how to handle the holidays

By Leslie Payne 

          Every holiday season I hear a gloomy Christmas song that makes me giggle. Just one note of Elvis Presley’s  “Blue Christmas, and I’m back in my senior year of college with two wonderful roommates. Whenever the song came on the radio, Cindy and I sang the octave jumping “Ew-Ew-ew-Oh-ohs as we swung our hips backup-singer style. Sarah, with hairbrush in hand as her microphone, sang the lead. At the top of her lungs, Sarah and Elvis sang of blue snowflakes and memories. It was a miserably sad sound, primarily because Sarah couldn’t sing worth a darn. When the song ended, we’d collapse into giggles at the silliness of it all. Whoever heard of feeling blue at Christmas anyway?

          Fast forward several decades and that thought is not as amusing. Too often, feeling blue during the holidays is reality. Among the three roommates, we’ve lost five parents, two siblings, several friends, too many aunts and uncles and all our grandparents. Often, grief increases during the holidays as advertisers insist this should be the happiest season of all. Not always so.My method of grief management was once “I’ll stay in bed until next year.” While it protected me from constant in-your-face holiday happiness, I ended up with a dreadful case of bed head. I needed a new plan.

          Last year before Christmas, a much better option presented itself. Sarah and I met at a local church for a “Blue Christmas” celebration, which was a beautifully designed service that offered a safe place to pause, grieve and reflect. It gave us permission to acknowledge our grief, so later we could celebrate in traditional Christmas style. We both cried some during the service, and that was OK. My only complaint was she still looked so beautiful, while my tears left me with a splotchy complexion and a case of the hiccups. Yet the evening was a tremendous comfort in the midst of the holiday rush.

          Over the years, after trying a few different approaches, I’ve picked up some strategies to help deal with grief during the holidays.

♦  Acknowledge your grief and emotions by conceding that this year will be different. Realize that anticipating the holiday can be worse than the actual day itself.

♦  Make comfortable changes in traditions. Exchange gifts in the evening instead of morning, eat dinner at a different time or place. There is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday.

♦  Honor your loved one in a special way by playing her favorite music, making his favorite food, lighting a candle or hanging a special stocking. Have family members write down special memories and slip them in the stocking. Talk about your loved one with others.

 ♦  Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, because this season can be physically and emotionally draining. Remember good nutrition. Exercise daily. Be sure to have some time alone, yet don’t isolate yourself.

♦  Avoid additional stress. Don’t feel obligated to do things just because you did them in the past. Ask for help and support in specific ways from friends and family. Avoid people who drain you.

♦  Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace when you’re having a difficult time. And at other times, don’t be afraid to laugh and enjoy the holidays. Each day, holiday or not, is a gift. 

Leslie, a longtime resident of Annapolis, can be reached by visiting her website at


“HOPE FULL HOLIDAYS seminars by Life Center at Hospice of the Chesapeake

To honor grief and memories, plus explore coping strategies for the holiday season. 

In Anne Arundel County:

Registration required:  410 987-2129

“BLUE CHRISTMAS” worship service

College Parkway Baptist Church, 301 College Parkway, Arnold, MD

For more information:  410 647-5594


Don’t Take My Grief Away: What To Do When You Lose A Loved One by Doug W. Manning

How To Survive The Loss Of A Parent: A Guide For Adults by Lois F. Akner

A Tearful Celebration: Finding God in the Midst of Loss by James Means



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