The December holiday season is traditionally a time of joy and celebration for many, filled with festive traditions and fond memories. However, the season carries a different weight for many others—one marked by loss, grief, and a sense of isolation.
I'm not Christian, I don't celebrate Christmas, and I lost my dad around the December holidays when I was young. Years later, I lost my stepdad around the same time. Predictably, each year on November 1st, I feel dread as shelves of discounted Halloween candy are replaced with Christmas decor.
I learned at a young age that for people who have lost loved ones, grief can be an ever-present companion, and it can cast an even longer shadow when ideas of family, belonging, and companionship take center stage. In this way, the conventional association of a "happy" holiday season has often felt like an artificial veneer, leaving me feeling even more alone.
And now, more than ever, as the collective weight of the world is felt by so many, I don’t want this for others. It feels important to lift the veneer and make room for the many ways people are struggling. The intention is not to take away from the people for whom this is truly a happy time of year but rather to help others feel less alone and find ways to offer support.
Let’s consider some of the factors at play this holiday season and their significance.
The direct and indirect trauma experienced by so many people across the world—from Congo, Sudan, Tigray, Haiti, and Armenia to Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank—is palpable. The impacts extend well beyond the immediate conflict zones, fostering distinct forms of hatred, discrimination, and inequities for many around the globe.
The prospect of reuniting with family during the holidays can be anxiety-inducing. Families can range from being unsupportive but “tolerant” to outwardly hostile. Returning “home” may mean being subjected to judgments, microaggressions, and even violence. Instances of minimizing familial trauma, misgendering, the use of incorrect pronouns or dead names, and familial rejection are far too common.
Additionally, the prospect of “family time” during the holidays demands extra resilience from people grieving the loss of loved ones. During times when the world celebrates the ideas of family, belonging, and companionship, the absence of those we hold dear can be devastating.
The holiday season brings various mental, physical, and emotional stressors. Women often shoulder a significant portion of "emotional labour," which is incredibly daunting as they strive for the elusive perfect experience. The constant social demands pose challenges, particularly for neurodivergent or introverted individuals. Sharing meals becomes a stress point for those with disordered eating, body dysmorphia, or non-normative body types. The presence of alcohol can trigger those with addiction, and dietary restrictions may be overlooked in meal planning.
With rising costs and job loss due to AI and other factors, the cost of travel and gift-giving can be challenging for many; the increased travel, festival lighting, and heightened consumerism typical of the holiday season means increased production of goods and waste, contributing to environmental degradation.
While some activities surrounding Christmas, like decorating trees, going to parades, and exchanging gifts, may be considered secular or commercial, they are still grounded in Christianity. The mainstreaming of Christmas activities often overshadows and can even erase other important religious and spiritual observances like Chanukah and Kwanzaa.
As the contrast between the season and people’s realities is all the more stark, we need each other more than ever.
We need to lift the veneer and understand that “holidays” are unique, personal, nuanced, sometimes contentious, not always “happy,” and vary based on cultures, beliefs, families, contexts, locations, and histories. Adopting a thoughtful and intentional approach involves acknowledging struggles, respecting individual needs, and shifting away from centring dominant and mainstream holidays to make room for others.
For those who are struggling, I see you. I hope you find pockets of safety and comfort in your own way.
P.S. Want to learn more? Check out our Holiday, Observances, & Celebrations resource and calendar:
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If you wish to reference this work, please use the following citation: Feminuity. Saska, S. "Navigating “Happy” Holidays Amidst Diverse Realities"