Mental Health Moment

Today’s Topic: Family Traditions

Continuing our lives during the time of COVID-19 has meant tracking a moving target for the past year which has left us feeling emotionally drained, exhausted, and challenged in every way imaginable. As a culture, we’ve grown more divisive, more distant, and more distraught in 2020. Some studies report that depression rates have tripled this year and anxiety is through the roof, which makes a lot of sense due to the many losses that families have experienced this year. With all the challenges this year has brought, it’s no surprise that many folks had their Christmas decorations hung before the Thanksgiving meal was even on the table.

For many folks, the solid, reliable, tradition filled Christmas season promised respite from the chaos of 2020.

And while our brains have been grasping for something reliable and comfortable, we must also acknowledge that much of what we are craving is absent this year. This holiday season isn’t our typical holiday season that is marked by time spent with loved ones and rich family traditions. For some folks, that means:

No holiday parties at work.

No Christmas dinner at Grandma’s.

No Christmas Eve service.

No New Year’s Eve parties with kissing at midnight.

Instead this year is marked by heightened emotions, social distancing, and the creation of new traditions. Songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” have taken on a whole new meaning because of social distancing and lockdowns occurring across the nation.

While many families are craving time and tradition together, other families might be feeling some relief. Quarantine Christmas is a blessing for those who have families with challenging backgrounds, such as abuse, trauma, or high conflict. No matter where you find yourself this holiday season, here are some tips for surviving and thriving this year.

Create New Family Traditions

With the stress of keeping existing traditions in place, creative folks can feel stuck in a family tradition that doesn’t align with their current desires, beliefs, or situation. I recently had someone tell me they were having tacos for Thanksgiving because they simply did not want to keep up with the tradition of a full Thanksgiving meal, but wanted to instead focus on connecting with their family and just being together. The current landscape of 2020 provides a nice excuse to try something new for a family tradition. Perhaps trying a new food, a new family craft or activity, or simplifying the gift giving process.

Reminisce About Years Past

With our fast paced world today, we can easily get swept up in taking pictures on our phone, combing through social media to tell everyone and their brother happy holiday, or moving from one family member’s house to the next to stuff as many activities into the holiday as possible. This year things will move slower and be emptier, providing a great opportunity for taking a stroll down memory lane. Pull out some old photo albums, tell your favorite story from childhood, or journal about your favorite memories of past holidays spent with lost loved ones.

Focus on Serving Others

What better way to spend this holiday season than to honor our Christian calling to help others who are in need? Many families have lost jobs, homes, their 401k, and even family members this year and could really use a leg up. Some families are drowning in debt to just survive and cannot imagine how to make Christmas work for their kids this year. Consider donating by providing “Angel Tree” gifts, through churches who may have ministries to support families, or by simply creating some goodie bags to brighten someone’s day as you are out and about this holiday season.

And to those who find this to be a challenging time of year because of your past experiences, I encourage you to take a moment to focus on the relationships and traditions you would like to cultivate today. To find balance in acknowledging history, but also moving toward compassion and grace to find hope in this current holiday season and for future ones to come. You hold the power to shape your family’s trajectory for future holiday seasons by being present and not allowing the past to color your current experience. I hope you’ll see this year as a blank canvas to start over and start new traditions that are not based on your childhood experiences.  

One of my personal favorite Christmas shows is Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. In the show, Nestor experiences loss after loss, many seemingly caused by his long ears that drag the ground. He saw himself as worthless and defective, his life filled with misfortune. That is, until an angel appeared and told him that God had plans for his ears. She explains: “Your ears can do a wondrous thing no other ears can do…the sounds they hear will guide you on a path that’s straight and true.” Spoiler alert: that special thing was carrying Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.

It’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of our current circumstances (our brains are literally wired for this), but God is mighty and can do great things even in the most painful of circumstances. Dear friend, 2020 is no different.

I hope you each find joy, comfort, and the gentle presence of God with you this holiday season.

Sabrina Williams

Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern

Want to chat more about this?

The counselors at The Christian Counseling Center at MorningStar provides faith based Christian counseling in Tampa and surrounding cities. We have counselors who specialize in all stages of life, including children counseling, teen counseling, marriage counseling, and individual counseling for various struggles such as anxiety, trauma, grief, narcissism and more. More information can be found on our website at

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