The truth is that Christmas can be depressing or, worse, tense or combative when spent with family. Family gatherings are sometimes particularly troubling for LGBT folks. I recall one year when I called my parents to say my partner and are were flying to Texas to see them and my mother said, “Don’t. Your sister will be here with her family and your brother will be here with his family. The house will be full.” My partner’s response: “Your parents really don’t love you.” Perhaps. I think she wanted to avert conflict between my evangelical brother, his even more evangelical wife and me—leave “Hell” out of the dinner conversation. The next year when I said I was coming, my mother bluntly said, “Don’t bother.” As my brother and sister were spending the holidays with in-laws, there was no point. I haven’t invited myself since.
I have had “orphan” Christmases in which those of us who weren’t going home got together. Some of those gatherings were lovely, some just sad. It’s not really the day to chat up strangers who are on a casual friend’s curling team. I cannot feign an interest in that “sport” and the field of conversation did not become any wider when I discovered he was a butcher. (I am a strict vegetarian.) I’ve declined this curling gathering the past three years.
Some years, Christmas for One has been about surviving the day. Still, I think I’ve found a way to celebrate it. I share the following as tips for enjoying the holiday based on many years of going solo.
Play it loose with the traditions. I’ve gotten away from trying to mimic the traditions of larger Christmas gatherings. It’s not the same and pretending it is just makes things worse. Now I pick and choose what traditions I feel like. There is no one else insisting on putting up a tree or caroling around the cul-de-sac. This year, I put up a string of lights outside. I like peeking at them as I take my dog on the last walk of the night. They looked particularly sparkly after last week’s snowfall. I waffled on getting a tree, ultimately choosing to pass on that this year. I don’t like staring at the emptiness under the tree. Next year I may be okay with it, perhaps adding poinsettias as groundcover.
Plan for a full day. Pretending it was just another day only worked once. Fool me twice? Nope...didn’t happen. Planning is essential. I’ve ad-libbed the day before, but the what-do-I-want-to-do-now moments teeter on being sad little voids.
Eat whatever you fancy. As a vegetarian, I have no need for a turkey or a faux turkey. For years, I made mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts and roasted veggies. I’m not craving that this time around so why go through the motions? Instead, I am making pizza with a homemade crust that I love, but haven’t made in a decade. I am looking forward to it—and that’s the point: create a meal you like, rather than something that is going to remind you of the shared feasts of Christmases past. For breakfast, I’ll open with a grapefruit and a full pot of strong coffee. Later in the morning, I’ll have a stack of blueberry pancakes with pure maple syrup. During the afternoon, I’ll make shortbread. I enjoy cooking without being rushed by other pressing items on an agenda. This is the perfect day to give the oven a workout.
Enjoy a quiet, relaxing activity. I like to pull out a jigsaw puzzle a few times a year. It is a focused way to pass time. I find it very relaxing in the way that I imagine knitting or car tinkering appeals to others.
I have a large stack of books waiting to be read. As I just finished one, I’ll pick a new one to begin, curling up in a chair and sipping some of that seemingly bottomless coffee supply. I also love magazines and I bought a couple to browse through.
Get outside. After the pancakes, I’ll take the dog for a long walk along the beach. This is my favorite tradition that began even before I had a dog and spent a Christmas on my own in Malibu. I feel a strong connection to nature and to water in particular. Beach walks nourish my soul. Having the dog with me adds lighter moments as his excitement in hopping through the sand always makes me laugh.
Keep up the fitness. Since I don’t partake in turkey, I don’t waste a couple of hours on the sofa in a tryptophan stupor. Fitness is extremely important to me and I don’t take a day off just because the gyms are closed. I always go for a decent jog on Christmas. I have to do this so I don’t fret over the extra food indulgences. I like to run into town along the lower road that shadows the coastline. There is a long pier that I jog out on—it’s the closest I can get to walking on water—and then I continue to the other side of the quaint harbor, all the while enjoying the peekaboo water views and the lack of foot and car traffic.
Over-plan. The day is full but, just in case, I have some videos that I would love to see again. It’s been a long time since I last saw “A Room with a View” and I’ll never tire of marveling over Nora Ephron’s brilliant screenplay for “When Harry Met Sally”. (It was at the peak of my Meg Ryan Can Do No Wrong period. Sigh. I miss dear Meg.)
In the days that follow, keep the focus on others. All in all, I know it will be a good day. After Christmas, I will run into a few acquaintances who will ask, “How was your Christmas?” It’s a perfectly normal question, a refreshing variant to “How are you?” I have learned that most people who have spent all their Christmases surrounded by people are aghast if I reveal that I spent it on my own. I’m past the days of self-pity; I don’t need it replaced by other-pity. I am ready with a true response—“Very nice”—and a quick pitch back—“How was yours?” If they go behind a brief “Good”, I probe to let them get it all out. People like to talk about themselves. It is rare that they realize that they shared a lot while I didn’t. We all have different needs.
And we all celebrate—or don’t celebrate—in different ways.
I am happy with my plans. I hope you are with yours. All the best to you!