Following October’s destruction from the wildfires that devastated parts of Sonoma County, it’s hard to think about any kind of celebration, especially this soon. The holidays are supposed to be a happy time — a time when presents, large meals and home gatherings are the foundation of these seasonal celebrations. This year, things feel more subdued. We’ve all been affected, and this year’s holiday season is bound to be different.
If you’re unsure how to get through the holidays following the recent Sonoma County wildfires, here are a few suggestions to help carry you through.
Consider sharing your table with more people. Rather than a small gathering, combine your holiday with other families, encouraging a potluck meal to help spread the cooking responsibility and to try different dishes. Many people at the table will have fire stories to share and how their lives have changed, and the gathering could serve as a therapeutic way of healing.
However, if a large gathering feels daunting, consider a small gathering. Don’t force yourself to be a part of the usual traditions of getting together for the holidays if the idea of it seems overwhelming. After this time of stress, hardship and loss, it’s perfectly acceptable to skip big gatherings this year. Allow yourself permission to spend the day they way you need to, even if it means you need to cancel plans at the last minute.
Welcome the normalcy of the holidays, and celebrate full force. It’s hard to feel normal with so much loss around us. Since Oct. 9, many of us have had trouble focusing on anything but devastation and fire recovery. But the holidays come every year. It’s something you can count on. When the house is decorated, it symbolizes the turned page of the calendar and the passing of time. If you’re craving some sense of normalcy, let the holidays be it. Decorate your home. Turn on the Christmas music. Fire up the oven and bake some cookies. Enjoy every holiday tradition that makes you feel happy.
Do something for someone else. Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar, once said, “If you are feeling helpless, help someone.” Even if you have little, there is always someone that can benefit from your help. Call a friend or spend time with them, and then just listen. Lighten someone’s load by helping them accomplish something, such as folding their laundry, watching their children, or babysitting their kids. Donate your time at the food bank, or serve at one of the holiday meals.
You can also contact Sonoma County Volunteer Center at volunteernow.org and find out ways you can use your skills to benefit someone else, attend a few fundraising events or adopt a person or a family through the Secret Santa program at secretsantanow.org. These are only a few ideas, and ones anyone can do. Sometimes doing even the smallest thing for someone else can help to lighten the burden of a drastically changed life — yours and theirs.
Pare back the giving and getting this year. For those who haven’t lost their home, it can feel inappropriate to match previous years of generosity within our families when so many have lost so much. Likewise, those who have lost their homes, jobs or have been financially affected by the fires in a different way may feel guilt over not being able to give as much. This year, make the holiday less about gift giving and large meals. Time spent with others, random acts of kindness and smaller trinkets can easily take the place of the usual wrapped present, and mean just as much, if not more. This not only eases any stress felt about money, but it could create meaningful memories and new traditions for the younger generation.
Make your needs known. In the wake of the fires, one thing I’ve heard often from those who haven’t lost their home is a feeling of helplessness among so much loss. People want to help, but aren’t sure how without getting in the way, or even that their help will make a difference. The underlying feeling is the desire to give, but they’re not sure how. While hard to do, it’s been helpful when friends who have lost their homes tell others what they specifically need. What is something you lost that you miss more than anything, or would make your life easier? Don’t be afraid to ask — you may just get it. And if pride is keeping you from speaking up, think of it like this: you are giving a generous person a purpose in this disaster.
Give yourself time. Life is different now, and there is no time limit on how to get over this kind of grief. Communities have been devastated. The landscape is scarred. Good people lost their jobs, their home and their sense of security. We’ve all been affected, regardless of where we landed on the other side of this tragedy. Here’s how you can help travel through the grief: If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like staying home, stay home. If you feel like skipping the holiday meal, skip it. If you feel like certain traditions are too daunting, don’t do them. And if you feel adamant to let this holiday be the one piece of normalcy among so much grief, then make this season the best one possible. In other words, pay attention to how you feel, and honor it.
What is something that’s helped you get through emotionally after this disaster, and as we head into the holiday? Tell us in the comments.
Crissi Langwell is the author of several books, covering genres of magical realism, contemporary fiction and young adult, and lives in Sonoma County with her husband, blended family of three teenagers and a ridiculous teenage dog. Find her at crissilangwell.com.