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Children / Holidays / Humor / Motherhood

Have You Ever Suffered From Post Traumatic Holiday Disorder?

I’ll never forget it.  It was Christmas Day, 2005.  I was in Lafayette, Louisiana visiting my parents with my kids, a 3-year-old and an 11-month-old.  And that’s when it happened.

I have a picture of it, but you actually had to see it to believe it.  My parents’ home, filled to the brim with holiday merriment and various people.  Some related, some not, and in keeping with Southern tradition…some we’re still not sure about.  The photo is of my mom sitting on her couch, glazed over as if she had just experienced a military operation gone desperately wrong.

It happened to her.  And it can happen to us all, at any time, without warning.

Post Traumatic Holiday Disorder.

Years later, when my sister and I would talk about that Christmas, my mother’s response was always, “I don’t remember any of that.”  She was functioning that day, getting everything ready for everyone else to enjoy, but she had literally blacked out and couldn’t remember anything that had happened.

Which, when I think about how rowdy my family had a tendency to get when we were all together…was probably a good thing.

I have a feeling that the benefit plan at Denver’s KOSI 101.1 must include some sort of extra mental health benefit in order to specifically deal with the staff’s PTHD since they are forced to listen to Christmas music starting at around Halloween.  Poor Jackie Selby probably blacks out after she’s heard Alvin and the Chipmunks sing “Christmas Don’t Be Late” for the 15th time and she probably doesn’t come back around until Easter.

My mother still suffers from Post Traumatic Holiday Disorder (because once it’s happened to you, it has an 85% chance of recurrence) and it’s something I’ve tried to be sensitive to.  I felt terrible this year when, in October, she came to my house to watch my kids and I forgot to warn her that one of my neighbors had not only put up his Christmas lights, but had turned them on as well.

“Catherine,” she said, breathlessly as she walked in the door.  “Someone has their Christmas lights on!  What day is it?  Did I lose holiday time again???  Did I black out???”

Growing up, I could never figure out why my mother was so stressed around the holidays.  I mean, when you’re young…what’s there to be stressed about?  The presents are wrapped under the tree, the house is decorated, and the turkey appears as if from out of nowhere, brown and glistening and just waiting for everyone to dive in.

And then I became a mother and realized that I had to wrap all of those presents, move a dead tree into my clean house, stuff a bird in a most indelicate place…

…and God had the nerve to give me a deadline.

As mothers, we do so much to create the holiday spirit for everyone else that sometimes we forget to enjoy it ourselves.  I know one mother who makes 25 different varieties of cookies every year.  Twenty-five.  All of the shopping, cooking, carpooling, and scheduling seems to fall on our shoulders and this causes our own holiday season to pass by in a blur of exploding tinsel and baked goods that never seem to look like they did in the magazine.

In order to avoid more cases of Post Traumatic Holiday Disorder, I’m offering up these three simple tips to get us all through the next few weeks:

  1.  Say “no” to half the invitations that come your way and suggest to people that you get together at a calmer time of the year.  Like April.
  2. Take at least two things off of your Christmas menu and limit your cookie baking to three different varieties that your family will actually eat. (This should not be confused with hosting or participating in a Cookie Exchange.  See Tip #1.)
  3. Have your husband go out and buy at least one gift for each of your children while you go and get a massage (I thought about giving him the grocery list, but I know that would require us all to make an extensive, detailed list of everything we need, which would probably require more time than just doing it ourselves).  This accomplishes two things:  Something has been removed from your to-do list AND he is able to partake in the “holiday merriment” in the line at Toys “R” Us® and will then have a deeper appreciation for all that you do.  (Please note:  you are not allowed to stress about what he’s buying while you’re lying there.)

I wish you all the joy that the holiday season has to offer.  Remember to take care of yourselves.  Because once Post Traumatic Holiday Disorder has happened to you…

…it can recur at any time without warning.


Catherine Tidd is a writer, widow and mother of three. She is the founder of, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick. Along with being published in several books on grief and renewal, Catherine is also a humorous motivational speaker who focuses on ” finding joy in a life you weren’t expecting.” She is also a volunteer speaker with the Donor Alliance of Colorado.


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Author: Catherine

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  1. I could sooooo relate to this post! I had a mother who went overboard every single year at Christmas and yet one who dreaded it with every fiber of her being, which prevented her from enjoying it (her meltdowns were many).

    In some ways, I’ve adopted her overboard attitude and I sure could have used some of your tips. Something I need to do better next year: delegate the gift buying because I did 98% of it.

    • I feel like this is the first year I haven’t gone overboard. And to be honest…the kids haven’t known the difference! What have I been doing to myself all of these years??? :>)

  2. Thank you for the reminder!

  3. My mother worked too much and we were too poor to celebrate Christmas most years. I feel I went the other direction with my children because of that lack. Loads of decorations, cookies, fudge, a big dinner, gifts. The older I got and more I worked the less I did to the point of now having only a dinner to celebrate on a day I do not work some years. It is too much stress, work that only I seemed to need. I have become my past and my mother? My family never seemed to want/need traditions like this as much as I.

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