The Holidays After Divorce: Their Surprising Gifts
“Have myself a merry little Christmas … “
‘Tis the season for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa celebrations: those festive holidays of light strategically devised to arrive in the middle of the dark season to give us all hope for brighter days ahead. The sparkle, the decorations, the songs, the festive food, and not to mention, the well-deserved days off, all conspire to tell us this is a “most wonderful time of the year.”
I live in Russia, and here we celebrate Christmas and New Year’s in the same fashion. We put on our finest winter wear and get together with our beloved family and friends we may not have seen in a long while (thank you, COVID). We sit down to enjoy savory foods like duck, goose, or pork, the celebrated Russian salad we call “Olivier,” and of course, salmon caviar, which we wash down with a glass of sparkling wine or a shot of vodka.
But just like in the rest of the world, here in Russia, the holidays (especially after divorce) can also remind us our lives may not be the most wonderful. We may smile or laugh but we can see the fractured light coming through the glasses of raised crystal, the dysfunction that cracks the surface. It’s in this space of forced light that certain things become abundantly clear: it hurts to see our spouse make no effort with the festivities or to overindulge with drink. It’s embarrassing to be disrespected in front of others or to see our loving efforts dismissed. And it can be a struggle to be nice to the in-laws when we are counting the days for something to change.
The Surprising Fact About Christmas
As in the transformative stories of childhood, Christmas can actually be a time for a positive change.
As Psychology Today has written, the commonly held belief that suicide rates rise during or after holidays is a myth. Instead, those who are depressed and contemplating suicide are often offered some degree of protection by the proximity of their relatives and the prospect, at least, of “things getting better from here.”
Obviously, the expectation that things will be getting better is our basis for the New Year’s tradition of creating resolutions. These commitments to ourselves help reassure us that we can and will become a better version of ourselves.
There’s a reason why divorce lawyers inboxes get flooded after Christmas or why employment experts call the first weekday after the holidays “Massive Monday” as masses of people start looking for new jobs.
I know, because for the past two years, I’ve contributed to both statistics.
Two years ago, just before Christmas 2019, my then-husband and I filed for divorce. In January 2021, I quit a job I didn’t like.
Holidays After Divorce: Adapting to Change
Two years later, I approach my second Christmas as a divorced mother of two with calm and (dare I say) a certain levity. I am involved in several work projects that inspire far more joy than my old job. And I am supervising a renovation in my new apartment, the one I bought after my Ex and I sold our marital home. And this year, most importantly, I know for sure that both my sons will be joining me for Christmas and New Year’s dinners.
After the divorce, I was devastated my elder son decided what he did, and I used to be nervous when I met him while living apart. Without realizing it then, I wanted to be my best self for him, hoping that he’d recognize his error and would prefer me and move in with me. I definitely overcompensated with attention and presents. It didn’t work.
Two years after the divorce and my separation from my elder son, I don’t feel like I have to woo him anymore. We have a new connection now, and understanding and empathy are enough for me. I don’t think that it’s essential to have him back living under my roof.
What I am conscious of is that I have developed a new closeness with my younger son during these past two years and that’s been a blessing. So, when the three of us meet this Christmas, joining my parents who love my boys very much, I believe we will all be in a different place. Divorce recovery is something we all needed and deserve. As much as we’re coming to terms that we are still a family, the family has taken on a different shape. Holidays after divorce can still be joyful.
What’s Different This Christmas?
For me, the biggest change this Christmas is my new attitude as an independent woman. I am doing more of what I want this year. It’s far less about pleasing others. I say no to invites that are too much for me. I decorate my home as early as I want and in the style I choose. Also, I no longer pretend I am decorating the tree or doing this “for the kids”. I am doing it for me, which makes it better. I am a happier, brighter Mom, feeling less trapped or belittled, all of which I know my boys see. This year I turned on fairy lights because I like fairy lights. And candles. Lots and lots of candles.
And this year in the glow of our light, coming together, I will make myself emotionally ready to be a positive presence for my boys who may not be in the same exact place as me, recovering from the divorce and feeling grateful. I will make myself available for any questions they may have, answering them as straightly as possible but not overwhelming them with all my truths. My truths are mine and meant for me.
Happy holidays to you all, around the world. Spread the light.
Anna Ivanova-Galitsina is an international expert in communications and storytelling based in Moscow, Russia. She has two teenage sons and a dog, and she is building a new happier life. You can reach out to her via e-mail for comments or discussion.
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