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A Different Type of Holiday Family

A Different Type of Holiday Family by Jomo Phillips MSSW-MFT (Clinical Fellow AAMFT) Couple & Family Therapist/Clinical Social Worker In Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean, Christmas and New Year are important holidays for families to get together to engage in feasting, merriment, and fellowship. These gatherings and the sense of belonging is a crucial emotional health

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A Different Type of  Holiday Family

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BETTER FAMILIES

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Jomo Phillips MSSW-MFT (Clinical Fellow AAMFT) Couple & Family Therapist/Clinical Social Worker

In Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean, Christmas and New Year are important holidays for families to get together to engage in feasting, merriment, and fellowship. These gatherings and the sense of belonging is a crucial emotional health fill-up for many of us. COVID-19 has, however, upended many of the social occasions that have marked our lives in the last year. The recommendations from public health authorities to socially distance and spend time only with people in the same residence will reduce many of the large and multi-generational affairs that characterise holiday gatherings.

Family members who usually travel home from overseas for the holidays may also not be willing to face some of the risks that are currently associated with travel. The social distancing requirements for the holidays are further compounded by the economic dislocation caused by the pandemic, which means that many families will not have the usual financial resources to celebrate the holidays.

Given these two significant challenges, how do we celebrate these occasions with loved ones? For sure, it will be necessary for families to consider different ways to engage in these celebrations and to remember what is most important.

With large family celebrations being out of the question, it will be up to families to be creative and use other means to communicate and have fellowship with each other. A variety of means to communicate are now available, including video chat, calling, messaging, and using social media. Some families I have consulted with this year have used video streaming to bring people together for important events like birthdays, weddings, and funerals.

While it is not the same thing as being physically together, it has not been lost on families the importance of being there with each other over a video channel. It will also be necessary for families to be thoughtful about these video gettogethers, what time during the holidays will calls be made to each other and what will be done during the call to celebrate events. I know some families have used these video channels to make toasts, watch persons open gifts, share music and dance, to laugh, and cry.

Holidays might need to look different if families are experiencing economic distress. It might include a re-prioritisation of what an event like Christmas means. All of us can certainly get caught up in the commercialisation that has become synonymous with the Christmas period. If we are to reprioritise, it might include thinking about what it is that we want to privilege during this period.

Will it, for example, be about giving from our hearts or will it be about how we seek to treat our loved ones during this period? This reconsideration of what is essential may also involve having conversations with family members about the difficulties that are currently associated with this period so people could be on the same page. These conversations will look different based on the audience.

For example, young children need not know all the details about mummy or daddy’s redundancy, but they can benefit from the reassurance that mummy and daddy will make sure things are okay. In comparison, teenagers might be privy to more information about the current economic circumstances of the family so they can be more realistic about their expectations.

The mental health research and positive psychology have now caught up to what many already knew from their religious traditions that practising gratitude is a potent tool in times of uncertainty; including economic uncertainty. Being grateful for even little things, especially during holiday periods, can provide a positive mental shift for families. Families can incorporate the practice of gratitude on many different occasions, including the beginning of celebrations, mealtimes, and during conversations with each other. Recognising and verbalising what we do have is significant comfort and container for the worries that might characterise this holiday period.

Hopefully, we can experience the end of 2021 very differently to the end of 2020. But until then, let us consider alternate ways we can celebrate these crucial holidays while we make sure that we are safe and remembering and honouring what is most important at this time –family. Gratitude will also be an essential tool to buttress us from the uncertainty associated with this time.

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