. Needless to say, we are a mess. But holidays are so important for gathering family, I couldn’t just skip it. But how to deal with the things that made him part of the celebration? We will set a place at the table for him. This year, a friend with no where to go will join us also. I can’t not help a friend in sorrow. And since we each have “special” ornaments, and he is not here to hang them, we will take turns hanging them and sharing happy memories of him. And his stocking will still be filled each year. We will just fill it with charity items. This year it’s gifts for cats and dogs that are adopted from a local shelter. And I know that I may add more in the future but that is enough to get us through this year.

    • Brandi,

      My heart goes out to you. It sounds like you’ve put some thought into how you will cope with the holidays and finds ways to honor Damon – which is the best anyone really can do. I hope being surrounded by other people who love your son is a comfort and I wish you the best throughout this week and beyond.


    • i love the idea of charity stocking,my daughter 23 passed this august 2016,she loved helping an giving to other,this is a great idea for her siblings to participate in thank you brandi,sorry for your loss

  41. This will be my secnd holiday season without my husband who passed away in August 2014 after fighting cancer for 18 short months. Last year, our daughter’s idea of creating a new tradition was to have me to go away with her and her husband. I was in no condition to argue or refuse as I as in that numb state so I went. In her defense, she thought this would be a good thing. In reality, it was a disaster. It cost me a lot of money, driving hundreds of miles when we could have and should have taken a train was stressful, and everywhere I went I saw couples, couples, couples. In addition, our wedding annversary is 3 days after Christmas, and my daughter’s husband, saying he felt ill, made me drive all the way home while I cried my eyes out. ( daughter doesn’t drive). It was too soon after my husband passed away, a mere few months, and I had begged her to leave me be. This year, I truly want to be alone, but again she will not take “leave me be” for an answer. She has a baby now, and although I love him, knowing he doesn’t have a grandfather is painful, and on top of that, my daughter is pouring guilt on me about the baby’s first Christmas, etc. I am in no state, emotionally or mentally, to be a warm and fuzzy grandmother that she wants. When we’re together she tenses up when I even mention her father; her husband can be heartless and is annoyed that my husband ” ruined” their life together. (He was diagnosed 10 days after their wedding so theit marriage has been darkly colored by his illness and death and my sorrow.) At Thanksgiving I hen I started to say something at the table about being thankful for my husband I was cut off by him with the subject quickly changed. So, this year I am standing my ground in being alone even though she is stubbornly insisting she’s showing up. I have no intentions of decorating, buying and cooking food or ” celebrating” anything. I will walk n the beach, cuddle with my dg…his beloved dg.. See the new Star Wars mvie…he loved those.. and perhaps do a few of the activities suggested in this article. When I’m ready, maybe someday I’ll feel better, but for now I want to be alone with his spirit and memory, and maybe someday we will do some of these candle lghting and memory rituals together as well. The suggestions are beautiful. Thank you for them.

    • You should never have to feel guilty above grieving. I’m so sorry you had to deal with such an unpleasant Christmas. Your grandson is young enough he won’t even remember. Sometimes you have to protect your own feelings when your grieving. Don’t let anybody put a timeframe on it, grief is the price we pay for loving deeply. We just lost my brother a month ago and many people like to tell you how fo grieve. I would never say something like it will all be okay, because in reality your grief will change but you will never get over it. I hope you’re able to find some peace this Christmas❤️

  42. Nothing at all, so far. It’s not like we’re ever allowed to go calmly into that good night, or however the poem goes. Last year, 10 days before Christmas the stupid SENATE decided to publish their torture report about how the people who had evidence collected against them beFORE they were ever tortured ended up being rats in a government lab experiment even though they’d been arrested and brought into Guantanamo Bay before that ever happened based on real evidence gathered via their credit cards (which they used in their own name to fund the September 11 operation) and phone records, which they probably used their own names to talk to their goons-in-crime to plan the operation. But the news conveniently neglects to TELL people that and everybody sits around feeling sorry for the prisoners who were tortured for FURTHER information after they were brought into GITMO. It says in the 14th Amendment that they have a right to a fair trial even if it takes a while to happen. It didn’t say that would take forEVER.
    I’ve never agreed with torture but I’ve given up trying to sound like an understanding person about the issue. Two nights ago I finally saw that no matter how much I want to I have no ability to feel sorry for the people who killed him or HELPED do it (along with 1000’s of others, including a 2 y.o girl) – not even a small amount of patience on the issue exists within me. I thought I was a decent human being until someone in my family died by intentional violence. Now I just feel angry that everyone can find so much sad sympathy for people who would kill other people and then never feel any remorse for any part of it but the same people never even mention who these “people” had murdered as if it no longer even matters just because something ELSE stupid occurred no thanks to Dick Cheney (who had the gd nerve to say we should STILL be doing it when they asked for his response to the torture report.)
    Then this year, Donald Trump uses what happened to the people on September 11 to mount an idiot defense of “registering” Muslims as that faith so we’ll be able to pick them out and he does THAT a month before the holidays. Now everyone’s sitting around feeling sorry for all of them again and still no mention that people existed on September 11 that are still dead because of SOME of the people who really did believe themselves religious. Osama bin Laden said in one of those stupid tapes he used to send out every month that everything he does is because he’s “deeply religious.” Even if he wasn’t really that way to other people’s way of thinking, he was in his own thoughts. He’s the biggest legend in his own mind I’ve ever heard of besides Hitler.
    How are you supposed to get over all this stuff when all you ever do is get reminded almost every day and not just from the memories in your own mind but from people all over the country feeling terribly terribly sorry for the very ones who did it?
    I think torturing them was stupid but I also believe what they DID was wrong.

  43. For years we only hung our kids stockings on the fireplace. One year, my daughters decided to get stockings for both me and my husband. Our names both started with the letter J so there was a green J stocking and a red J stocking on each end of the fireplace encompassing the kids’ stockings. That first time was the only time we had them up while he was still alive and I simply could not bear to NOT put his up the next year, so I did. We took a version of idea #15 and every year we write a little note to him and put it in his stocking. No one has ever read them and we just put the stocking away as such. It’s a very nice way to continue to have him “here” with us in a subtle kind of way. Without him, we could never have had all the stockings that hang in between us.

    • Joanie,

      Yes! He is still a part of your family. I am so glad you continue to hang his stocking and continue to write him notes throughout the holiday season. Thank you for sharing.


    • I lost my husband and the father of our two children on the 21st of June 2017, 7 weeks today and it is so painful. Our 13 year old (youngest) said he was thinking ahead to Christmas and was feeling sad. I told him I understood and that I was feeling sad too. We said we should do something for daddy and I couldn’t think of anything special enough, but this is definitely special. Thank you for sharing

    • Thank you for sharing this idea! My husband passed away suddenly and unexpectedly this year, and while I may take this season off from stockings (our son is a toddler, so I don’t think he’ll miss them), this is an idea I’d like to remember.

      “Without him, we couldn’t have the stockings that hang between us.”

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