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Don’t Deck the Halls (If You Don’t Want to)

By Teresa Beshwate December 03, 2023 Mindset

If this December you are feeling anything but merry and bright, it’s perfectly okay. There is no requirement to be “in the spirit,” or peaceful or joyful. And by all means, if you don’t feel like it, don’t deck the halls or hang the stockings with care.

There is no rulebook for the holiday season, especially after what may have been a particularly difficult year. Just because you have always done it, doesn’t mean that this year it must be done at all. Perhaps this year you are feeling the sting of loss, unwanted change, deep loneliness or an otherwise dramatically different and difficult holiday season.

It’s Okay If You’re Not Okay

I believe that by age five, everyone should know that difficult emotions are a normal part of life. Perhaps, on average, up to 50 percent of life is full of uncomfortable feelings, from annoyed to agitated, bored to burdened, weak to weary, and everything in between. While the other 50 percent is the range of happy, joyful, pleasant emotions that we enjoy feeling. Life simply is not a bowl of cherries all the time.

In fact, feelings can change by the minute based on the thoughts we’re thinking. A normal day offers us a wide range of emotions because we have a wide range of thoughts. Tracing feelings back to the thought causing them is a useful skill in general, and especially during difficult seasons of life.

Grief Is Heavy

If this holiday season you’re grieving any loss, everything likely feels heavier. Perhaps the mix of emotions you’re experiencing is not at all 50/50, but more like 90% difficult and 10% positive. Whatever mix of emotions you’re feeling is 100% perfectly okay. There is no requirement that you should feel differently than you do.

Difficult emotions are never around forever. The same is true for positive emotions. Sometimes difficult and positive emotions happen sequentially, while other times they happen all at once. For many people who are living life after a profound loss, experiencing both difficult and positive emotions at the same time is a disorienting experience. It’s the duality of grief.

Judging Yourself Has No Upside

Notice if you think you should be thinking, feeling and acting differently this holiday season. This creates unnecessary suffering on top of the pain of an already difficult season of life.

You get to think, feel and act exactly as you are. If this time of year feels heavier than usual, just let it feel heavy. Decorate or don’t. Feel the joy and the sadness that life offers you. There is no need to put on a “game face” or attempt to deliver a best-actress-in-a-dramatic-series level performance. Just be exactly, precisely, however you are. Show up as the most authentic version of yourself this holiday season.

Here are some thoughts to consider. If they feel true for you, practice them often:

  • I’m feeling extra sadness/loneliness/grief this year, and that’s okay.
  • This is the part when I feel difficult emotions during the holidays.
  • There is no requirement to feel happy all of the time.
  • Life is a mix of happy and uncomfortable emotions.
  • It’s okay if I’m not okay.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

If this holiday season is difficult for you, what (if anything) are you doing differently? Do you agree that life, on average, is a 50/50 mix of positive and difficult emotions? Why or why not? Do you notice self-judgement in terms of how you’re feeling and acting this holiday season? In what ways can you take extra care of yourself this year?

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As an empty nester, I’ve given my adult kids most of the holiday decorations they grew up with, and have downsized my decorating to changing out linens, adding candles and a putting out few little things that bring me joy now.


Ive had many Christmas’s alone and this one will probably be the same. I have some good books to read; television to watch, I make a list of chores to be done (whether I do them is something else); enjoy a couple of drinks and cook myself dinner. It’s another day and I rarely have time alone at home as I am active doing things. I do find it surprising though how few people will think of sending a turkey dinner to someone alone at Christmas. If you know someone – tell them they will receive a turkey dinner from you so they can look forward to it. I would not want to intrude on someone else family dinner if invited.


My sister lived in a non Christian country for many years and does not decorate at Christmas, she also likes to spend it on her own. Each to their own, I don’t see this as a problem as long as she is happy.


As a solo ager who lives alone after my mother’s death two years ago, I find myself re-evaluating my whole relationship to this season. I’ve cut way back on decorating, just a few treasured items here and there. I also haven’t been able to muster any excitement for putting up a Christmas tree and now feel O.K. about leaving that in the past. I do like cold weather and prefer to focus on enjoying winter rather than the holidays. The Scandinavian approach has a lot of appeal: minimal decorations, lots of candles, a warm sweater, walk in the brisk air, something hot to drink. Very pleasant.


Agree, Mindy, there is much to be said for keeping things simple.


I like the concept of Danish Hygge and have a book on it.

I’m also off to lovely Copenhagen for a weekend, a city I truly feel.welcome in as it’s so friendly.


This will be the first Christmas without my husband. He passed away in July. I was alone for Thanksgiving and I made it a me day. I slept in and got out of bed when I felt like it. I cooked when I felt like it. My plan is to do the same for Christmas

The Author

Teresa Amaral Beshwate, MPH, is an author and life coach who exclusively helps widows to move forward and learn to live and love their life again after the loss of their spouse. Her latest book, Life Reconstructed: A Widow’s Guide to Coping with Grief, is now available.

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