Your first holiday season without a partner, family member, or a beloved friend can be intense. Grief may be heightened as you recall previous holidays and happy memories which bring difficult emotions.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Ideas to Remember a Loved One on Thanksgiving
- Ideas to Celebrate Your Loved One During Hanukkah
- Ideas to Do in Honor of Your Loved One on Christmas
- Ideas to Celebrate a Loved One on New Years
In this blog post, we’ll explore creative ideas for honoring your loved one as a way to keep their memory close while you observe the holidays. Even though you may not feel much like celebrating, honoring their unique place in your holiday traditions can be a cathartic way to make peace with the seasonal revelry while your heart is still aching with loss.
Ideas to Remember a Loved One on Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving can be especially difficult for the bereaved—how can we be thankful after such a devastating loss? These ideas and practices can help you keep your deceased loved one close on Thanksgiving and cultivate gratitude even as you navigate this holiday for the first time without them.
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1. Keep a quiet reminder of their presence
A symbolic item or special spot can signify that you’re holding space for the deceased in your mind and heart. You might keep a chair and set a place for them during the meal in honor of your loved one. Or, keep a candle lit next to a beloved photograph of them. A small alter or centerpiece can also serve as a special tribute on the holiday.
2. Make a toast
If you are comfortable speaking aloud, make a toast or lead a prayer in your loved one's memory. If other guests have Thanksgiving memories of the deceased, you could have them share with the table. This will allow everyone to reflect on the impact the deceased had on their lives.
3. Do something generous in their name
A generous act can help us to kindle gratitude and renew our perspective. Perhaps you could participate in a fundraising event to support finding a cure for the disease which took your loved one. You might cook and deliver a Thanksgiving meal or even donate some of what you might spend on Black Friday shopping.
4. Make their favorite recipe
Food is central to Thanksgiving, so preparing a favorite food that your deceased loved to cook is a great way to honor a loved one during the holiday. You could share copies of the recipe card for that special dish—or teach the next generation of the family how to make it.
5. Invite a guest to your table
It’s hard seeing the absence of your loved one at the Thanksgiving table. When you’re ready to open your home to a new guest, that empty seat could be offered to someone in need—perhaps someone who recently lost a loved one of their own.
Ideas to Celebrate Your Loved One During Hanukkah
Hanukkah is a holiday of remembering the past and is a perfect time to honor a deceased family member. Even when the darkness is heavy, the message of Hanukkah teaches us to believe in the miracle of sustaining light—a message of resilience and strength against all odds.
6. Serve their favorite Hanukkah foods
Did the deceased have a type of latke they loved? A kind of Sufganiyot they swooned over? Include it in the holiday meal.
7. Place their photograph by the Menorah
Do you have a photograph of your loved one at Hanukkah or another treasured image? Hang it or place it by the Menorah where it can inspire stories and memories.
8. Offer a personal prayer after the lighting
Just after the Menorah is lit and while the candles flicker is a special time for offering a prayer. Share a message of your loved one and ask for their protection.
9. Tell stories by candlelight
Judaism teaches that special memories and love cannot be taken away from us. Songs and prayers often follow the lighting of the menorah, and following that is a perfect time to share memories of loved ones. Even simply speaking the person’s name carries great meaning. Encourage everyone to share something about how the deceased impacted their life.
10. Give a gift
There is a tradition of giving additional charity during Hanukkah. Lasting tributes in the form of charitable contributions are an honor to the memory of your beloved. If you find a gift that your loved one would have treasured, consider buying it and donating it.
Ideas to Honor Your Loved One on Christmas
Christmas can be a time of awe and wonder, but if it feels more like a time of heartache, check out our collection of quotes, songs, and poems about missing loved ones at Christmas. Here are some ideas to keep the memory of your loved one burning brightly.
11. Tell stories
Sharing tales about favorite holiday times spent with your deceased loved one can bring both profound joy and sadness to the season. But keeping their memory alive through stories is one of the best gifts you can give to others in your family or circle of friends. Encourage others to share their stories as well and consider capturing them on video with your phone if everyone's game.
12. Kindle a flame chain
On Christmas Eve or another meaningful night, circle up with unlit candles. Let someone begin by lighting their candle and telling the group a memory of your loved one who has passed. After they’ve shared, they light the candle of the person next to them. That person gives another anecdote and so on.
After the last candle is lit and the last story told, close out the ceremony with a prayer, song, or another meaningful ending. You could even light a large pillar candle or lamp that can stay (safely) lit through the course of the holiday.
13. Pass on some love
Choose special belongings of your loved one, wrap them, and write a note about the significance of each item. Gift each one to family and friends who share a connection to the item or are a good match to receive that particular belonging.
14. Hang remembrance ornaments
Try adorning your home or tree with beautiful mementos that symbolize something about your loved one: a photo ornament, sentimental items, even glass bulb ornaments with notes inside. You could even craft ornaments in honor of your loved one and give them to others who are missing them.
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15. Decorate their resting place
Whether your loved one has a grave or some other resting place (like a niche or scattering spot for cremated remains), consider adorning it (if allowed) for the holidays. A poinsettia or greenery would be seasonally appropriate. For inspiration, check out our creative grave and cemetery decoration ideas.
Ideas to Celebrate a Loved One on New Years
Beginning a new year without your loved one can be daunting while you are bereaved. These ideas will help you consciously mark this transition and be clear about the place that your loved one’s memory has in your life during the year ahead.
16. Put regrets to the fire
You may be holding on to things like resentment, regret, or guilt particularly related to your loss. Perhaps there are things you blame yourself for, things left unsaid, or things that you’ve carried since your loss that no longer serve you.
Or perhaps there are things you’d like to forgive the deceased for. Try this practice: light a fire at year’s end, write down things that have been weighing on you, and throw them into the fire to signify a fresh start.
17. Find a place for reflection
After the whirlwind of December, having some quiet time to consider the transition to the new year can be helpful. Visit your loved one’s gravesite or another place that was special to them. You may wish to speak aloud or reflect silently and perhaps plan opportunities for remembrance that you’d like to observe in the year ahead.
18. Bring their memory into the new year
As the new year arrives, consciously bring the memory of your loved one into it. Speak their name. Welcome them to share the year with you. Create a memory collection of some kind (photos, trinkets, letters, etc.) that can be a physical representation of their life and that you can spend time with when you want to feel them near.
19. Create a signal in secret
There will likely be many times in the new year where something reminds you of the person who has died and you want to share this with others who understand. Create a way to signal to each other when it happens.
20. Resolve to live the new year with their guidance
One of the most powerful ways to sustain the legacy of your loved one is to live in a way that would make them proud. Let them inspire you to approach the new year with resilience and strength, prioritizing the values and principals that they lived by. Check out our guide on New Year's resolutions if you're looking for inspiration.
Honoring Their Life: Past, Present, and Future
Drawing on traditions from your past can be grounding at times, but don’t feel beholden to conventions that don’t serve your new reality. As you weather these first holiday seasons after your loss, create ways to celebrate the holidays and commemorate the deceased that are profound and healing for you. Using these ideas, you can keep the memory of your loved one close through the whole holiday season.
If you're looking for more ideas, read our guides on saying "Merry Christmas" to someone who's grieving and getting through your first Christmas without mom or without dad.