Most of us love the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas can be “the most wonderful time of the year.” But for many of us, they can be terribly lonely and depressing times. Especially for LGBTQ people. Family rejection, religious traditions that alienate, exclude and oppress, friends too busy with their own family commitments, being single … and having that nagging ache of “missing someone” gnaw at our guts … all can turn these days of light into the stuff of nightmares.
We’ve all been there at some point, and honestly, will likely be there again sometime in the future. That seems to be the cycle of life.
But the holidays don’t have to be miserable. We can still enjoy them, even when we’re alone.
Several years ago, after the end of a 15-year relationship, I found myself alone for the holidays. And it took some mental readjusting to get through them without falling into an ugly funk. Actually, I’d unknowingly been preparing myself for it for a few years when he’d go to his mom’s for Thanksgiving and I (for a variety of reasons) decided not to join him. I began having Thanksgiving alone — well, not completely alone. I had my dogs. Those of you who have pets know what I’m talking about. But not all of us are cut out for pets, and have to tough out the holidays without that comfort.
So how do you survive the holidays alone? Here are a few things I discovered.
The foundation for surviving alone — throughout the year as well as the holidays — is loving yourself. I know, I know. That sounds cheesey and cliche — and sometimes impossible to do — but it’s the key to getting past those nagging feelings of “incompleteness.” Even if you struggle with that, with being independent, just taking steps in that direction can help get you there. We’re integrated beings. Our activities influence our thinking and feelings, as much as our thoughts influence our feelings, and our feelings can influence our actions.
So just start. The idea is to treat yourself the way you want to be treated by someone else. Be your own boyfriend, to use a phrase. (You can read about that here.) Look, you may never feel entirely content being by yourself, and that’s fine. Like that opening scene in Genesis that says, “it’s not good for man to be alone.” Most of us are not suited to live in isolation from others all the time. But there’s no reason we have to be miserable just because we aren’t surrounded by love at the moment.
So, in my case, when my ex would go off to visit his family at Thanksgiving, I’d make my own meal. Not hotdogs and mac & cheese. I bought a turkey breast, and roasted it for myself. I made mashed potatoes (okay, yeah, a couple of times I used instant). I made stuffing (sometimes just Stove Top). I bought a pumpkin pie and whipped cream. Some things I made; some I bought. I created a full Thanksgiving dinner, just scaled down for a single person. And, I’d put on one of my “comfort movies” (“Latter Days”), and the afternoon and evening went by quickly. I barely even noticed I was by myself. To be truthful, I even began looking forward to these times. No need to entertain or constantly check to see if someone else was happy. I could relax.
The same evolved over time for Christmas. After we split up, I created the holiday atmosphere I loved just for myself. I put up the tree, decorated the house, played Christmas music, and even bought and wrapped Christmas presents for myself. Really.
You know those little things you’d like, but wouldn’t necessarily buy for yourself (or might be too embarrassed to put on a public wish list)? Buy them for yourself. Wrap them. Put them under your tree. And then open them with your morning coffee Christmas morning.
I planned my Christmas dinner, including some family holiday favorites as well as a few items I wanted to start as a new tradition. (A friend shared her recipe for Nutmeg Log cookies, and I decided to make them. They were addictive; and now I make them every year. I added stuffed mushrooms to the menu as an appetizer, and now it doesn’t feel right without them.)
Make a menu full of things that you like, that make it feel homey for you. Don’t skimp. Don’t say “it’s not worth the time or effort just for myself.” That’s stinkin’ thinkin’. You are worth it. If you’d do it for someone else, why not for yourself? And besides, holiday leftovers are the best. You can eat for days!
And don’t forget to direct your attention outward as well. Too much introspection can be unhealthy. Give gifts. Make holiday donations to charities that mean something to you: a homeless shelter, a pet food pantry to provide for the pets of seniors, your local LGBTQ Youth center, an affirming church that is always there for you when you need it, or go online to fund medicines or malaria nets for children overseas.
Say or do something nice for somebody. Plant seeds of goodness. Let someone get ahead of you in line at the stores, hold the door for someone, nod and smile at someone, let a car cut in front of you in traffic, and ease off the horn. Be a force for light and goodness, even if just for a few days. Remember that holidays are not just about having a good time, but are also for giving back, for making the lives of others a little better, for contributing to the world. You’d be surprised how this can add to your sense of connectedness, and the warm feelings generosity inspires.
And if your friends are tied up with family commitments, do what so many single people do: get online. Chat with your “virts,” your virtual family. Social media has been a godsend to those of us who don’t have overly active social lives or a huge group of friends. There are always people who will bounce thoughts back and forth with you, photos to comment on, news items to vent about. It is a community and can give you a sense of being connected with others even when you’re celebrating alone.
And honestly, Christmas, too, became a time I totally enjoyed by myself. And I’m not Mr Independent. I’m not someone who prefers to be alone. So I know from firsthand experience that you can enjoy the holiays even if you don’t have someone to celebrate with.
Your holiday checklist
In short, here are some things you can do to not only survive the holidays alone, but even get to love them.
- do NOT ignore the holiday or pretend it isn’t happening. Don’t sit in a barren apartment that looks like it does every other day of the year. Embrace the holiday. Take a positive attitude toward it.
- deliberately create a holiday atmosphere for yourself. Create an environment of love, a comfy zone.
- plan and cook your own holiday meal. Develop your own traditions. Make the holidays your own.
- do things to occupy yourself, to take your mind off being alone. Listen to music that makes you happy; watch your favorite movies. Spend some time with your hobbies. Do what you like.
- buy yourself presents, wrap them, put them under the tree. Love yourself. Treat yourself as nicely as you would your boyfriend or girlfriend.
- connect with virtual friends, with your chosen family. Because, these days, you don’t ever have to be completely alone unless you choose to be.
- give something back to the world
These are not “sad and pathetic” ways to just get through depressing holidays. They are healthy habits. They reflect a positive self-worth and demonstrate that you are loveable and worthy as you are and where you are right now.
And these habits will serve you well even when you are in a relationship. Things come up and your partner may not be able to be there for the holidays. Many professions require people to work holidays — and I’m not just talking about doctors and nurses. Bartenders, coffeeshop baristas, restaurant workers, and God help you if you’re with a musician or someone in ministry. You’ll have a lot of holiday season alone time. Family emergencies will pop up, business travel, and the list could go on and on. It is likely that even when you are happily married or surrounded by good friends and family, you will spend some holidays alone. And what if your partner does not share your holiday spirit? What are you going to do? Stop having Christmas? Having this attitude and these habits already in place — for yourself — will free you from being dependent on other people to make your holidays gay.
So, whether you are in a relationship or not, surrounded by loving family and friends or alone, make the holidays your own. Enjoy them … for yourself. You’re worth it. You deserve it. So why not?
And if you haven’t started yet … there’s still a few hours left to run out before the stores close.
Have yourself a blessed and happy Christmas!
Photo from the movie, Home Alone (Twentieth Century Fox, 1990 USA)