Taking the Scary Out of Hearing the Holidays

Uh-oh. The holiday season is coming. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day, Milad un Nabi, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, and a few others.  

At this point in the calendar, most people are, like, yay-hooray! But others, the ones who have hearing loss, may have a little dread and nervousness mixed in with the excitement.

It’s not that we don’t love the decorations, faith-based festivities, food, parties and party clothes, and the time off work. What we don’t love is how our hearing loss can suck the joy out of celebrations – because it sidelines us! We don’t have (or no longer have) the hearing superpowers that can include, not exclude us from the action. This is not whinging; this is the reality for people who need a lot of clues to make sense of sound. We need helping powers to understand speech and follow the conversation in a crowded room, at large family dinners and in random holiday interactions with strangers whose speech patterns we are not yet used to. If we had these natural communication gifts, we wouldn’t need to be in your face about what we need you to do. Our major contribution to the conversation wouldn’t be pardon?!

Take Halloween, just around the corner. Kids love it because they get to dress up as a pint-sized Spiderman and Frozen princesses, eat candy for days, and be crazy in the neighbourhood in the dark. Parents love it because the kids just look so darn cute. People with hearing loss are challenged because they can’t understand what’s being said in the dark, behind the masks. And even if the costume doesn’t involve a mask, kids hyped on candied excitement aren’t generally good at looking you in the eye. (Hint: It’s a good guess that they’re saying trick or treat, so just give them candy and close the door.)

But Halloween isn’t the only challenging holiday event. Any celebration that involves lots of people crammed around the dining table, all eating  food and talking at the same time, increasingly loudly, is not – surprise, surprise – fun or easy for the person with hearing challenges.

We can’t follow the conversation that fast! All the voices combine into noise soup. Kale stuck on the teeth and pie crumbs hanging off a lip make speechreading disgusting and tough. To make it worse, our feelings get hurt because here they are, the people we love and who say they love us and whom we expect to understand out needs, leaving us behind as they manoeuver their way through another chaotic, hilarious family meal.

As a noisy social situation, New Year’s Eve isn’t too bad, because we already know all the words; when the countdown reaches “3-2-1-0, Happy-New Year!”, you kiss the person nearest you (hopefully the one that brung ya) and sing Auld Lang Syne. (Do millennials sing that, too?) And if you’re celebrating NYE in front of the TV set, the closed captioning fills in the noisy blanks nicely for you.

Taking the scary out of these events means showing up, knowing how to get our communication needs met. It means being proactive on creating better communication environments; think more light, less noise, fewer people and using technology. It means learning to let it go in the moments when you’ve done your best, yet things aren’t perfect. They seldom are, so take some breaths and soak up the visuals, smells and the feel of the holidays.

Over the coming weeks, you’ll be reading a number of good articles on hearing loss websites about surviving the holidays with hearing loss. I hope this one sets you off to a good start.


About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

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