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Holidays Can Be Painful For Wildfire Survivors. New Family Traditions Could Help.

A young girl and boy decorate a Christmas tree with ornaments at home.
Jeremy McKnight | Unsplash

This is usually the time of year when families come together to decorate their homes or share a meal. The pandemic has interrupted many of those holiday traditions — and so has this year’s wildfires.

The holidays can serve as a painful reminder of the things people lost to the fires.

"We don't think about our holiday decorations until it's time to pull them out, right?” says Melissa Brymer, program director with the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. “So when they start getting pulled out, we realize, ugh, another loss."

Brymer says families should think about starting new traditions, like sending thank-you cards to first responders, writing letters to people in nursing homes, or cooking a meal with relatives over a video chat. Experts say many children also find joy in donating food or toys.

Brymer helped compile a full list of creative ways families can celebrate the holidays with their children and teens this year.

The Safe+Strong Helpline is a free service that’s available to children and adults who are struggling with stress, anxiety or depression-like symptoms. For help, call 800-923-4357 or visit safestrongoregon.org/wildfire. This is a free service provided by the Oregon Health Authority and Portland-based nonprofit agency Lines for Life.

Disaster survivors can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990 (Spanish Press 2), or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 (for Spanish text “Hablanos” to 66746). This national hotline is toll-free, multilingual, and confidential.

April Ehrlich is JPR content partner at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Prior to joining OPB, she was a regional reporter at Jefferson Public Radio where she won a National Edward R. Murrow Award.