Creating New Holiday Traditions After a Disability

I stopped believing in Santa Claus because I was too smart for my own good. I was 7 and thought, “If Santa Claus will really bring me anything I ask for, why not try for something my parents could never afford?” Since my parents hadn’t taken me to Disney World yet, I asked for four plane tickets to Florida. When I didn’t get them, I figured out Santa Claus wasn’t real.

Like all kids when they find out Santa isn’t real, my heart was broken. Christmas was never really the same after that. Christmas was also not quite the same after I became disabled. I was 14 and depressed. Before, it was all about traipsing through the woods to get a tree, sledding, ice skating and frosting cookies. After becoming a quadriplegic, it was about remembering the good times and wishing things were still the same.

We all know how easy it is to think this way after acquiring a disability. They tell us when we go through a loss, whether it’s a physical one like mine or the loss of a loved one, creating new traditions — especially around the holidays — is a must. If we don’t, they say, it will slowly eat our souls. Adapted versions of the activities we miss do help, but they’re not the same for me.

The task assigned to us after an injury is this: brainstorm new and exciting things we can still do and somehow incorporate them into Christmas. This has always been troublesome for me. I just couldn’t seem to move on from my pre-injury state where everything was so much happier and easier. A lot of people with disabilities can relate to this. Incorporating a new holiday tradition without it feeling forced or second-best is not easy.

I have been semi-successful in creating some new traditions with my family. We now have a cookie baking party three weeks before Christmas, which we started about five years ago when my brother got married. I just do what I can and try not to let my limitations bug me.

We also now like to cook a very different meal on Christmas Eve each year, from Chinese to Italian. As an unrepentant foodie, the possibility of a perfectly fried egg roll or fresh ravioli for Christmas makes me very happy.

We also created one other spectacular tradition since my injury — drinks and appetizers at my brother’s house so all of us cousins from my mom’s side can remain close — even though many of us are now married with kids. And we’ve added Rock Band karaoke to the tradition as well. You gotta still have that child-like fun, you know.

I won’t lie, though. I will always miss walking up the hill to go ice skating on a newly frozen lake, channeling Michelle Kwan with perfect leg extension — that will never go away. But with my new traditions, these memories don’t make me quite as sad. And during the holidays, a time of year brimming with emotions, that is an especially good thing.

Did you create new holiday traditions after becoming disabled?

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. CJohn says:

    This was a wonderfully balanced piece, Tiff — a good, honest look at the emotions so many of us still feel (second-best, forced), with a healthy dose of optimism. With all of this snow and cold as of late, I sure miss heading down to Welch Village to make some perfectly linked turns. However, I do enjoy my new winter tradition of watching my K-9 boys joyfully romp in the snow. Thanks for writing this and I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!!

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