5 Holiday Traditions in Memory of a Loved One

Sue Shirley Cooking Kitchen HolidayThe holidays are an emotional time, full of joy, thankfulness, wonder … and, yes, often the resurgence of grief.

It’s okay to feel sorrow amid all the merriment. As a matter of fact, you can take the fuel of that emotion and use it to propel you toward something constructive for you and your kids: a  positive way to remember the person that you’re missing.

Included below are a few of my family’s favorite traditions in honor of Sue and Shirley. You certainly don’t have to do all of them, but maybe one will resonate and become a treasured annual remembrance for you and family.

5 Holiday Traditions in Memory of a Loved One

1. Day of Honor

Every December we take our daughter to a holiday play because that’s what Grandma Suzy used to do with each of her grandchildren. By continuing this tradition, we fill a missing piece for all of us, while offering a happy way for our daughter to learn about her grandma as a person (what she did, how she lived, and what she valued).

Sue Szaba Holiday Tradition Nutcracker

Is there something your relative did every holiday? What about an activity they enjoyed or a place they always liked to go? You can try anything from a full day outing to a weekend trip to a simple movie night with his or her favorite film and foods.

2. Memory Gifts

Save a few items cherished by the deceased and give them to your child at milestone holidays or birthdays.

Similarly, you could gift something especially reminiscent of your loved one: a meaningful book, a CD of favorite music, a candy he or she couldn’t pass up, or tickets to a special activity or place.Sue Szaba London Book Christmas Present


This is a fantastic way to help kids build a relationship with their lost loved one by passing on meaningful memories, heirlooms, traditions, and stories.

3. Treasure Box

Grief counselors stress the importance of keeping physical reminders of the deceased for kids to revisit. Fill a pretty box with pictures and things he or she cherished, wrote, or made. Include a favorite present, add a treasured ornament, or even write down a story about a special holiday you shared together.

Set aside time each year (whether at the holidays or another meaningful occasion) to open the box and look through it together. If you’ve included a special ornament, take this opportunity to hang it on the tree. Or make a picture puzzle, and put it together when you open the box.


Christmas Shirley

4. Holiday Photo Album

Fill half a photo album with pictures of holidays enjoyed with the loved one. Then add pictures of similar new memories made with your child, year to year, focusing on traditions passed on from then to now.

Did you make a paper advent chain with your mom when you were little? Did you go ice skating with your brother? Did you always decorate cookies with your grandma? Did you spend hours stringing popcorn kernels with your favorite uncle?

Have fun doing those things anew and take pictures to add to your book.


The continuity and stories behind those experiences will help your family feel more connected to those memories and people past.

5. Memory Book

We have a Twas the Night Before Christmas book recorded with Sue’s voice. Each Decemeber, we bring it out and enjoy it at many a bedtime. You could do the same with a scrapbook, photo album, or even a favorite cookbook lovingly scribbled and ear marked with your loved one’s go-to holiday recipes.

Have more ideas? Please share them in the comments below.

Angela Szaba Christmas

2 thoughts on “5 Holiday Traditions in Memory of a Loved One

    1. I would’ve loved to have known that Susie. I just dropped her granddaughter off for the first day of kindergarten and couldn’t help but recognize a spark of Sue in her as she quickly made friends and buzzed away confidently. 🙂

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