Emotionally preparing for the holiday season


jegna_brandon_jonesIt is many people’s favorite time of year again, the holiday season. This is a season of joy, hope and excitement. It is also a season of sorrow, pain and disappointment. No matter what end of the excitement continuum you are on, it is a season of emotions.


I recently asked a group of young adults what some of their fondest memories from the holidays are. They shared a lot of similarities: grandma’s peach cobbler, playing card games with cousins, and the special gift that they waited all year to receive. Everyone in the room was in sync with one another about these joyful moments.

agnesliinnea via CC0 Public Domain
(Photo by agnesliinnea)

Then one person, a young Black female who did not say much during the session, stated, “I hate the holidays.”

I asked her, “What about the season troubles you?”

With a serious look on her face, she stated, “Every year in my family someone gets in a fight about some old *blank* that happened years ago.” She continued to share several stories that have happened in the past few years of her family members getting into serious fights with one another.

It hit me hard, because I felt the same way. In my family we had several gatherings with folks arguing and fighting with one another. I was not the only one who connected with her pain either.

One person mentioned how his two uncles got into a fight and one was shot. Soon after, another student mentioned being homeless last year during Christmas. Another student talked about losing her grandfather the day before Thanksgiving. Many of us can relate to these experiences, all of them leaving us with unpleasant reflections years later.

The young lady who ignited the sharing of stories was discussing the trauma and pain that our families hold. The holiday season is just a prime, opportune time for our families to address conflict.

One of the major igniters of this pain are family secrets. We all have them. Your family does and my family does. Some of those secrets are small, like when one of the cousins received a DWI over the summer. Other secrets are huge, like someone isn’t the mother of this person that we also thought was their parent. The list of secrets can be long and range from “little thangs” to “big deals.”

So, how do we deal with this? Why do we harbor so many traumas and keep them tucked away? Also, why do we not have practices in place to address our secrets in a healthy manner? These are critical cultural questions that I have asked myself.

I ponder on these things because for the past four years I have practiced as a therapist. Every year, I have had at minimum two clients who return to a session after New Year’s and express how difficult their holiday season has been.

As a collective, we must develop more constructive habits and traditions in dealing with the pain within our families. Our family secrets cannot be kept without taking some sort of constructive action to address them.

I understand this is easier said than done. Addressing our own pain is hard enough. When faced with doing things to the people you love the most, it is even harder. However, that does not mean that something cannot be done about it.

We usually just allow these things to fester and “go along to get along.” This then leaves us living in pain silently. We must heal individually, in couples, in families, and as a community.

However, it all starts with you. So, make sure the time you spend with your family over the next few weeks is meaningful and carries triumph into the next generation instead of pain.


Brandon Jones M.A. is a mental health practitioner. He welcomes reader responses to Brandon@jegnainstitute.com or follow him on twitter @UniversalJones.


One Comment on “Emotionally preparing for the holiday season”

  1. Mr. Universal Jones,

    I appreciate reading your article. Although after reading it; I found the title a bit misleading. The title did what it is suppose to do, to “catch” the readers eye and interest. Based on the title, and your credentials; I had hoped you would have some ACTUAL suggestions/tools or ideas for preparation!

    Besides being a super-duper husband and father, as well as a serious graduate student, I realize you couldn’t be expected to THINK of everything! So, I’ll contribute a few of my own attempts a family cohesion. There are only 5, and I hope these suggestions will be useful to your readership or at least stimulate them to develop their own strategies. If none or all of these ideas of work, email me for more ideas…’cause I have been attempting to have a minimal stress regarding the holidays for about 45 years now.

    For instance;
    1). As a therapist, you might want to recommend to your readers, they book appointments in September with their therapist, because available therapy calendar dates *shrink* closer to the holiday. They should pay in advance as well.
    2). Identify who is/will be your family “ally” by October, nurture that relationship a little bit more BEFORE the holiday, so you know there’s at least ONE person that understands where you’re coming from, and understands your language…they could be called on to translate later!
    3). Initiate/create a family activity or 2, or 3, that involve doing/positive interactions with one another. (i.e. Create a bare family tree. Each leaf, bares the name of a family member. Allow the youngest child and up to place the leaf on the correct branch of the tree…Encourage 1 0r 2 favorite/positive stories about that family member.
    4). Photo swap. Everyone loves photographs. Encourage family to bring duplicate photos of family members to swap and share. We all have a Cousin or two, who might be coming out of the fog of addiction and rehab, who has missed ALL the family gatherings, would love a family photo album!
    5). Set aside time to conduct some ACTUAL family business/mediation attempt to resolve an issue, make a plan, make delicate announcements etc… as a family!
    (A good time to remove small children/and non essential young people for a movie and snacks.)
    Too late for Thanksgiving, but we know what’s right around the corner. Good luck everybody.

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