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Joy to Your World: How to Make Holidays Meaningful

The holidays haven't been the same since my father passed away, right before Christmas. I need to honor his memory, yet keep things fun for the kids. Any suggestions?

Jasper

This time of year can intensify the sense of what's missing, says Janet Taylor, MD, a psychiatrist and member of the Family Circle Health Advisory Board, especially if the holiday and the anniversary of an important loss coincide. "Grief can come in waves that are unexpected and draining," she explains. "Instead of blocking feelings, take a deep breath and allow yourself to experience the sadness. It will pass."

As a practical matter you might want to display photos of the person you miss, tell stories about him, light a candle, or make a donation in his name to charity. "Also ask your children how they'd like to remember," says Dr. Taylor. "Even though your rituals may be bittersweet, in the end they'll create important memories." And believe it or not, opening yourselves up to these poignant moments will also help deepen everyone's experience of what is joyful.

Can you believe it? My kids' birthdays are December 29 and 31. What should I do to make sure their days are special?

Julez

Some mothers in your situation prepare a nice dinner of favorite foods and a few gifts on the birthday, and plan something more labor-intensive—a party, sleepover, or outing with friends—six months later on the child's half birthday. First ask your kids what works for them and what doesn't. Maybe they don't mind birthday presents wrapped in Santa paper but would feel slighted receiving one big item for both days, even if you spend twice as much money.

Most important, on the actual day, put holiday hoopla aside when you're with your child, says Richard Bromfield, PhD, author of How to Unspoil Your Child Fast (Sourcebooks). "You want to be relaxed and fully attentive," he says. "You can be harried later."