In the past fifteen years I’ve spent most of my holidays without a partner, away from family, often in towns where I have only one or two friends (and everyone is at their own family holidays). For some of those years, I was deeply depressed, even suicidal. And yet I got through two and a half months of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas (well, secular Christmas, anyway), New Year’s, and finally my birthday. Over time I perfected the art of holidaying alone.
Some of you are in crisis about being alone for the holidays. I know what that feels like, and it’s horrible. I’m sorry you’re going through it. Some years I couldn’t do anything without ugly-crying almost without pause: cooked and ate dinner (alone), put up a tree (alone), watched old holiday specials (alone), drank champagne (alone). I felt deeply sorry for myself as I sniffled my way through hanging lights or dressing for dinner — but when I wasn’t crying, I was grateful. It was nice to have the tree, the house full of decorations, the velvet skirt. That whipsaw between grief and slightly sniffly, childlike pleasure was exhausting, though.
It also was healing. I might be alone but my house was clean and warm for the holiday (I always clean before holidays). There was a pretty tree with my things around it. There was champagne, or eggnog, or hot cider, or coffee. There was the three-volume Life Book of Christmas, which I’ve read cover to cover every year since I was old enough to read. And there were friends — maybe not there, but a phone call or a skype away.
And it got better, so much better. I worked out what were at first coping strategies, that eventually became ways to celebrate. I can only offer tactical suggestions for today:
Take out the trash; make your bed; clear a space (or clean a space). These may seem like drudgery, the opposite of a holiday — but hey, the holiday’s already not what you expected (I almost wrote, hey, the holiday’s fucked anyway). And clean sheets and an empty trashcan will make your life better, so why not just do it? You’ll feel smug about it the next time you throw something away.
See the world. You may be able to go for a walk today. It’s worth it, if only down to the bottom of the block. If you can’t, look out a window until you see birds or other people or someone’s dog or squirrels or contrails or a red car.
Stare at a different screen today. Don’t doomscroll or do things online that don’t have a bottom to their page. Go to deviantart or etsy and type in “cute _____” or “animal friends” or “AoW” and marvel at things other people have made. Look up your favorite shows on imdb; go to their wikis. Find out who did the voices for your game, and find out what other games they’ve done. Have wikipedia bring up random pages for you (it’s a sidebar item), and see whether you end up with more sports teams or Czech villages. I seem to be in a Linnaean taxonomy phase.
Connect, one on one. Posting on social media is all very well, but it’s performative. Instead, write personal emails and messages and texts. The act of reaching out — remembering who you like well enough to write to them specifically — is what matters here, not watching a clock to see how fast they reply. If it’s possible, then phone calls, facetime, skype, zoom, whereby. Even if you hate these modes or you’re using them for work all the time, think about it.
Nobody has everything they want. This year, more than ever. Holidays as worry-free, comfortable, loving time with family and friends is a robust cultural construct, but it’s just a construct. The holiday season as promoted is unrealistic, and often unfair. Constructs are useful but you can live without them, change them, or replace them. Clinging to an outmoded construct, not helpful.
It’s okay. You may feel sorry for yourself, you may be angry, you may feel childish. All okay. You may also feel grateful or relieved, also okay. Your feelings may change every twenty minutes. Hang in there. The holiday will be over, and you will have survived it, and next year will be better. Play the long game.
This isn’t to say I am not missing things. My favorite holidays were in Seattle: Christmas Eve dinner at an Italian restaurant or steakhouse with a dozen friends, sometimes a party after that; brunch with Lisa and Shawn; visitors all afternoon of Christmas Day. There was a tree, and presents, and dressing up, listening to holiday music.
But if I don’t have all those things, it’s perfectly okay. The parts that matter to me include reaching out to people I care about (writing cards and calling people, emails and texts), indulgent food (this year it’s pizza, because I never eat pizza), self-care (cute sweater, earrings), a clean house, and, later, champagne.