Holiday Art Therapy: Practical Activities for Healing

Author: Bevin Landrum

It’s no wonder that the holidays sometimes find us staring dazedly at holiday cards, half-decorated trees, and difficult wish lists (sparkle unicorns, rockets, removal of pesky siblings). The tasks and expectations that fall between November and the New Year are monumental even for families who aren’t living in the aftermath of tragic grief.  For those of us tenderly coping with the loss of a loved one, the final weeks of the year are even more stressful. 

Heart Collage

Creative holiday art projects are a great way to channel energy into positive tasks instead of the chaos of the holiday. If the kids are particularly grumpy, help them deal with feelings of sadness with glitter and glue.  It is hard to sprinkle gold glitter and not get a little sparkle on yourself. 

Your TAPS family offers these simple projects as a way for you or the whole family to redirect your thoughts to simple but meaningful activities. 

Want to save some money on wrapping gifts? Recycle brown paper bags and use festive stamps or stickers to create your own holiday pattern.  You can also use magazines, newspaper or cloth and embellish with your own paint, sparkly trim or accents. If you are making the effort to give any gifts, your recipients should already feel special at this difficult time, but this added touch might be what you need.  There is more to giving than receiving, as they say.

Holiday cards on your list and you just aren't ready to send out a family photo without your loved one? That's perfectly OK, but consider taking old cards you have received and collaging them together into new cards.  You can also use cardstock, stamps, glitter pens and magazine cutouts to make your own set of new holiday cards.  This idea can translate to holiday art displays by using old cards to make larger collages that can be framed or used as gifts. 

homemade ornamentA special way to include your loved one in new memories is to make a unique ornament that celebrates your loved one.  This can be as simple as taking one of your favorite photos and modge-podging it onto a uniform ornament ball or wooden piece.  If you want to make something more elaborate, you can buy empty, fillable clear acrylic ornaments and fill a series of them with themed items that our loved one particularly enjoyed.  You could have a baseball ornament with team colors and stickers, a Star Wars ornament with a mini lightsaber inside (yes there is such a thing) or make a snowglobe of their favorite winter scene. 

If you aren't ready for decorating a tree or ornaments, you can still be creative with how you make and decorate holiday cookies.  We aren't here to judge your eating habits, so if you need to bake off some stress, then get to cooking.  Cookie decorating can be very intricate. In the process of following a pattern and design, your thoughts will naturally focus in the moment and offer relief from the worries on your mind.  There are tons of cookie design examples and patterns online and many types of decorating materials in the baking section of most craft stores.  Don't limit yourself by what you have baked in the past. Open yourself up to new possibilities just as you have to find your way ahead in a forever changed world.   

Not everyone is good at crafts or baking or thinks they are ready to handle so much detail when they are still struggling to brush their teeth or cook dinner.  One idea that can be very relaxing is creating a holiday playlist.  Bring in a few songs from the past, but the relaxing part is clicking through different music options on iTunes, Pandora or Spotify.  If the first few lyrics and notes don't make you smile--move on to something else.  Try new musical genres or look for recommendations from your TAPS family on the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Songs of Love and Remembrance playlist on Spotify.  An upcoming question in the TAPS Saturday Morning Message will ask survivors to share meaningful songs at the holidays. 

The worst part of the holidays is often missing our loved ones and the lack of their presence in all the traditional things we do.  Hold them close to your heart with rich memories to warm your season.  Set aside some quiet time to reflect on past holidays, but allow yourself the energy to focus on a few small projects to bring small cheer to the end of the year and beyond.  

About the Author, Bevin Landrum, MA: Bevin has a master’s degree in public relations, is an avid sports fan, cook and Southern hostess. She is a military spouse and the surviving daughter of a World War II veteran. Bevin writes to honor him and all those who serve.