November 25, 2011


“How to Survive the Holidays”
“Alone for the Holidays”
“Tips for Singles for the Christmas Season”


Who writes these things, anyway? Psychologists? Suicide-prevention specialists? Grief counselors?

I’m pretty sure that the authors of these dismal checklists do not spend these onerous winter days alone. I know they mean well. But really? “Call a friend” “Take a walk” “Avoid excess” … As if we haven’t thought of these ourselves!?!

I don’t believe that being alone and feeling calm, satisfied–or even happy–during the holidays is a matter of following those classic checklists.

Here’s my “checklist”–which consists of one item–from me, a real-life person who has been alone for the holidays.

I believe that “surviving” holidays alone, is a matter of being intentional.

So, determine what the holidays mean for you. Simple, right? But most of us don’t get analytical about “the holidays”–and this is what can trap us. The more we determine what touches us about these days, the more we can shape the season for ourselves.

For example, when I was a girl, one year we were at my grandmother’s during winter. She had a Christmas cactus that bloomed brightly (against a barren, snowy Montana backdrop). So now, seeing a cactus blooming at this time of year helps me feel connected to how Christmas was in my girlhood, and to family members who have passed, and I find a way to include those blooms–even if it is only a trip to the garden store.

This is something that I can do–all by myself–that nurtures a very old part of my heart during Christmas. But I had to identify that the simple Christmas cactus was that kind of important to me.

It’s the little things. The subtle things.

It is the little things that bring us joy, and it is the little things that bring us angst. And we can get caught in belittling our attachment to the little things, and then neglect them out of chagrin. We dismiss what is important to us, because it seems petty or silly.

I encourage you to never pass up seeking something that feels important, just because it may seem little, or simple, or “stupid”.  The smell of cinnamon. Ice skating. Caramel. Poinsettias. Frango mints. Even the craziness of a shopping mall. Wearing socks with Santa embroidered on them. And so on.

Think about childhood. Flip through old photos or diaries. What things do you associate with “the holidays” and can bring into these winter months–intentionally?

Wait. What about those things that are negatively associated? Identify those, too. Ponder them to sort out why they are associated, and why there are negative feelings. And then you can deal with them consciously, intentionally–which may be the only key you need to have a better experience with it this time around. And remember to tackle those associations which are about being single, or not being single. For example, if there always seems to be happy couples and families at the skating rink–find a way to address this so it works for you: bring a friend, borrow a child, don’t go at all.

Oh, office parties and the like? Think about them.

Actually, spend some time looking over the calendar for the days ahead, and put some intention behind each engagement.

Really, that’s the key to “surviving” and even enjoying doing this on our own: intention. Finding what brings us joy. Identifying what brings us angst. And designing or re-designing the days accordingly–as much as we can.

I just spent Thanksgiving “alone”–me and the dog. I was actually kind of keen on it–at the outset. I was looking forward to an abundance of peace and quiet, and I had four movies on hand to go with a pile of mending to do (expecting I’d feel decadent and accomplished when the day was done). I had a piece of pumpkin pie stashed in the fridge … for me that seemed the most symbolic aspect of Thanksgiving.

Things were all groovy–until I started seeing the posts on Facebook … my friends’ dinner menus and their frivolities, photos of fun that did not include me. Then I felt distant. I felt my alone-ness underscored. So I returned to my intentions.

I plated up that piece of pumpkin pie, towered it with whipped cream. I took the now-empty pie plate, and towered it with whipped cream too–and called the dog. He had his pie tin with crusts and cream, I had my plate of goodness. We shared. Together–not really alone.

Photo by me, of the iced over puddles that the dog and I ran through. Looks a little desolate, but it was a beautiful morning.

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