Remembering the past, looking to the future: Christmas as a symbol of change in later life widowhood

  • Collins T
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Many older women experience the loss of a spouse or partner in later life. This paper explores older women's experiences of Christmas in order to locate process and meaning in relation to the transition of later life widowhood. Drawing on longitudinal data, derived from three in-depth interviews conducted over 18 months with 26 older widows, this paper presents a number of themes from the women's accounts of their Christmas celebrations and their Christmas cards. The importance of continuity, social relations and autonomy is situated in three emergent themes: ‘Family, intergenerational ties and tradition’, ‘Friendships, organisational ties and reciprocity’ and ‘Personal continuity and activation’. The significance of discontinuity, change and mediation is illustrated through three emergent themes: ‘Christmas as a catalyst for change’, ‘We are all widows’ and ‘Negotiating change with others’. The findings, including the positive aspects of continuity and discontinuity, demonstrate that Christmas is a potent symbol of both personal and social transformation during later life widowhood, and that the management of transition incorporates not only social relations, but also personal agency and flexibility. This paper further challenges the predominantly negative stereotype of older widows and illustrates their resilience and growth in the later stages of life.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Christmas
  • continuity
  • discontinuity
  • older widows
  • social relationships
  • transition

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  • Tracy Collins

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