The 12 Tips of Holiday Grieving

Debbie Vallandingham, LMSW-ASCW Director of Grief Care Services

December 7, 2021

It’s a good bet that most of you are familiar with The Twelve Days of Christmas song. It’s that old English Christmas carol that adds a new gift each time around, beginning with a partridge in a pear tree. But few people know that the song was first published in England in 1780 and possibly came from an earlier French tune. The tune as we know it was written in 1909 and just two years before, we were singing “four collie dogs” rather than “four calling birds” (because the original 1780 song had “colly birds,” which meant black birds). 

The Twelve Days of Christmas is a “cumulative” song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous verses. Naturally, this makes for a fun exercise of counting how many gifts are actually given and how much it would cost each year to deliver these gifts. If you’re interested, last year’s price was $16,100 and this year’s price will likely be far higher.

But gift giving during the holiday season doesn’t only need to be the physical type, especially if you’re not sure where to get eleven pipers piping, or if five gold rings may be limited due to supply shortages. Giving the gift of healthy grieving could be absolutely priceless.    

The tips below will help you put your grief in context and appreciate the fact that grieving is normal but is often more challenging during the holidays. Everyone grieves their own way and at their own pace. Despite this, we can celebrate our loved ones by sharing memories, keeping traditions or adding new ones, and honoring them by lighting candles, saying prayers or by holding other personal tributes. This is a time to also reflect on yourself and make sure you’re doing what you need to get through the holidays. Eat healthy and get enough sleep. Make self-care a part of your routine. And don’t forget that it’s ok to ask for help.

Following the format of The Twelve Days of Christmas, we recommend that you embrace these as The Twelve Tips of Holiday Grieving and if you try hard enough, some of them even fit the music. Feel free to hum along as you read!

To handle grief in the holidays, Angela Hospice gave these tips to me…

Know that it is tough;

There’s no right way to grieve;

Celebrate traditions;

Honor your loved one;

Share memories;

Set realistic expectations;

Embrace self-care;

Get exercise;

Be with those who love you;

Ask for help;

Lean on a counselor;

And know that you’ll enjoy the holidays again.

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