​Holiday Celebrations Re-Created

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on December 15, 2020 # Lifestyle

8th night Hanukkah

By guest blogger Sheri Denkensohn-Trott

The December holiday season, whether it be the celebration of Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa, is usually accompanied by beautiful decorations and customs. Candles, trees, wreaths, ornaments, delicious food, and desserts, and of course, gifts. But what happens after a spinal cord injury? In many instances, anticipation is replaced by dread. So many of the holiday traditions can’t be accomplished independently. When the holidays become a source of memories of “I can’t do this anymore,” the season becomes one of dread.

I am Jewish, but I grew up in a part of New York State where most of my neighbors had gorgeous Christmas trees. Every year, they invited me over for the traditional tree decorating. I helped hang ornaments, place garland and tinsel just so, turn on the sparkling lights that always seemed to have a glitch, and share in the hot chocolate and cookies that were served afterwards. In turn, I invited non-Jewish friends to my house when we lit the Hanukkah candles and ate my mom’s mouth-watering potato latkes cooked in boiling hot oil. The smells are still vivid in my mind.

After becoming a quadriplegic at 16, Hanukkah wasn’t so bad, because others in my household purchased gifts and lit the candles. Those traditions continued. But the tree decorating invitations no longer came because my friend’s houses were not accessible. I felt the loss keenly.

Over the years, my inability to participle in holiday preparations grew even more upsetting, especially after I got married and had my own home to decorate and traditions to maintain. The holidays became a time of year that I dreaded. My husband wanted to decorate a tree, as his family always had, and I taught him how to light the menorah (my husband also has a disability, but he has some dexterity in his hands). Getting gifts ready was a nightmare. I couldn’t wrap them; gift bags are easier, but I couldn’t do that either. I was ready to become the Grinch.

Fortunately, I refused to throw in the towel. Instead, I decided to get creative. I’m never one to pass up a party, so why not invite people over to help decorate while we provide the party? Voila! That began the tradition of inviting friends over each year to help us decorate our little tree, wrap gifts, and end the evening with holiday foods and drinks. Our friends have continued to look forward to this annual event and it has worked out well for us. We get help and, in exchange, our friends enjoy a festive evening. Each year we look forward to planning the “decorating and wrapping date.”

For each night of Hanukkah, my husband also got creative. Instead of struggling to wrap eight individual gifts, he has purchased a “spice a night” from Penzy’s Spices. I love it! Even though he does the cooking, I get to enjoy all the different new spices throughout the year in different dishes. He also sets up the menorah and carefully lights the candles (we do have an electric menorah just in case). Food, no problem. We have found frozen potato latkes that are delicious and easy to make and we order other fun food from different local places. Our dinner is different, no question, but still delicious.

This year, the pandemic will make our celebration more difficult, but where there is a will… Once again, we got are getting creative. With no in-person party (for obvious reasons), our decorations will be more limited. I looked for easy-to-use, affordable holiday cheer. I went to all the cheapest sites online and ordered nice tablecloths, decorated paper plates, cups, and silverware for Hanukkah and Christmas to create the holiday spirit. Our gifts to others will be delivered by car to those that live nearby in the bag that they were purchased in. I’m not feeling guilty about that; It is the thought that counts, and my loved ones will understand. Others who are further away will receive something by mail. This year, anything goes.

My advice to anyone who feels like their injury robs their holiday spirit, is to come to peace with the fact that your holidays won’t be the same. But you can come up with new traditions that will be just as special. Draw on friends and family (pandemic permitting). I think you’ll find that those who love you will treasure these gatherings, too. You may not be able to hang that ornament yourself or light the candle with a match in your hand, but in the end, holidays spent with friends and family is really what the spirit of the season is all about. Begin anew and try your best to forget about what you can’t do. It gets easier – and more enjoyable -- each year.

Happy holidays and stay healthy and safe.

Sheri Denkensohn-Trott sustained a spinal cord injury in 1983 and is a C4 quadriplegic. She practiced law for the Federal government for 25 years and started her own business with her husband (who also has a disability) called Happy on Wheels, LLC. Their vision is to inspire others, with and without disabilities, to live happier lives through writing, speaking, mentoring, and consulting. Sheri is a columnist for New Mobility magazine and a regular contributor to other written publications. Additionally, she is a motivational speaker, professional storyteller, and mentors students and individuals of all ages. She serves on The Advisory Board of the Rockefeller College and is also a breast cancer survivor and Ambassador for the American Cancer Society. Sheri is currently writing her first book. Sheri and her husband reside in Arlington, Virginia. You can follow them on all forms of social media, and subscribe to their newsletter by accessing their website www.happyonwheels.com.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.