Christmas Orphan: Surviving the Holidays Alone
A couple of years ago, my parents went through a pretty messy divorce. We had what was to be our last Christmas together while they were separated–kind of a parting-of-ways as we entered this new phase of our family’s lives. It was lovely…and painful. Bittersweet is probably the best way to describe it, which is an unfortunate way to describe any time spent with those you love.
As anyone who is a child of less-than-ideal divorce proceedings knows, it makes life–and particularly the holidays–a bit more complicated. Suddenly, there are two families to tend to, in some cases, in two different states. There’s often no way to be able to see everyone in your immediate family during this time and it can often be stressful to decide who to see on which day. I decided early on in the saga of my family’s split that I would not spend Christmas with either parent from that point on; my parents could each pick a weekend that wasn’t Christmas and set that aside to spend time with me. This alleviated so many difficult choices every year–I could celebrate the holidays with both of them and there was no “preferential treatment” given to either one. Unfortunately, what it also means is that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have become two days that don’t really mean anything to me anymore.
This can be a tough realization for people, even if your situation is not like mine. Perhaps you didn’t have the time/money/resources to make it home for the holidays, or maybe your family is not the one you were born into, but the one you choose here. Maybe your family is no longer here on this earth. No matter what, Orphan Christmas–especially the first few years–can be an extremely trying time.
Of course you’ve got friends. Good ones, close ones…ones that invite you to spend Christmas with their families instead. I get about a dozen of these invitations every year, and I always have the same response: “Thanks, but no thanks.” It’s so kind of these folks to recognize that you might be alone during this one day that it seems everyone else is surrounded by those they love, but for me, I can’t imagine spending time with a family I barely know.
I avoid all of it…and I still try to make the most of my holiday. Here’s how:
- Find another orphan friend. I’ve found that there is generally at least one person in your social circle who is in a similar boat to you. Grab a movie and hit up a restaurant that’s open–especially if you’re in a metropolis, there are always options for food on Christmas if you don’t want to cook at home. I’ve also found that living in a rural town means that there is a bar or restaurant that is staying open for its community members that don’t have anywhere to go, but are still important to the community as a whole. Or stay in and cook a great meal, rent movies or play games otherwise. Having one person there can help you make new memories and forget that you were lonely in the first place.
- Volunteer. I try to look into volunteering options every year on Christmas. This is a time when there is greater need in organizations for volunteers (because it’s the holidays,) and fewer volunteers available (because they’re taking that time to spend with their families.) There are people less fortunate than you or I that still deserve to have a happy holiday. Take some time of your own and devote it to helping them.
- Take a vacation. I’ve always had friends suggest to me that Christmas might be the perfect time to take a trip. While I haven’t yet–it’s a little costly, especially for a single person traveling alone–I think it’s a lovely idea. Look into cruises or cheap tickets abroad. Hole yourself up in a cabin somewhere. Take the time to sightsee or engage in activity. It will take your mind off the fact that the holidays are here, if you need it to, and it can help you create new memories as well.
- Whatever you do, don’t work. It can be tempting to just work because you need to or because you want to forget that it’s the holidays at all. Trust me–not worth it. Your body and mind need time to recharge, especially if this is a more somber period for you. Take time to own that as opposed to sitting in your office, pretending like it’s not hard and it’s just another workday. It’s not, and you know it.
This time of year has always been my favorite–I love listening to Christmas music and seeing the joy on people’s faces at a time of year when we’re (ideally) all supposed to be kind to one another. I would be lying if I said that attitude hasn’t changed in the last couple of years; having the holidays change so significantly can be difficult. But all is not lost–there are ways to make this season something one can still look forward to, or at have experiences to be happy about. Do your best to make that happen, and then let me know about some of your ideas!