As we near the end of October, I am reminded once again that the holidays are upon us. Colder temperatures are in the air, leaves change colors and fall to the ground, and soon Old Man Winter makes his way to the forefront. Since becoming divorced and living alone, I always dread the arrival of the holidays; especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are the most family-oriented holidays of the entire year and the fact that they are back-to-back makes it all the more difficult.
I can understand why so many people get depressed and even reach the point of suicide when it should be one of the most festive times of the year. It’s not just the lack of family and friends that depress some people, but the amount of stress or strain that we put on ourselves every year to make the holidays perfect and happy for our family and loved ones.
But I’ve decided that since I live alone, and my father and sister live on the other side of the country, I am going to simply how I celebrate the holidays and still enjoy these months.
Lessons of Old
Growing up in the Midwest, my family always went big for the holidays: The traditional turkey dinner at Thanksgiving, gifts and a ham dinner for Christmas, and a gathering with neighbors to usher in the New Year. Family was very important to us, and not just the immediate family. Every year we would gather with grandparents and relatives at either our home or theirs and celebrate the holidays.
One year I recall my mother complain how every year after Thanksgiving dinner, the men would go in and watch football while the women stayed in the kitchen and do dishes. This wasn’t a complaint about the ‘battle of the sexes’, but more about the importance of visiting with family whom we only see 2-3 times a year; depending on weather and schedules. Simply put, dishes would be rinsed but set aside to be done later. My mother showed the value of family by putting them ahead of dishes.
I’ve tried to bring this with me when I got married and had children of my own but my wife’s mother and grandmother were traditionalists and chose to do the dishes immediately after dinner anyway.
Alone for Christmas
The very first time I found myself alone for Christmas was back in ’91. I had just moved out to Arizona in March and was living life with my best friend as my roommate. That Fall he fell in love with a woman and I suddenly became a third wheel in the set.
Thanksgiving was spent with a good friend and his family as I used to go over to his house twice a week to lift weights. He was a former professional body builder and, knowing I had no family out here, he invited me to share the meal with him and his family. My best friend has family who lives in Phoenix so he and his girlfriend went there for their holiday meal but surfaced at Dan’s house in time for dessert.
For Christmas the plan was that my friend and his girlfriend would spend Christmas Eve in Phoenix with his family but would be home that night for the three of us to spend time together on Christmas Day. As night began to fall, I received a call that they would not be returning as they had been drinking and would spend the night there.
Christmas morning came and I was completely and totally alone! I never felt so alone ever in my life. With businesses shut up for the day and limited amount of programs on television I had a difficult time of figuring out what to do. To me, this was one of the most family-center holidays of all or, if no family is around, close friends. I thought about giving Dan a call to see if I could stop over, but I didn’t want to impose myself on him and his family. I’ve tried never to be a burden to other individuals even if it meant going without something.
A Personal Vow
Many years later after being married and having children and enjoying the holidays with family again, I once made a personal vow in regards to the holidays. It was around May, 2010 when my wife decided she wanted to visit all of her relatives in Iowa as they have a big family get-together every year around Memorial Day. Along with the girls, her cousin, and some friends of his, they planned on driving straight through to get there.
I wanted to go but didn’t think I would be able to get the time off from work. Holidays in retail are a no-no in regards to vacation time. When my wife told me that they would be sleeping in a tent, which was a deal breaker for me. Never liked the idea even though I’ve never tried it. While they were gone, I celebrated the solitude of an empty house but did long for the companionship of people. I vowed that if I ever found myself in this type of situation at Christmas, I would be well-prepared in advance to tackle the day as it came. No more fidgeting about what to do or where to go, I would have a plan in mind and would stick to it just to get through the day.
Stick to the Basics
If you find yourself alone during the holidays, here are some ideas that will help you cope. This is, of course, if you don’t have any family or close friends nearby to celebrate the time together.
- Limit your decorations. One of the main things people seem to fret over is the amount of decorating the house to make it festive (Most people don’t decorate for Thanksgiving anyways). To cut costs and save time of putting up and taking down decorations, why not decorate for the Harvest season? Buy autumn wreaths, scarecrows and pumpkins (without the carved faces) Put it up at the beginning of October and take down at the start of December. For Christmas, limit yourself to a 3 foot tree and minimal lights and decorations. Or, decorate for the winter with fake snow and green garland. And if you don’t have a fireplace, get a DVD of a fire with holiday music in the background.
- Minimalize your food. Sure everyone loves the traditional dinners during the holidays but living alone, we can’t always afford it. For Thanksgiving this year, I plan to buy a large smoked turkey leg plus a handful of traditional sides like stuffing, sweet potatoes, and of course, pumpkin pie. For Christmas, go a completely different route. Instead of the traditional ham or turkey, why not try Chinese, Mexican, or make a big casserole in a slow cooker.
- Send out e- One of the great time (and money) savers is to create a holiday card on your computer and send it via e-mail to all your friends and family. If they think you’re cheap, explain that you don’t have the money you’d like to spend and did it this way instead. Then make a mental note to strike them off the list for next year. J
- Holiday Entertainment. One of the traditions I made with my wife and kids for Thanksgiving evening was to watch a Christmas movie together to signal to upcoming holiday. Watch movies that feature family gatherings whether they be holiday related or not. For Christmas, plan a marathon of films to work through the day. Watch all of the Tolkein movies, Pirates of the Caribbean, or a handful of James Bond movies. Last year I got my hands on the mini-series, The 10th Kingdom which is 7 ½ hours long without commercials.
Last year I was prepared to experience my first Christmas by myself. I planned on a big breakfast, a Christmas episode of Doctor Who, a light lunch, then watch my 10th Kingdom special, and eating a slow cooker dinner in the evening.
However, the night before I was blessed to be invited by some people from church to spend Christmas Day with them. There was a handful of other from our congregation there as well and it made the day much more enjoyable. I don’t expect to be invited each year which is why I have my plan in place should I find myself alone again for Christmas. Thanksgiving is usually spent working most if not all of the day or so I don’t worry too much about it. But with the store being closed on Christmas Day, those handful of hours can feel like a lifetime.
If nothing more, hang out on the internet with people from all over and experience the holidays vicariously through their photos and descriptions. Whatever you do for your holiday season, make it enjoyable!
So, what do you do to enjoy the holidays if you live alone? Or if it’s just you and your spouse without family nearby. Share some of things you do to make the holidays special, if not just tolerable, in the comments below.