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Navigating The Holidays Without Your Tribe

Sarah Biegel

Growing up, I have warm memories of the Christmas season. Cookie eating, playing in the snow and rooms roaring with laughter from my numerous extended family members. For 21 years of my life, that was all I knew.

So when I spent my first holiday season away from family, it took a pretty hard toll on me. I was 5 months pregnant, living in New Orleans with my husband. The transition there was abrupt and I was experiencing a bit of undiagnosed depression. When I saw videos and photos of family members gathering together, I had a really hard time accepting that my reality in that moment, was not with them. My husband was "working" on Thanksgiving and had half the day off for Christmas so this particular year's experience was much different than anything I had encountered before. Now don't get me wrong, my Christmas with my husband was wonderful, but it was the first time it had been different than anything I had previously known. And as someone who thrives off traditions and holiday nostalgia, this one was a little tricky for me to mentally navigate.

Back then, I wasn't someone that welcomed change very easily. Because of that, it wasn't until my third Christmas away from friends and family that I felt like I could accept (and enjoy) what my holidays were like now.

I made the conscious decision that instead of feeling sad because I wasn't physically with my extended family, I was going to be excited about creating new traditions with my own little family. That one little decision was all it took.

A few things I do now to recreate those fond, warm memories for my family are choosing a few traditions that I grew up with and incorporating them into my holiday season: cookie baking, a special Christmas breakfast, decorating the tree with my daughter, etc. I've also had fun incorporating some new traditions, unique to our family: a service project every year and golf cart rides around the neighborhood to look at the Christmas lights.

Doing these things have helped me really look forward to the holidays and enjoy being present in them, which is the most important. To see my daughter's eyes light up during this season is really all I could ask for.

Sometimes I think about the fact that my daughter isn't experiencing the same "Christmas Day" feeling as I did growing up, filled with grandparents, cousins, etc. But I remind myself "she's only 2" and that there's no "wrong" way to do a holiday. Sometimes I look back to those fond memories, too. But I learned it's okay to reminisce in them, but it's not okay to dwell on them. It's important to enjoy your "now."

While holidays without our "tribe" may always feel inherently abnormal to me, I look at the opportunity to create memories for my immediate family as a true blessing. :)

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

Sarah B.

Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, Sarah and her family currently reside in Florida while her husband pursues his NFL career. Her two daughters keep her and her husband on their toes at all times. Due to their many adventures and moves, Sarah has become a professional toddler wrangler and traveller. She enjoys baking recipes with her daughter that have been handed down to her from prior generations.

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Sarah Biegel