First Christmas: Navigating Your Holiday Grief

By Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

Posted: December 5, 2023

Christmas, in its essence, is a time of reflection and connection. As you navigate your first without a loved one, consider embrace it as a journey of learning, self-compassion, and gentle rediscovery.

As the holiday season unfolds, the joy and festivities can often be tinged with a profound sense of loss, especially if you're experiencing your first Christmas without a loved one.

Just like we discussed in our earlier blog about managing grief during Thanksgiving, the approach to Christmas is no different in its need for compassion and understanding, both from others and from ourselves.

This Season is Not the Blueprint

Remember, your first Christmas doesn't have to set the standard for all future Christmases. Approach it as an experiment. Some things might feel right, while others might not resonate as they used to. That's okay. It's all part of understanding your new journey with grief.

Let Go of Perfection

Release the pressure of perfection. The holidays, often portrayed as a time of unblemished joy, can make us feel like we're doing something wrong if we're sad. But your experience is valid, no matter how messy or complicated it feels. This Christmas, give yourself the grace to live in the moment, however it unfolds.

Track What Works and What Doesn't

Keep a written list of what brings comfort and what doesn't. This might be different from what you expect. Use this as a guide for future holidays, knowing that it's okay to change and adapt as your journey with grief evolves.

Balance Self-Preservation with Compassion

Balancing your own needs with those of others around you is crucial. It's okay to set boundaries and say no when you need to. At the same time, be open to moments of connection and joy, however fleeting they might seem.

It's Not a Linear Journey

Grief isn't linear. You might find yourself revisiting different emotions throughout the season. Be patient with yourself. Growth and healing are not about moving past the grief but learning to live with it.

Remember, It's Okay to Grieve

First and foremost, remember that it's perfectly okay to feel grief during this time. Christmas can bring up a myriad of emotions, and it's important to acknowledge them. You might experience sadness, anger, or even moments of happiness - all of which are valid. Your feelings don't have to match the season.

Creating a Balance 

Balancing grief and celebration might feel overwhelming. It's okay to participate in festivities, but give yourself permission to step back when needed. It's not about either ignoring your grief or forgoing all the joys of Christmas. Rather, it's about finding a middle ground that feels right for you.

New Traditions and Honoring Memories

Consider starting a new tradition in memory of your loved one. This could be as simple as lighting a special candle or sharing stories about them. It's a way to keep their memory alive while making space for your grief.

Self-Care is Crucial

As we've discussed in 'Awaken', our online grief support group, self-care is a crucial aspect of managing grief. This could mean practicing mindfulness, engaging in gentle yoga, or simply allowing yourself time to rest. Remember, self-care isn't selfish; it's necessary.

Connecting with Others

Don't hesitate to reach out to friends, family, or support groups. Sharing your feelings can be incredibly therapeutic. If you're alone, consider volunteering or attending community events. Helping others can also be a way to uplift your spirits.

Embrace Your Feelings

If you find joy, embrace it without guilt. Experiencing happiness doesn't mean you're forgetting your loved one. It's a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

For Those New to This Journey

If this is your first time joining us, welcome. You're not alone in your journey. Grief during the holidays can be especially challenging, but remember, it's a journey many of us are walking together. We encourage you to read our previous blog on managing Thanksgiving grief for more insights.

As we move through this season, let's remind ourselves that grief is a testament to love. It's not something to be fixed but a path we navigate with care, compassion, and the support of those around us. Remember, your grief is a reflection of your capacity to love, and in that space, there is immense strength.

Heather Stang, MA, C-IAYT

About the author

Heather Stang, M.A. is the author of Living with Grief and the guided journal, From Grief To Peace. She is the creator of the Mindfulness & Grief System that is featured in the Handbook of Grief Therapies (2023) and is the founder of Awaken, a mindfulness-based online grief support group. Heather also hosts the Mindfulness & Grief Podcast, and offers mindfulness-based grief support online through her organization, the Mindfulness & Grief Institute. She holds a Masters degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement) from Hood College in Maryland, and is a certified Yoga Therapist. She currently lives in Falling Waters, WV.

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