As long as I can remember, we’ve had a live Christmas tree. It was part of the hustle and bustle of the holidays. On Thanksgiving, after our meal, the entire family would load up in the truck and ride thirty or forty minutes to our favorite Christmas tree farm. After several arguments about the type of tree we should buy, the size of the tree we should buy, and finally which tree we should pick out, it was up to my little brother to chop the tree down. My dad would drag the tree back to the truck, we’d pay, and drive it all the way back home. Several torturous hours later, our house was filled with the scent of fir and the glitter of Christmas decorations.
This year, my mom managed to get an artificial tree for free. It was a pop up tree, and took five minutes to assemble. She was happy- there were no arguments, no sweeping up needles from the floor, and there was no need for daily watering. On the other hand, I cried hysterically for thirty minutes. My family, panicked, assured me that we would go out and buy a real tree as soon as the Christmas tree farm opened. They didn’t know that a simple family tradition meant so much to me.
It wasn’t just the Christmas tree. No one can justify crying for thirty minutes because they didn’t get a decoration they wanted.
See, I’ve been sick my whole life. Weird symptoms, strange test results, long nights in the ER, the works. Since I grew up this way, I never thought about it. I knew I was limited, and I couldn’t do some activities the rest of my peers could. I just never imagined it would get worse.
Get worse it did, starting in high school. A dysautonomia diagnosis explains six years of passing out, but part of my treatment involves only eating small meals. A celiac diagnosis last year caught me just in time for the holidays; no more stuffing would grace my Thanksgiving plate. This year, I was caught with an emergency thyroidectomy. In August, I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. My health took a nosedive.
Combine all that, and the holidays were looking pretty dismal. The thought of ditching another tradition (along with all the rolls, casseroles, and pies I could no longer enjoy) was, frankly, depressing. That’s when, with the help of my family and friends, I got a taste of true holiday spirit. My family and friends came together to help me figure out some new plans and traditions for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
An adapted menu is easy. Crustless pumpkin pie, because no one likes the crust anyway. Roasted vegetables as a side, and green beans with almonds instead of green bean casserole. If you think of your favorite holiday foods, it’s generally easy to figure out how to adapt them to you or your family’s dietary needs.
Decorations are harder. If you can’t manage a live Christmas tree, there’s no shame in an artificial tree with pre-strung lights. Hanging lights outside is hard, but a few flameless candelabras in the windows add a hint of cheer with minimal effort or injury. Put some ornaments in a pretty bowl with a sprig or two of greenery and a candle and you’ve got a centerpiece!
It’s easy to get burnt out on social activity when you’re chronically ill. You barely have the energy to attend one family function, much less three family functions and a friend’s party. It’s alright to take time to yourself during this busy season. Not only will it make you feel better, but it will improve your relationships with your family and friends if you’re not constantly snapping at them or falling asleep at the dinner table- trust me, I learned this the hard way.
What are your best holiday tips and traditions?