The holiday season tends to be one of the most alcohol-centric times of year. Firstly, alcohol is generally more accessible. There are extra work events, holiday parties, family reunions, and other gatherings that typically include alcohol. Some people may drink more simply because it’s available, or in an attempt to manage the social anxiety that may come along with these festivities.
Secondly, people may drink more around the holidays in order to cope. Mental health issues can be exacerbated this time of year by early darkness, seasonal affective disorder, and added stress. Many people also experience heightened feelings of grief and loss during the holidays. Dealing with toxic family members, financial pressure, comparison, and extra to-do lists can lead to unhealthy drinking in order to cope. While alcohol may provide short-term relief, it can make these stressors even worse in the long run (and add miserable hangovers into the equation.)
I’m Heather, a Certified Professional Life and Recovery Coach. As a child, winter holidays were a magical time of year for me. When I was drinking, I was exhausted and resentful. As a sober person, the magic has returned. Here’s my list of 10 ideas for creating new alcohol-free holiday traditions.
Baking is such a wonderful way to commemorate the holidays and share some sweetness with others. A bottle (or two) of wine used to accompany me in the kitchen, but I quickly became more interested in the alcohol than the baking. Now I pour a delicious alcohol-free beverage, pump up the holiday tunes and enjoy my baking extravaganza. I love being fully present when expressing my creativity with my baked goodies. (Which also make for great gifts!)
When I was drinking, I wasn’t able to see the joy in decorating. I hustled to get everything in its place and I resented every second of it. Now that I’m sober, I have more time and energy for it. It can become a joy, not a chore. You can get your family involved, or invite friends and neighbors over for some DIY decor crafting.
The holidays are a special time, but they can also be hectic and draining. Having a holiday movie night is a great way to be around your loved ones and also relax. Plus, it doesn’t center on alcohol. To add some extra flair, look for hot chocolate bombs, peppermint candies, and special popcorn treats to enjoy during movie night. Cozying up together is a special way to enjoy the early darkness and embrace the hygge.
Just because you’re not drinking, doesn’t mean you can’t have a holiday party! There are so many great tastes of the season, and alcohol is never necessary for a sophisticated and fun soiree. Plus, throwing an alcohol-free event on your own terms can give you a sense of control and comfort. I often mix up a bowl of seasonal non-alcoholic punch and invite friends over for appetizers and games. With so many alcohol-centered festivities, my guests appreciate an alcohol-free gathering, with no negative consequences and just pure fun.
I love spending time in the great outdoors, even when the temperature drops. Whether you opt for skiing, sledding, ice skating, or a simple winter walk, there are so many benefits from embracing the outdoors. It can help get your blood pumping, boost happiness chemicals, and keep you busy and distracted from alcohol cravings. Plus, the quiet streets and snowfallen environment create a perfect time for self-reflection and grounding.
A wonderful way to spend time together as a family is to be of service to others. Some ideas include volunteering at a food bank, coat drive, or nursing home. My family enjoys shopping from a giving tree. We pick a few kids of different ages and enjoy shopping for gifts for them. It fills our heart to think about their joy on Christmas morning to receive special gifts we picked out with love.
Building a gingerbread house is a great way to have alcohol-free fun. If you want to amp it up, you could even consider a competition. This could be for gingerbread houses, holiday charcuterie boards, or even desserts, cookies, and sweets. Inviting a group and including kids can be a wonderful new holiday tradition.
To add extra meaning to the season, consider creating a tradition around gratitude. You can take a moment each day to express gratitude, spread an act of kindness, or perform an act of service. If you find yourself in a scarcity mindset about not having a drink around the holidays, this can help you switch to an abundance mindset and focus on all that you do get to do in your sobriety. My family’s tradition is to share one special moment from our days around the dinner table each night.
There’s something nostalgic about seeing holiday lights, plus it’s a great way to get everyone out of the house and engaged in an alcohol-free activity. My family has done walking tours set to music, drive through tours in our pajamas sipping hot chocolate, zoo lights, and neighborhood lights scavenger hunts. A simple internet search will let you know what holiday light sights are available in your area.
If you’re nervous about doing a typical at-home holiday season without alcohol, that might be a sign to shake it up a bit! It can be easier to form new habits when we’re also in a new environment, especially during early sobriety. Having an alcohol-free vacation can be a great way to distance yourself from triggers, put your sobriety first, and give yourself space to relax.
One of the best benefits of alcohol-free traditions is that you’ll be able to be fully present all season long. You’ll have more energy, more intention, and be able to make more memories with fewer regrets. I drank through holidays past and I have experienced years of holidays totally sober. The truth is that I have much more joy now being alcohol-free. At first, it was a challenge to turn down drinks at every gathering. Now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel like I have added so much to my holidays by removing my obsession with alcohol. Plus, waking up hangover-free adds hours to every festive day. If you are on an alcohol-free path, stay the course. The holidays come with unique challenges and it’s more than okay to get extra support during this time.
This article was written in partnership with Monument/Tempest.