Post-Parent Holidays

The loss of one parent may upset the balance of holiday celebrations if that person was the family gathering’s lynchpin. More often than not, the celebrations simply go on, minus one.

When both parents are gone, holiday plans can get shaken up like a snow globe.

If your already-small party is now two guests smaller, great friends or caring in-laws may tell you it makes sense to join their event. And it probably does make sense. But whether their celebration is a blow-out or sedate candlelit dinner, even if the food is fantastic and the alcohol plentiful, even if none of the children scream like a pterodactyl, it’s still hard not to mourn the loss of your own traditions.

On the flip side, if your parents’ home was Holiday Central, you and your extended family may find yourselves scrambling. Who wants to cook for 35 people? Who has a big enough house? Should we make it potluck? Should we rotate? Should we break into smaller groups—the sons with their families, the daughter with hers?

And then, sooner or later, all heads will turn to face you. As The Responsible One, you’re in charge. You are now the leader.

I recommend taking what could be a stressful or painful transition as an opportunity to create the holidays you’ve always wanted. Finally, you have the chance to keep what you like (champagne!), add something great (Emeril’s savory sweet potato casserole!), and throw out the rest (Aunt Jane’s syrupy sweet potato casserole!).

Whether you’re being absorbed by another family or planning the new, big blowout, be prepared for course corrections along the way. If your plans fall a little short the first year, that’s OK. Just make adjustments. Maybe you don’t need the expense and clean up of a seven-course meal. Maybe you’re the only person who wanted to play charades. Maybe someone should drive Uncle Ted home after the second six-pack.

Think about it. The Thanksgiving or Christmas chain of events you grew up with evolved as well. You just didn’t see the inner workings because you were busy eating Hershey kisses and watching football with your cousins.

What you call a tradition probably started after a major transition, perhaps when your parents moved away or your grandparents died. And if you think back year by year, you’ll recall that events were never truly static. People and pets came and went. Children grew. Toys got more complicated. Cooking trends changed. Furniture was updated.

Be patient with yourself and with family members who want the past to magically return to life or those who take this opportunity to leave the fold and start something new. It’s time to create your own tradition, one that feels right to you. One that your spouse, your children and your close friends will remember.

The holidays are in your hands. Enjoy!


Image: James Barker,

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