By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Rejected parents are already talking about the holidays. Canadians will celebrate Thanksgiving in just a few days, and where I live in the U.S., all the hoopla surrounding Oktoberfest events ushers in the holiday season. All the advertisements for local festivals featuring beer, dancing, food, and fun made me curious. Oktoberfest is popular around the world—and as it turns out, its history offers help for rejected parents.
Flexibility: A vital skill to thrive
In 1810, townspeople in Munich, Germany gathered to celebrate a royal wedding. The rejoicing ended with a feast and a horse race. It was so much fun and good for the economy that within a few years, Oktoberfest had extended into a weeks-long event with food, fun, and carnival rides. A statue was created to watch over the revelers raising their glass beer steins (did you know these make great gifts?).
For more than 200+ years, Munich’s Oktoberfest has evolved to fit circumstances (just as rejected parents do). The horse race was suspended, and the agricultural fair was reduced to every fourth year. Due to wars and other crises, the celebration was sometimes cancelled or enjoyed in new ways. Around the world today, Oktoberfest provides community, learning, and fun. This year, as the holiday season begins, remember how the festival changed—yet still thrives. You can too.
Holiday help for rejected parents
At one point, your holidays may have been days-long events requiring much preparation to welcome crowds of loved ones. Today, you may suspend customary activities and reach for new or altered ones. The truth is, even if estrangement wasn’t part of your reality, how you celebrate the holidays wouldn’t stay the same.
Halloweens with homemade costumes may have morphed into watching your teenagers or young adults arrive with ready-mades from the Halloween store. Thanksgiving may have once been a time to gorge, but as you’ve grown older, maybe you know better than to eat quite so much—and pay for it later. At Christmas, when your children were young, you may have stayed up all night to assemble bicycles. Many years later, you might have bought a grandchild a tablet or a phone. At one time, Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer may have been real to your children, but eventually, they knew who brought the gifts. As extended family grew, holidays may have broken off into smaller events.
Customs change to fit the times. Oktoberfest expanded and contracted—and yet it thrives—so can you and your holidays.
Right now, instead of thinking about everything you’ll miss, dwelling on damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don’t dilemmas such as “Should I send a gift?”, cherish the memories. And then expand or contract. Put on a “costume” to help yourself, ground yourself in what is for now, and get busy with a plan to thrive over the holidays.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll offer more specific ideas and help for rejected parents over the holidays. In the meantime, if you’re beginning to dread the season as so many parents of estranged adults do, at least utilize those feelings for your own good. Your thoughts of what you dread can be the start of a plan. Right now, get a sheet of paper or open a word document and write out the things you worry about or dread the most. Then you can begin to turn the thoughts around.
Here’s a sample list:
- Being the third wheel at my sister’s big event and seeing her adult children and grandchildren gathered around.
- Having to brave the holly-jolly music and all the crowds at the stores, the gas station, or the roads.
- Being all alone on those special days.
Give it a twist
If this were your list, how might you use what you’re telling yourself to come up with a plan?
If you don’t want to feel like a loner or maybe as green as the Grinch with envy at a family celebration, consider doing something different this year. Just because relatives’ celebrations are continuing as always doesn’t mean yours must. And just because you do something different this year doesn’t mean you have to the next (Munich’s Oktoberfest was cancelled 24 times … and it’s stronger than ever). Plan something different and tell your hosts early enough that they won’t be stressed. Hint: Come up with a script that heads off any argument or has ready answers to expected questions.
Holidays don’t have to be all about family either. Alternative plans can be fun. Around here, Thanksgiving running or walking events raise money for charity. Maybe a health-conscious friend, non-estranged daughter or son would enjoy getting team T-shirts, helping a good cause, and working off calories instead of piling them on. Bonus: With no time to cook, you could dine out after the race.
Holly-jolly music and crowds got you down? Think now about what you’ll need for the next few months, and then stock up early. Grocery stores and restaurants deliver. Today, medications, toiletries, and almost anything you can think of can be summoned right to your door. Avoid fighting traffic and getting shuffled about in the hustle-bustle. Cozy up to a warm fire and play music that makes you feel good. Or, think of the season as a sort of hibernating period, and then emerge refreshed in the New Year. Bonus: Getting organized for this season could be the start of habit for a more organized life in the New Year.
If you’re worried about alone time on those special days, take a leap of faith and try something new! Parks & Recreation facilities as well as 55+ senior centers often host holiday events. Some restaurants offer holiday meal events. Being without family for the holidays is more common than you might think. Try being transparent—and offer solutions instead of sadness. There’s still time to suggest an event at your church, hobby club, or senior center. You may have neighbors who would love some company. You might be surprised whom you inspire and who becomes a friend. Your example can help other people.
This holiday season, plan early. The holidays can be what you make of them. So, raise a mug, toast yourself, and plan your self-care, and thrive—Oktoberfest is.
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