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How to Be Alone on a Holiday

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I remember a Christmas in which I spent the day entirely by myself. Strategy #1: sleep as late as possible. Strategy #2: fill up the day with as many things to occupy my time without feeling lonely.

It didn’t work, at least not completely. I was sad and depressed for much of the day. I focused on getting through it and moving on, believing that other years would be better.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. You can have a wonderful time by yourself—you can travel alone, go to restaurants alone, and generally appreciate the chance to be reflective without all the noise.

But sometimes, if you’re on your own when everyone else is being festive, exchanging gifts and eating big meals with family, you can’t help but feel sad. No amount of saying “Hey, cheer up!” will help—you just have to get through it.

If you’re alone during this holiday season, you’re probably not the only one. And remember the old saying, misattributed to lots of people but true nonetheless: “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.”

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See also: this post by Elizabeth Potts-Weinstein

Image: OrangeGreenBlue

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20 Comments

  • daniel witmer says:

    needed this 🙂 this will be me in a few weeks!

  • Although not always easy to do, I do my best to appreciate all the different times and experiences in my life, including the times I’m alone. I believe there’s beauty and value in all experiences, if I look closely enough.

  • Thom Walters says:

    Thanks for this brief but powerful post Chris. The best way to not be alone is to go help out in some way, volunteer. I remember one thanksgiving my whole family was at my brother’s down south. I either didn’t have the money to get there or I had to work the next day. So I ended up serving dinner to people in a homeless shelter. It is a memory that will stay with me forever in the best way. I was not alone. None of us truly are. We are all one people.

    Thanks for letting me share.
    Thom

  • Hmmmm. If you want to be alone you can celebrate it. My first Valentines after my partner died I got dressed in comfortable and classy at home wear, opened a bottle of bubbly, and cooked shrimp and steak… Somehow it was perfect. If you don’t want to be alone, get out! I’ll admit it’s easier in a city. Last Christmas Eve my family refused to connect, but over a glass of wine in a hotel lobby I met a woman from France and we went wandering in Chinatown looking for dinner, settling on a place in her guide book. Later went to a midnight church service solo – but posted on Facebook. Again perfect.

  • Dulce Taylor says:

    Throughout my travels, I’ve spent a Christmas all alone in Italy and another rather warm Christmas in Australia away from family. Sometimes, you are inevitably alone, other times, you are blessed to have met others who are in the same situation as you. Either way, it’s best to (attempt to) live in the moment and enjoy yourself wherever you are. Thanks for the post!

  • I’ve been alone for christmas a few times – by my own choice. The first time it was just as an experiment and I thought I’d feel sad, but I actually enjoyed it so much that I’ve done it a few times since. To me, there is something magical about being alone for christmas.

  • Debra Kato says:

    I remember years ago I was alone in Shanghai for Christmas day. The hotel staff had urged me to buy a ticket to their Christmas fashion show for foreigners but I thought that it sounded lame. I was sure that I would find something better to do. But, alas, I was wrong and when I tried to buy a ticket, to the show, they were all sold out. I ended up going to the only restaurant in the hotel that wasn’t booked, a high end French one. I was the only lone diner surrounded by tables of Chinese families. The staff felt so sorry for me that they stopped by many times to see how I was doing. I ate great food and wrote postcards and that Christmas abroad still stands out to me.

  • Kylowna Moton says:

    Sometimes Christmas with family–or any people–is just plain stressful, or awkward at least. There is pressure to be “in the spirit,” to exhibit behaviors and feelings that are perhaps not exactly genuine. Sometimes I prefer to be alone. This year, I’m spending Christmas in a spa in Utah, and I cannot wait for the holiday!

  • Susan Z. Martin says:

    I’m with Thom – if you’re alone on a holiday, whether by circumstance or by choice, consider volunteering. I did that for the two Christmases I spent in Sweden when I was studying – one of the student nations (sort of like fraternities) had an open house where anyone could come and get a hot meal, be with others and enjoy some singing and other traditional Swedish Christmas activities. I worked in the kitchen and it was good fun – even scrubbing pots can be enjoyable if it is approached in the right way.

    Right now here in Victoria one local shelter is looking for people to volunteer in the mall wrapping presents for donations (which is one of their fundraising activities). And the shelters always need a helping hand with all kinds of tasks. I am sure that anyone anywhere can find something to be involved with that will help them get to the real meaning behind Christmas.

  • Chelsea says:

    It IS possible to enjoy being alone, but it’s like an acquired taste. This was good for me today. Thanks for posting!

  • Mike says:

    I choose to spend Christmas alone most years. I think it’s a great time to reflect back on the year (I usually do my annual review during this time). But make a plan! There’s a danger there if you leave your day too open-ended.

    Also, don’t forget that Asian restaurants and movie theaters are usually open, so you don’t even need to stay home. I even like to rent an inexpensive hotel room to change my surroundings (and swim in a pool). It can be a very fun, special time.

  • SM says:

    Each and every day is a special day, filled with a variety of blessings and growth opportunities. If we learn to stop comparing ourselves to others, conform to the norm so as to fit in, then in time with practice we may become more comfortable with being uncomfortable and actually enjoy our own company! And then we will never be alone again!! Happy day…Happy holiday!!

  • Everyone needs to stay alone from time to time, the question is how much time do you need for yourself?
    For me a good 30% of time alone is enough to recover the peace with the rest of the humanity.

  • Charlie says:

    Chris, thanks for the brief but thoughtful article. Incidentally, the pop-up on your site is quite annoying.

  • Phyllis says:

    Such a timely subject! Years ago when I was young and had a job too far away to go home for Christmas, I was invited by a friend to share Christmas with her and her family. I appreciated being included – but I snuck away for a few private tears because I found being in another family’s celebration somehow only heightened my missing my own family. Now I often prefer holidays alone. At Christmas I sometimes plan a late buffet dinner at a festively decorated hotel. I take a new book to read and settle in for a couple hours of eating, reading, eating, reading – and watching the proud grandparents with their grandchildren who are also there to dine. I leave after dark and drive through streets lit with Christmas decorations – and I am welcomed by my pets when I arrive home. Really quite nice!

  • Christina says:

    I did Thanksgiving alone this year (for the first time), and quite enjoyed it! I’m not sure I would feel the same on Christmas however…I have a lot more emotion invested in that holiday!

  • Great post Chris, and a really important subject matter. Volunteering on the big day is a great way of keeping occupied, meeting other people and putting things into perspective.

    Have a great Christmas and New Year!

  • Yvonne Procho says:

    Well, posting a depressing photo like the one above sure isn’t helping. Okay, so though you tried to alone on the holiday, you still got sad. But guess what? Even if you try to get out and have a good time with family, or friends, or whoever, you STILL can easily have a lousy holiday. It’s all about acknowledging that it’s ONE stretch of time were made to believe HAS to be spectacular, and if it’s not, we’re losers. It’s a ridiculous, outrageously unrealistic set up, and the sooner we acknowledge that, regardless of whether we’re alone or with others, the better off we’ll be. I’m not saying it CAN’T be a lovely time. But it’s not really something we can control all that much, just like everything else in life.

  • Yvonne Procho says:

    Well, posting a depressing photo like the one above sure isn’t helping. Okay, so though you tried to alone on the holiday, you still got sad. But guess what? Even if you try to get out and have a good time with family, or friends, or whoever, you STILL can easily have a lousy holiday. It’s all about acknowledging that it’s ONE stretch of time we’re made to believe HAS to be spectacular, and if it’s not, we’re losers. It’s a ridiculous, outrageously unrealistic set up, and the sooner we acknowledge that, regardless of whether we’re alone or with others, the better off we’ll be. I’m not saying it CAN’T be a lovely time. But it’s not really something we can control all that much, just like everything else in life.

  • Yvonne Procho says:

    Can you possibly offer instructions on how I can delete my comment? Didn’t realize how public it would be. Many Thanks.

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