Red christmas candle in a clear candle holder surrounded by red berries. Christmas isn't the same after losing my dad on The Tonic

Christmas isn’t the same without my dad… but here’s how I’m learning to accept it

As Christmas becomes changed by the hands of time, can we still find the joy in the season when it’s irrevocably changed?

Life is constantly evolving, it’s all temporary. Something I typically find comfort in during periods of dissatisfaction – sat in the waiting room of the next exciting opportunity. Unfortunately as I’ve grown older, I’ve learnt that impermanency is true of the good as well.

I’ve always loved the festive season. The world feels injected with magic and vibrance for a month. The twinkling lights, a unified air of anticipation, and strangers who just seem friendlier. However now, as I venture further into adulthood, I’m finding some of that festive feeling has expired. There are less pub trips in the lead up to the big day, as friends have moved away. Siblings opt to spend Christmas with their partner’s family. And it just feels that I’m having to actively search for the magic in the season to enjoy it.


Unfortunately as I’ve grown older, I’ve learnt that impermanency is true of the good as well [as the bad]


I used to watch on at people’s big family Christmases with envy. I’d daydream of a house bursting with grandparents, aunties, uncles, and cousins upon cousins celebrating the festivities. I’d lost my grandparents by 13, my only two cousins live in Australia, and spending Christmas with my other aunt and uncle was always difficult because of distance and work commitments.

Nevertheless, I found a love for the intimacy of Christmas with my immediate family. Partly kindled by friends sharing stories of their judgemental grandparents and argumentative cousins. Thankful that I’ve always gotten on with my only brother, my mum and my dad. But now this Christmas will be my smallest one yet.

Facing loss

My dad passed away last year, far too soon, from the insidious hands of cancer. If you’ve know loss, then you’re familiar with the revolving door of people following their leaving. The house is suddenly full of family members and friends who you haven’t seen in years, and there’s a constant stream of people reaching out to you.


This last year has taken on an almost uncanny valley feeling, familiar but uneasy


In the first Christmas without my dad, my aunt and uncle drove the four hours to spend it with us, and and my brother and his girlfriend, who’d initially committed to spending Christmas with her family prior to my dad’s death, joined us too. In a house full of people, it felt there wasn’t a chance to pay attention to the absence of my dad.

But life resumes an odd normality after the initial shock and adjustment of bereavement. This last year has taken on an almost uncanny valley feeling, familiar but uneasy. You make friends with the rhythms of grief, and grow an acceptance to the loss.

Read more – Spending Christmas Day alone: not really looking forward to it

Christmas and grief

I’m acutely aware that Christmas celebrations this year will be very different, as it’s just my mum and me. The complete opposite from the distraction of people last year. But inevitably, this is how Christmas will be sometimes. I’m learning that smaller, low-key celebrations are a natural progression of growing older.


I’m learning that smaller, low-key celebrations are a natural progression of growing older.


To me, grief and the festive season seem explicably intertwined. During celebrations, loss demands to be acknowledged. It’s impossible to ignore that empty seat at the table, the missing turkey carver, not needing to buy a certain food that only they eat (in my dad’s case, Christmas pudding), and the glaring absence of their name on a list entitled ‘presents – to buy’.

My dad had a huge personality and a great sense of humour. He could strike up a conversation about anything, and remained a big kid all the way though his life. For me, the world has been emptier since his passing.

Finding joy in the difference

Although the immediate thought of a Christmas with just two of us seemed disheartening, we’re taking the opportunity of a small Christmas to treat ourselves. Food has always been the main event for our family at Christmas. So, when my mum turned around to me in September to ask what we should have, we settled on treating ourselves to a duck. Something we’ve never had before since they’re too small to feed the usual five of us. It’s not traditional, and it’s only a small thing, but I’m looking forward to it. (Plus, I’ve never been keen on turkey.)

I’ll also be making sure I honour my dad, without sacrificing the joy of a season I love. It’s easy to look around and obsess over people’s big family gatherings and photos of friends with their parents on social media, and fixate on what I’ve lost. When Christmas can actually become a time to remember my dad.

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Embracing the change

I know from having lost grandparents, that as the years go on they’re not in the forefront of your mind so much, which brings it’s own internal struggle and even guilt. How can I enjoy my life when they’re not here to enjoy theirs? It’s part and parcel of grief’s process.

Going forward, I intend to use Christmas as a natural period of slowing down, to focus and remember how they impacted me during their life. I’m seeing it as a way of repurposing the season. After all, my dad wouldn’t want to see me sitting around all day feeling sorry for myself.

So, on Christmas Day I’ll be lighting a candle for my dad, one that was first lit at his funeral. It’ll be a chilled and relaxed day, far from the Christmases I dreamed of a as a child. But, the perks of not hosting people is that there’s much less pressure on the event. It doesn’t have to be this grand occasion, to be enjoyable and healing. I’ll think of my dad, as I do every day anyway, and enjoy a mince pie (or two) for him.

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Lana Halls

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