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Imagine the children awakening early on Christmas morning, eyes alight with excitement as they run to the Christmas tree and anticipate opening their presents. 

But wait. That picture is now just a memory. Our children are grown, and we have grandchildren nearly grown as well. The picture of Christmas morning “magic” is now merely a memory.

It’s true that as we age and our families do, too, we need to readjust our expectations of the holiday season. The center of holiday festivities is most probably not our home. We are guests, not hosts. We love our families just as much, but they aren’t tiny children with eyes full of wonder anymore—they’re teens or young adults and our children are middle aged. 

All the changes have happened year by year, but they can add up to a lonely holiday season for many of us. What to do? How can we meet the holiday season with a measure of joy and refrain from falling into negative emotions and loneliness?

Here are some tips for making the most of this special time of year:

  • Be Realistic

Coming to grips with the realities of life in older age is an all-year-round issue. We see it in our daily routines and in changing relationships. Some of our friends have passed away. Some of the activities we used to enjoy are beyond our capabilities now. And our families have grown, moved away, changed. 

What is the situation you face in the holiday season? Take stock of friends and relatives who may be accessible and accept the loss of old traditions that are no longer available to you. It’s hard, but it’s possible.

Take whatever measures are within your means: invite friends and family who are close by. Accept alternative timings, for example, be willing to gather with others a day before or after the big holiday dates. 

Determine to stay positive with what is and let go of what is no longer. Find pleasure in small, simple gestures such as decorating a single table or door rather than your entire home or purchasing one gift for someone special rather than buying and wrapping dozens of gifts.

  • Deal with Emotions

It’s normal and expected to feel sadness when big life changes have taken place. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one, or maybe your children moved far away.

Don’t deny the emotions, but accept them and determine to find goodness in the season despite some sadness.

During the holiday season, be sure to practice self-care. Engage in exercise, get out of doors, practice calming exercises such as meditation and breathing. Get a massage. 

Go for a hike. Listen to music you love or watch favorite classic holiday movies. 

Replace negative emotions with those of pleasure and quiet joy.

Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean feeling lonely. But when the feelings of loneliness come to visit, have a plan to confront them.

  • Be Proactive: Do Something

This is where we can take the bull by the horns and rescue our holiday enjoyment. 

We can maximize our connections with others and determine how to spend the days of festive events and celebration.

  1. Invite others in

Gather a few friends for a tea or cookie exchange. Celebrate on a day when friends are free. 

  1. Attend Festive Events

Take advantage of local holiday celebrations such as Christmas bazaars, concerts, plays or art exhibits.

  1. Give

We always feel stronger and more positive when we’re giving to others.  Find a worthy cause and give either time or money. Helping to serve a holiday meal to the poor is a wonderful way to give and serve. It also reminds us there are others in greater need than us.

Make something for others. This may be the time to knit some warm scarves for the homeless, create a beautiful holiday wreath for a friend, or use those woodworking skills to create a gift for a family member.

  • Plan Ahead for Coming Years

What if you felt disappointed with this year’s prospects for a Merry Christmas? What if you experienced more than a little loneliness and sadness? 

This is the time to make some positive plans for the future. What could make next season brighter? What about planning to go on a singles cruise during the holidays?

What about joining a choir or an orchestra and create your own music experiences? 

What could you do now to ensure that next year will offer more joy and satisfaction?

Take some time for reflection. Perhaps journal your feelings and experiences. Express disappointments and take the time to make a new plan.

A big part of enjoying our senior years involves being creative with changes. The holidays present even greater challenges than day to day life, but with a little determination and creativity we can make the holidays a wonderful time of year.