How to Feel “Gathered” this Holiday Season

The holiday season is officially in full swing, and we all know it’s going to be different from years past. Still, I’m determined to make it memorable, and I’ve got tricks up my sleeve to help with the feeling of isolation and loneliness that have many of us dreading the weeks ahead. I urge you to do the same. 

Feeling Gathered

Let’s face it; we want to gather and feel gathered. To feel gathered means simply to feel at peace in our current physical and emotional space, comfortable in the larger society, and as if we belong with one another. Feeling gathered is to be taken in, and like we’re being rocked by a loving grandmother while she whispers sweet nothings in our ear (okay, that may feel a bit extreme, and I’ve personally never had that, but it doesn’t mean we don’t all long for some version of that!). 

Right now, many of us struggle to feel gathered, and for so many reasons. How do we connect, getting those crucial physical and emotional needs met during such an uncertain time? Oh, let me count the ways!

Being Together

First, let’s not discount the power of just being together, even if we’re sitting six feet apart and wearing masks. Since COVID-19, when people gather, it is mostly in small packs with only their most trusted friends. Good thinking, as COVID spreads in large gatherings, but when you know the select few people and trust their pandemic safety habits, you can feel comfortable being in their same physical space. 

Consequently, smaller groups, even with the distance, feel so intimate. It feeds your soul. Looking into the eye of your best pals and loved ones, and having them look back, helps you feel seen.

In the small groups, you share stories, talk about common challenges, and laugh together. Those intimate, vulnerable moments are crucial right now. The energy of a person, even when they are six feet away and masked, is palpable. 

Being Together Virtually

Second, even when you cannot be together in person, you can be together virtually. I know, I know…when I suggest this, it feels like a balloon is suddenly deflated. It takes the wind out your sails. The idea falls flat.

Let’s not forget that a virtual gathering can still be intimate, even if done through Zoom. As a virtual therapist (thank you, COVID), it’s important to me that I can see my client’s surroundings, including their full face and a good part of their body. Virtual gatherings are no different. Get your lighting just right, think of what people will see, put your earbuds on, and get to connecting! 

For many years, not just now, seeing someone virtually has helped millions of people connect to loved ones around the world. My kids can connect with their grandmother through Face Time, and that’s allowed them to have a deeper bond. Some have joined with traveling spouses, including those in the military, which helps them feel close. For the holidays, my office will have a virtual cocktail party where we’ll open Secret Santa gifts, share stories, and laugh together. A past client would describe watching movies with a friend while having a glass of wine while they were five states away from one another.

Although not a place where you can physically touch, the virtual world is still an excellent place to see the person you love and feel seen. Sit on your patio or your favorite place on the sofa, grab a drink, and enjoy one another’s company. Take in their surroundings, hear the sound of their voice, feel what it’s like to be there with them because you are with them.

Love the One You’re With

Finally, let’s not forget the value of immediate family through the holidays: your intimate partner and children. I confess that I do not have an extended family with which I can spend the holidays. When I hear everyone talking about going to this house, seeing that sister, visiting that cousin, etc., I’ve always felt a little tug of sadness at not being able to have the same. However, I always remedy that feeling by truly taking in my immediate family and planning something special in our home.

With your immediate family, I urge you to go all out. Make the traditional meal, if that’s what you love. Include all the sides! If you’re the only one that eats the canned cranberry jelly as I do, make sure it’s on the table. Spend the day being intentional. Cook together, eat, laugh, tell stories, watch football, complete a puzzle, take a nap, or snuggle.

There is much to be thankful for, and now, and always, we have to throw our whole selves into feeling overwhelmingly grateful for the people we have in our lives. Let’s take them however we can get them, soaking in every single, juicy moment, shall we? The alternative is much too heavy, depressing, and sad. 

Your family, and who you choose to spend your time with, is where you feel the most gathered. This season, think about what you need to feel at peace, even though it will look a bit different than in past years. Light a candle with a scent you love, keep your comfy socks on while you watch a family movie, take long walks with a partner or friend. Keep your phone and tablet handy so that you can talk to people around the world at a moment’s notice. Cook together on video. Sip coffee while on-screen. Have a cocktail together. 

What whatever you need to do to feel like you’re rocking in the bosom of a loving grandmother. Do whatever you need to do to feel gathered. 

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan
Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer is a mom of twins who are sweet as sugar, but just hit that tween stage so all bets are off. Her youngest is...a joy. Let's just stop there. Most days you can find her in her office seeing clients, doing laundry, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or catching up on the latest episode of Real Housewives of (Insert City Here), Walking Dead or This Is Us. She is a tree-hugging country girl from West Texas who reads, writes, and teaches about human development and families as a hobby and profession. You can read more from Jennifer at her therapy blog, ichoosechange.com

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