I still remember the exact moment I decided to spend the holidays on my own from now on. It was Christmas 2014, and I had decided to celebrate it with my sister and her family. Now, I just wanted to preface this by stressing how much I adore my sister—both of my sisters; they are very awesome people indeed!
But while sitting next to their family Christmas tree, decorated by them a few days before I arrived, eating the foods that they usually ate for Christmas, going through those specific family rituals every family has for their holiday celebrations, visiting their church, and standing somewhat awkwardly to the side while they chatted with people from their community … it just didn’t feel like my Christmas. This was their Christmas, and it was lovely, but I was keenly aware of merely being a guest, an extra addition to a well-oiled machine of holiday planning and rituals.
With my sister and her family, it just didn’t feel like my Christmas. This was their Christmas, and it was lovely, but I was keenly aware of merely being a guest.
As a single, childless woman with siblings that are all married parents by now, the holidays had been feeling strange for a while even before I made that fateful decision. Especially after living in New Zealand for seven years, Christmas hadn’t felt festive in a long time. As you may or may not know, November to January is summer in the southern hemisphere, so the holidays feel a lot less cozy and a lot more like a frat party, especially as an international student living in a very university-centric city. Think BBQs, beach picnics, and summer parties together with all the “Christmas orphans”—fun, no doubt, but just nothing like what I had learned to love about the holidays.
Being from Germany, the country responsible for most holiday customs such as the decorated tree, Christmas markets, and advent calendars, I am extremely passionate about celebrating Christmas. Thanksgiving is less of a tradition here, though I really enjoyed learning about this holiday from my American and Canadian friends. Now as for New Year’s Eve, I don’t know about you, but personally I have never understood the fuss about this holiday—the strange pressure to make it a night filled with people and parties. My ideal New Year’s Eve is a night in, safe from scary fireworks exploding everywhere, cuddled up with the latest Netflix binge and some good food.
Now, despite being an introvert and thus usually OK on my own, I was of course nervous about spending the holidays alone. And I am not going to lie to you, I did feel some intense moments of scary loneliness and may have even panic-joined Tinder on Christmas Day (bad idea). What helped me tremendously was staying in touch with friends, but also really giving in to my sadness over being alone.
What I realized, somewhat surprisingly, was that after the sadness came a strange calm and sense of pride: I had done something no one in my family or circle of friends had ever dared, and I had lived through it with a sense of joy, excitement, strength, and courage. And, well, this was also the first time I didn’t feel stressed about traveling in overfilled trains to whatever family member would “take me in” that year, or having to deal with tensions between couples, or parents and overexcited children. It was all just quiet, calm, and soothingly peaceful.
I remember going for a New Year’s walk on the first day of 2015 feeling completely at ease in my solitude. I could see families outside quietly arguing and often overheard their snappy replies to each other. After a week of being together, suppressed resentments were boiling over in many relationships. I did not miss those tensions one bit!
There is a lot of guilt and emotional pressure involved in the way the media presents holiday celebrations almost exclusively as either a warm and wonderful family event or a sad, depressing time of loneliness and unhappiness (looking at you there, Hallmark movies). But it does not have to be an either-or! It is absolutely possible to create a joy-filled holiday season all on your own. Here are some of the strategies that helped me make spending the holidays alone so awesome that I will keep doing it, pandemic or not!
The media presents holiday celebrations as either a warm family event or a time of loneliness and unhappiness. But it does not have to be an either-or.
Find Your Own Rituals
This was the best thing about celebrating the holidays alone: I could finally create my very own rituals. You can probably think of a few things your parents or other family members tend to do over the holidays that you personally would rather skip on. Maybe it’s the rigidity of the Christmas lunch served on the “good china” with everyone dressed up in their best outfits, or the Christmas Eve party with all of your parents’ co-workers asking uncomfortably personal questions. Or that one racist uncle ranting about his political views while carving the Thanksgiving turkey—which you keep having to politely decline because actually you have been vegan for five years, but for some reason your family keeps “forgetting” that fact.
Imagine being able to celebrate the holiday season completely on your own terms! Vegan Thanksgiving feasts, Christmas lunch in your pajamas in front of the TV, and as much or as little alcohol as you want.
But hey, you can also decide to double down on family holiday rituals if that’s what you’ve always wanted to do! This is what I decided on, after too many “casual” holidays in the New Zealand summer: I kept, or rather resurrected, many of the rituals I remembered so fondly from childhood and hadn’t been able to indulge in for years. For the first time ever, I got my very own Christmas tree and decorated it while watching old Christmas movies, then I cooked myself a massive roast dinner (Germans celebrate on Christmas Eve, you see), went to church service wearing a special festive outfit, and then put on classic Christmas carols while lighting candles and unwrapping my gifts. It was glorious!
Go All Out
I did exactly this for my first holidays alone, treating myself to a couple of frivolous things that I usually feel too ashamed to buy, such as a delectable pair of fuzzy slippers and a luxury scented candle. Oh, and sheet masks—lots and lots of Korean sheet masks!
In fact, I spent most of my first New Year’s Day on my own just taking care of my skin and my body, starting with a delicious bath and full body scrub, followed by slathering myself in body balms from head to toe and then just laying in bed with a face mask for longer than I ever could have had I been with my family. It was the height of indulgence!
I also invested in a number of holiday decorations, mainly fairy lights galore, plus my very first Christmas tree decorations. In fact, I’ve bought one new tree decoration every year since then, so my collection is growing steadily.
Make Use of All That Social Media Has to Offer
If you do feel lonely during the holidays, there are multiple ways to connect to the outside world from the safety of your home. Get on that family Zoom group meeting or celebrate New Year’s by connecting with your probably-also-homebound friends right before midnight.
Even if you aren’t able to (or maybe do not want to) connect with friends or family members over the holidays, you can find connections through the internet. On Twitter, the hashtag #joinin was created by British comedian Sarah Millican to help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation over the holidays. I suspect it will be very active this year!
Rejoice in the Ultimate “Me Time”
I know that being alone can feel scary, but it also gives you the ultimate freedom to truly do whatever you want, without any outside judgment. If you want to take an hour-long bath on Christmas Eve, you can! If you want to—oh how glorious!—go to bed before midnight on New Year’s Eve and sleep through the fireworks, you’re free to do that.
Rejoice in the feeling of being 100% free from anyone else’s timetable, the master of your very own holiday experience. And remember that at least this year, many people all over the world will be in the same strange situation as you are—which, to me, means that we are all actually more connected than ever before, even when celebrating by ourselves.