If, after some years as a widow or widower, you’re sharing your life with someone new and possibly his or her children as well as your own, planning the Christmas holiday could be fraught with differences in expectation.
Your first Christmas together should be memorable and reflect the holiday spirit anticipated by both of you. There will be a lot to think about if you want things to run smoothly. If the pattern of Christmas-past does not hold the same appeal for either of you, then perhaps it’s time to look at your options.
Sharing this particular event for the first time, for both you, and your respective families, is an opportunity to combine ideas and create your own unique Christmas experience. Some habits of course, will remain, because they’re positive and fun, especially with young children in mind, as they will be expecting the same. Waking up to Christmas stockings and parcels under the tree, are elements that I don’t think any of us would want to change. These are the magical moments, which stick firmly in our minds and are, hopefully, cherished forever.
Integrating the old with the new can create a unique experience that will become your own special way of spending the holiday. Make sure everyone, children included, are invited to make suggestions on what they would like to do.
When my husband died suddenly, two weeks before Christmas, I had plenty of offers from family and friends to join them on Christmas Day. At the time, my daughter was 13 and my son, 10. We talked about what we wanted to do and staying home seemed, to us, the best option. In a funny sort of way, by doing this we felt that we were including my husband, and by carrying on as usual we thought that this is what he would have wanted. Certain Christmas tree decorations he had bought for that Christmas have survived, 20 years on, and are still cherished.
Start as you mean to go on, and make plans for Christmas together. The shopping, and of course, the cooking, if you’re eating at home, are all tasks that can be shared. If there are children around, get them to help, too. This will strengthen bonds and create a pattern for future years.
If two sets of children are involved, this is the perfect opportunity to harmonise the families. Ask them if there is something specific they would like to do, such as going for a winter outing or watching a favourite movie or TV programme. In our house we used to get the younger children to come up with an idea for a play. They would go off and rehearse, while the ‘grown-ups’ enjoyed more grog, and polished off the chocolates! When the ‘players’ returned with their carefully practiced performance, a great deal of hilarity was enjoyed all round.
Anniversaries and holidays can often be a time of increased stress and emotional turmoil. If this is your first Christmas together you have to make allowances for this. One suggestion is each family sharing an upbeat story of Christmas past. By so doing, you’re acknowledging that memories of your previous family celebrations are important. This could help to allay any feelings of remorse if you’re feeling guilty about enjoying yourself.
A first Christmas together may not be the ideal time to include your bereaved partner’s parents and other family members. If this occurs through necessity, then use the occasion to build as much rapport as possible. It’s likely they will be as cautious as you with this arrangement, but it offers the opportunity for all parties to accept that change is inevitable. This will show that you have not forgotten their son/daughter and any grandchildren will always be a significant presence in their lives.
If it’s just the two of you, planning something completely new could be a good idea. It can also be a great way of creating a unique seasonal significance to your relationship. A city-break or planning a Christmas lunch with a difference are just two ways of avoiding tradition.
Ultimately, the holiday season is an opportunity for everyone involved to form lasting memories together. In time, these experiences will hopefully form the basis of a new chapter in your life together.
If you’re bereaved and single, join in with family and friends and look to the future. There are many other widows and widowers out there looking for someone just like you. The year ahead could bring new friendships, which could change your life.
Have a happy and peaceful holiday!
This article is part of the ‘Love After Bereavement’ series.