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Counsellor Guest Post: Turning holiday gloom into a good time (really!)

Adults |

In this special guest post, we’re pleased to introduce one of our new therapists, Anja Hess. Anja is an artist and naturalist – and they offer a wide range of tools to reflect client interests including CBT, DBT, narrative, brief solution-focused, nature, mindfulness, strengths-based, and emotion-focused therapies. Anja completed their practicum requirements for their Registered Clinical Counsellor designation here at Amira Health, and we are happy to have them on our team! Enjoy Anja’s thoughts on turning holiday gloom into an actual good time.

With Diwali behind us, our communities are already in the midst of holiday season during a global pandemic. And as time inches closer to my family’s main event at the end of what usually is an exciting month filled with traditions, I am finding that the buzz is noticeably dampened by the heaviness of increasing social restrictions and the big question: is Christmas cancelled this year?

I was born in Canada on Nuxalk Territory to German-Romany immigrants and so I was raised in my family’s German Christmas tradition, which believe it or not is even more crazed than Christmas traditions on this side of the Atlantic. I present to you my evidence: On the 5th of December, we each put a boot outside our front door and hope that a ghost fills them with chocolate overnight. The next morning, we count ourselves lucky if the ghost’s companion didn’t fill the boots with coal instead of chocolate. We also put candles in an evergreen wreath and then crowd around it to light them on fire and recite poetry every Sunday for the month of December. Meanwhile, we cut down a tree and watch it slowly dry out in the living room until Christmas Eve, when we cover it in candles and light them on fire (no poetry this time). Then, for the grand finale, naked Baby Jesus flies in through the window while we’re looking away so he can put gifts under the tree and ring a bell on his way back out the window. The safety concerns are not lost on me and please don’t ask for a logical explanation about the bare-bummed flying baby because there isn’t one.

Even when they don’t make sense, traditions serve an important social purpose.

Traditions remind us that we are part of a historical collective, a community, with shared values and ways of doing things. There’s comfort and joy in that. For me, the most exciting part of the holidays is knowing I will be spending several days of uninterrupted quality time with my family. But things weren’t always this way. When I was a teenager, there was a time after my parents split that our regular holiday traditions felt more like a reminder that my dad moved out. So, I stopped looking forward to Christmas even to the point where I dreaded it.

The holiday season can bring up a lot of difficult emotions and memories.

It’s important for the sake of our mental health to acknowledge these challenging moments and give them the utmost care because even if they require some soothing, emotions are still meant to be felt. Emotions help us to know what we find important. I needed some time to mourn the fact that my Christmases would never look like they once did and after some time passed, I realized that the sadness helped me to understand how much I value family time. So when I was ready, I began a new tradition with my mom and sister.

Traditions can evolve to bring even more joy each year.

Growing up, our Christmases were all very quiet and civilized; there was a reverence around lighting the candles and making ourselves scarce so we wouldn’t scare Baby Jesus. However, over the years a rather tame treasure hunt has blown up into something quite raucous. I take comfort in knowing that come Christmas Eve, I will be dripping with sweat after shoving everyone outside for a long walk in the cold night air, frantically hiding 40 piles of gifts and clues around my mother’s apartment while trying not to burn a big pot of hot chocolate. All this occurs with the distraction of my family shouting and attempting to knock the front door down, which I have barricaded with Mom’s antique wrought-iron sewing machine. Eventually I let them in, they complain loudly, and I tell them that the first clue is at the bottom of someone’s drink. Then, after the last person has finished their hot chocolate, I take the clue out of my pocket and my family tramples me on their way to their second clue. And as I lay there with my hand clutching the air as if it’s still holding a piece of paper, I wonder if I would have ever known how wild and free they could be if we hadn’t created new traditions. As for the old traditions, we still put our boots out for the chocolate ghost, but I add a bar of charcoal soap to my sister’s. Let’s face it, she’s naughtier than I am.

Things are already different this holiday season and we may not have our regular raucous treasure hunt this year, but we are finding new ways to connect with each other by going for walks and having video chats. I look forward to carrying on some of these new traditions for years to come. My family’s regular holiday traditions may be cancelled, but loss has made way for something beautiful for us in the past and it can again. I hope that my story will encourage you to give life to your trials and make some new traditions this holiday season. You never know what you might discover.