Changing Traditions in the Empty Nest – Five Things You Need to Know

It’s that time of year again. The Holiday Prelude. Not quite the Thanksgiving/Christmas season yet, but definitely the pre-planning stage. You just finished with the Halloween festivities. You’re probably planning your Christmas shopping list, scheduling your Christmas Card photo shoot, Scanning Pinterest for dressing and sweet potato casserole recipes. Before the empty nest, I always made the first pot of chili on Halloween night before the kids went trick or treating or to parties. Thanksgiving and Christmas were ALWAYS at our house, and I decorated every square inch of the house. My brother used to joke that the house “threw up” Christmas. He was right. But the empty nest has kind of changed all of that. And I wasn’t ready.

The changes have been subtle, sneaking into our lives when we weren’t looking. We moved. Okay. That was a drastic change. Our new house is far different from the old one.  I had to sell many of our Christmas decorations. That Christmas Village I had painstakingly collected over the years had to go. So did our extra Christmas trees. We managed to have a “new normal” kind of Christmas those first couple of years. Then our son and his wife moved to California. Because of work schedules, they couldn’t come home for Christmas, but could come afterwards. So we’d push Christmas to the next weekend. Then our daughter and her husband had their first baby, and they wanted him to wake up in his own home on Christmas morning. So we drove over to their house for Christmas Day, then celebrated with family when our son made it in. It was kind of crazy but it worked. I could go on and on, but I won’t bore you with all the changes, but let me say that there have been plenty of changes in our family!

So how do we empty nesters cope with changing all our traditions? How do we adapt and change? How can we continue to celebrate when everything is so different? I made a list of five ways you can adapt your holiday traditions to your empty nest.

  1. Be Flexible With Dates: You don’t HAVE to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas on the exact dates on the calendar. You might have to wiggle that celebration date around a bit to work around your work schedule, or travel plans or a million other complications. What’s important is the sentiment and people you spend those days with.
  2. Be Willing to Change  Traditions: Listen, I get it. You’ve always made that first pot of chili for Halloween, you’ve always been the one to set out Grandma’s China and hosted Thanksgiving, your family always wore silly Christmas pajamas and watched movies together on Christmas Eve. That was then. This is now. It might be time to make the difficult decision to relinquish your role as holiday hostess to your children. Or maybe your children don’t live nearby. I have a friend whose kids don’t live near enough to her to share their trick-or-treating fun, so she and her husband have a new empty-nest Halloween tradition. They go to Sonic, grab some corn dogs and go see a movie together. I love how they adapted their new situation to fit in with their new life as empty nesters. Kids can’t make it for Thanksgiving? Take a road trip! Celebrate in a lodge or hotel and let them cook for you! Luxuriate in it!
  3. Be Willing to Delete Some Traditions: Do you really need to deck the halls so that it looks like Christmas threw up? If it makes you happy then do it. But don’t if it just stresses you out, and it depresses you to think that nobody will see it anyway. Maybe you can go ahead and pass down some of those decorations to your kids to enjoy in their homes now. Do what makes you happy. It’s actually kind of liberating to think that you don’t have to buy matching pajamas, do the stockings, or plan a big breakfast or Christmas dinner.
  4. Focus On What the Holidays Actually Mean: Keep a gratitude journal during the Thanksgiving season, remembering what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about. Count your many blessings. Go to church and celebrate Advent and remember what the birth of the Christ child means to us. Take time to write personal notes in the Christmas cards you send, remembering those people you’re sending them to, and what they’ve meant to you through the years.
  5. Accept the New Normal: As you reach this stage you’re going to realize that there is always a “new normal”. Our granddaughter was born last December, and her other grandparents couldn’t wait to meet her, so they came for Christmas and we ALL had Christmas together. It was different for them and for us, but it was definitely fun.  We have another grandchild due THIS December out in California, so guess what I’ll be doing on Christmas Day? Flying to California! Turns out that’s the cheapest day for air travel. So I’m going to wear my Santa hat on that plane, and jingle all the way out there! Who knows when I’ll actually get to celebrate Christmas this year, but it sounds like I may have several joyful Christmases!

I hope I’ve encouraged you with this post. I know how difficult it is as we get older as our children move away, as our parents pass away, and the impact those changes can have on our lives. I hope you can live joyfully and embrace the empty nest, your new traditions and your new normal.

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How have your traditions changed in your empty nest? What new traditions have you embraced? Please share! I’d love to hear from you, and I’m ALWAYS open to new ideas!



13 thoughts on “Changing Traditions in the Empty Nest – Five Things You Need to Know

  1. We have 8 children, and it’s going to be awhile before we have an empty nest, but our oldest is old enough to move on. I know every day we have with her is a gift, and it has had me thinking about how things will eventually change. Praying God helps me roll with the changes with grace!

  2. I had a hard time getting ‘into the spirit’ of holiday decorating after my oldest daughter moved out on her own. My girls are 10 years apart, so there was still a good reason to keep decorating, but I still struggle with it. Fortunately, the youngest still likes to decorate, so the tradition lives on.

  3. This is such a great post. I was sitting here watching Hallmark movies today and wishing time could go backwards ten 20 years when our girls were little. Now the grandkids are tweens and teens and I fear all they want is money for Christmas!!! Ahhhh. I swore I was not going to do that and there would be a package under the tree . It’s getting harder every year. We do have a little one who was born ten years later so at least I get to buy toys for one !! I have to figure out some some new traditions, too! I might be traveling on Christmas Day too! New tradition!

  4. My children are still babies, but it is a challenge for me (and my mom) to let go of the Christmas of my childhood to create new traditions. My mom moved across the country a couple of years ago and always flies out the day after Christmas. Enjoy your new traditions!

  5. What a lovely post, my son has only left for Uni this year, and so will be home for Christmas, but we are having change and going out for an Indian meal on Christmas night, instead of a cooked turkey dinner. Traditions are great, but family are greater. Roll with the changes and make new and different Christmas memories xx

  6. I’m having so much fun reading your posts! I really wish we had hung out more her senior year. It’s always hard moving to a new place and then in my case leaving after a year to go school. Many of the traditions we had them when I was growing up are still in place. We are usually never hold the Christmas so I haven’t put up a Christmas tree and several years because I’m always gone to families house out of state on Thanksgiving and Christmas and it stresses me out to put it up and then take it right back down. I may try to put one up this year just because I missed the ornaments! Keep the posts coming, Andy I really enjoy them!

  7. This is helpful because I’ve been dreading the holidays this year. I love Christmas, decorating, choosing presents, cooking, everything. I realize that I am not a new empty-nester, but that is how it feels right now. My 3 kids are grown and have a child each, but we have almost always had Christmas Day together at my parents house with siblings and their kids and sometimes others, where I decorated and cooked for a big group. My youngest son died 4 years ago which has been very hard, and my mother passed away in Sept. 2018 at 94 years. This is the first year Christmas won’t be at her house, as last year we had it one last time and divided her ornaments and decorations. My daughter’s family can’t come this year. My brother’s kids wanted to change the day and that devastated me. (I do understand, as they have 3 sets of parents to see at Christmas.) So now I am going to do everything I can to be positive and make it a happy, new tradition on another day, and be thankful for those that can be there. Thank you.

    1. Be gentle with yourself. You’re still making a very difficult transition, and accepting a lot of changes that have affected your life, and believe me I know how had it is. Give yourself permission to change tings up! You’ve got this.

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