Staying Afloat on the Yule Tide: Suggestions for Sailing Solo

by Beth Greenberg, MA

When was the last time you saw an advertisement depicting a single person whooping it up in front of their Yule log?

If your answer is never, it's no surprise.

The holidays are about family, friends, spouses, children and parties, right? So what if you're single, recently out of a relationship, childless or live far from home? According to our national media (and every myth about the holidays), you're destined to be lonely and miserable. However, many of us who are, in fact, single, divorced, or live at a distance from family and friends have found ways to not only keep ourselves busy during the holidays, but to actually enjoy ourselves. Remarkable, but true!

Plan Early

From the mellow to the exotic, there are endless ways to spend your holidays alone without being lonely.

If you know you'll be alone on Thanksgiving, Christmas or any other family-centric holiday, plan ahead. There are two major planning options; either:

  1. Arrange to be with other people or
  2. Set up activities for yourself.

Get Invited

Just because you always went to your husband's family for Thanksgiving and now you're divorced doesn't mean you can't share a drumstick and the post-dinner turkey-bloat with a bunch of fun folks.

Let people know you'll be alone. Tell friends or colleagues or a local religious leader that you're interested in participating in an organized activity and doors will surely open and herald you into a home, church, synagogue or community center. Find out if you have any unknown relatives living locally and expand your view of who is in your family.

Your friends will surely be happy to have you join them. Don't get caught up in the idea that "holidays are only for family." The spirit of the season embraces everyone but a Scrooge! You'll be doing others a favor by encouraging them to open their hearts to you in celebration of this festive time of year.

Celebrate with Virtual Strangers

You'll be amazed at how many people spend the holidays alone. All you have to do is reach out, make a phone call or two, and you can find them; then nobody has to be alone! The easiest way to spend the holidays with other people is to volunteer. You can call a homeless shelter, a retirement home, a residential center for children, an animal shelter, or many other places. If there is a college or university near you, call the student activities office, as they often arrange a variety of volunteering options at local sites. Volunteer opportunities range from delivering hot meals and warm cheer to housebound elderly to cooking mashed potatoes for 150 homeless adults or reading to their children. One of my most memorable Christmas days was spent delivering hot meals to senior centers. I sat for an hour that day with a 97-year-old woman who told me stories about her childhood in Prague. She told me that she didn't have many visitors anymore, and I know that we brightened up each other's holiday.

You're Never Alone When You've Got Yourself

My friend Theresa is single. This year, she made elaborate plans for Thanksgiving. She was going to join a hiking club for a long weekend of activities, including Thanksgiving Day dinner. But a week before the holiday, she decided to stay home. For Thanksgiving, she arranged a brunch with other single friends and, during the weekend, she worked on an art project she hadn't touched in six months, went jogging, took yoga classes, and spent a lot of time alone, enjoying her own company. "It was unexpected," she told me. "I'd always needed to be around people to feel happy. But this year I really enjoyed staying home, nesting, and taking care of myself."

Holidays can provide a golden opportunity to reflect, relax and refresh. We're so convinced that our lives are only complete when we're either in a romantic relationship or with a group that we forget to be our own best friend. Holidays provide a rare opportunity: no work, stores are generally closed, roads are empty; why not take advantage of that time?

It takes some courage to row against the tide, to think of holidays as opportunities for downtime or solitude, but the pay-offs are rewarding. Here are a few ideas for spending time alone during the holidays:

  • Get out of town (but don't run away). Take a short trip. Get in your car, or go by bike or foot to some place that has peaked your curiosity. There might be a park, a beach, or a scenic overlook near your home. Check it out.

  • Do something new. Never gone caroling? Curious about cooking Indian food? Interested in local architecture? Follow your curiosity.

  • Enjoy yourself. Do the cha-cha in your living room after making a pot of red curry sauce. Make yourself breakfast in bed and hangout in your pajamas until lunchtime because you want to, not because you're too depressed or sick to get dressed.

  • Accomplish a goal. Finish knitting that sweater. Put all those photographs into an album or rearrange the pictures on your bedroom walls. Do something that will give you a sense of satisfaction and completion when you're done.

  • Go boldly where you've never gone before. If you always put up the Christmas decorations with your ex-, or she's always peeled the potatoes and you've fried the latkes, do the job alone to find out you'll survive.

  • Get in touch with yourself. One thing we all forget to do is visit with ourselves. Take some time to simply sit in a comfortable chair, or lie on your couch and appreciate you! Acknowledge the warmth of your heart, the rhythm of your breath, your aspirations, your pleasures, and your full life.

After my ex-husband and I separated, I was convinced that I would never enjoy the holidays again. However, I have created new rituals for myself and new ways to share the holidays with family and friends. This year, I'm going to a slumber party on Christmas Eve. I'm going to wake up in a warm house, surrounded by my dear friend Lily, her husband, her three boys and her sister (also single). We'll all open presents, laugh, wander around in our pajamas, drink coffee and experience the joy of being among those we love. Then, on Christmas Day, I'll go home, comfortable with being alone, and I'll enjoy the wonder of my life, and myself, and be grateful for everything I have.

Date published: 12/15/00
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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