12 New Holiday Traditions to Start After a Death


Remembering deceased loved ones at Christmas is often bittersweet. The death of a loved one can leave a hole in your heart that inevitably deepens when the holidays approach. But seasonal celebrations and holiday traditions don’t have to go to the wayside when suffering through loss. There are many ways to celebrate and honor the memory of your loved ones, even when you’re still mourning them.

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Finding joy after experiencing loss can be challenging. The holidays may no longer feel the same, or you might not want to continue the usual family traditions without your loved one’s presence. It’s natural and normal for grieving individuals to struggle during the holiday season.

Learning how to survive through the last few weeks of the year can be especially tough for many.  If you’re working on finding your new normal during the holidays, keep reading for some guidance.

How Can Starting a New Holiday Tradition Help You Remember a Deceased Loved One?

Coming up with new holiday traditions after a death in the family can be daunting, especially when you don’t feel like celebrating. Everyone who experiences loss will go through a unique grief journey.

If you’re experiencing feelings of isolation and withdrawal, know that you’re not alone. It’s perfectly normal to feel this way. But what can help you get through your pain is finding different ways to reconnect with friends and family while remembering your deceased loved one.

Starting new traditions around the holidays will help you come together with others to honor and celebrate both the season and your loved one who’s died. You can celebrate holidays despite your loss by finding ways that help you cope. Here are a few tips that might help you recover the lost joy in the meaning of the holidays while adding to your loved one’s legacy.

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

New Holiday Traditions You Can Start After the Death of a Parent or Grandparent

The death of a parent or grandparent represents a particular type of loss for the adult children and grandchildren they leave behind. The way you honor their memory can translate into new holiday traditions for the years ahead. Many families celebrate the holidays with their elders and have certain rituals passed on from one generation to another.

Here are a few ways to add to your parent or grandparent’s legacy while establishing new ways of celebrating following their death, especially if this is your first holiday without them.  

1. Decorate a memorial table

Memorial tables are often the focal point of holiday celebrations, especially in families who have recently lost a parent or grandparent. Consider decorating a table dedicated to the memory of your deceased loved one. Ask your loved ones to bring a favorite photo or memento of the deceased to add to the table. The younger children can contribute handmade holiday crafts, while older children and adults may include small gifts or offerings symbolic of the holiday. 

2. Make tree ornaments

The entire family can participate in making Christmas tree ornaments or other holiday decorations commemorating your deceased loved one. Memorial Christmas ornaments honor departed loved ones while adding special touches to the tree trimming. DIY tree ornaments are a fun way to spend time together with your family as you remember your parent or grandparent. Crafting ornaments offers the opportunity to create new holiday traditions.

3. Explore holiday travel

Many families traditionally spend time with parents and grandparents during the holidays. For those who no longer have the luxury of visiting with a loved one who's died, the holidays can feel a bit sad and empty. Consider adding a new holiday destination to your end-of-year travel to maintain the tradition of going away for the holidays.  

4. Go out for your holiday meal

Food is often the focal point of the end-of-year holidays. Perhaps you and your family are accustomed to cooking your holiday meal together with your parent or grandparent who died. When you can no longer share in that yearly tradition, look at it as an opportunity to do something different from now on.

Many restaurants offer special holiday meals for those who prefer to go out to eat. Maybe this year you make it a new tradition to go out for Chinese food instead of the usual turkey or ham dinner served every year.

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

5. Light a memorial candle

In many religious and spiritual practices, the lighting of a white candle brings solace to the family and creates a special connection to their loved one who's died.

The tradition of lighting candles to commemorate the life of a deceased loved one is deeply rooted in spirituality, bringing peace and comfort to the bereaved. While every religion attaches special meaning behind the lighting of memorial candles, they're almost always symbolic of remembering those who've crossed over. 

6. Volunteer your time

When grieving the death of a parent or grandparent, the holidays can seem incredibly overwhelming. Falling into depression is easy and often challenging to overcome. The world and everyone around you seem oblivious to your pain and sorrow, exacerbating the profound feelings of hopelessness. 

When you’re at a loss about how to spend your holidays, now that your parent or grandparent is no longer with you, consider volunteering your time helping others. Giving of yourself and your time is one of the best ways to heal from the pain of loss. Consider helping out in a soup kitchen, distributing coats and blankets to the homeless, or caring for sheltered animals. 

7. Visit the institutionalized

Many people experience loneliness around the holidays. The loss of your loved one can leave you feeling empty and without the desire to participate in holiday festivities.

Many individuals reside in nursing homes, hospitals, rehabs, and other institutions that don’t have any family or others to visit during the holidays. Call a few places in your area to see what it takes to get on their visitor list so you can bring some holiday cheer to yourself and others. 

8. Start a campaign

For every lonely moment that you experience, many others are experiencing similar feelings of loneliness and despair. To combat the holiday blues, think about how you can help others in your community survive the holidays.

One way to do this is to start a letter-writing or holiday card campaign. You can ask local businesses in your community to donate holiday cards and stamps and recruit volunteers to create an anonymous campaign mailing out cards and letters to people living on your street, in your community, or in randomly selected areas. 

New Holiday Traditions You Can Start After the Death of Another Loved One

The holiday season traditionally begins in November and lasts through the New Year. Times of celebration can be especially challenging for anyone who's experienced the death of a dear friend or another loved one. You'll need to find ways to help you cope with their loss that'll help you manage during this time of year. While there's no getting over the death of a loved one, you can find ways to help you get through the pain. Here are some ideas to consider. 

» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

9. Spend time with their family 

Experiencing the death of a best friend, colleague, or another loved one can leave a massive hole in your heart. You will need time to adjust to their absence, especially if you spend the holidays with them each year.

One way of getting through this painful time is to spend a part of the season with their family to feel closer to them. Your time together can be the start of a new holiday tradition for you all that will help you heal. 

10. Write a letter

Writing holiday update letters is a tradition many people enjoy. If you’ve never been the type to write letters, consider starting a new holiday tradition for yourself. Getting your grief out on paper is a form of grief therapy that helps you deal with your loss.

Write a letter to your loved one and tell them everything that’s happened since you last spoke to them. Put it all in writing, the good and the bad. Catch them up to speed with your life, tell them how you’ve managed without them, and what you wished you could say to them if they were still here. 

11. Donate to charity

Coping with the death of a loved one is hard around the holidays. Sometimes, you might feel guilty taking part in celebrations when they’re no longer here to be a part of it with you.

Holiday gift exchanges are an excellent opportunity to include your loved one in the yearly traditions by donating in their name to a charity that best represents them. Consider giving once a year to a cause that aligns with something your loved one was passionate about during their lifetime. 

12. Be alone with nature

Finding time to reconnect with yourself is an excellent way of honoring and remembering your deceased loved one.

The holidays provide you with an opportunity for self-reflection as well as personal and spiritual growth. Consider establishing the yearly tradition of taking a few days to go hiking, camping, or exploring the outdoors in memory of your loved one. This alone time will help you get acquainted with your grief and gives you the needed space to mourn their loss privately.

Creating New Memories After Loss

With all the focus on family gatherings and celebrations, the holidays can amplify feelings of grief in the bereaved. Creating new traditions helps to add back joy into the season while commemorating the life and legacy of your deceased loved one. 

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