Some Thoughts on Spending Christmas Day Alone


I’m not spending Christmas Day alone. I’m spending it with Ingrid and her family. I’ve spent Christmas Day with Ingrid for as long as we’ve been together: sometimes with her family, sometimes just with the two of us. And I love spending Christmas with Ingrid, whether it’s with her family or just with her. I’m greatly fortunate in my in-laws — I like them as well as loving them — and we have a whole set of wonderful traditions both silly and touching: some from her family, some that I’ve brought to the table, some that Ingrid and I have created for ourselves. And of course, I’m fortunate beyond words in Ingrid.

But I was single for twelve years before I fell in love with Ingrid. For ten of those twelve years, I was very happy to be single, was single very much by choice, was actively and adamantly resistant to the idea of not being single.

And during those years, I almost always spent Christmas Day alone. I could have visited my family, but I chose not to: I preferred to see my family at times other than Christmas, without the stress of holiday travel/ high expectations/ December in the Midwest. And I could have visited any number of friends who were having Christmas Day gatherings. But I didn’t.

Because when I was single, I loved spending Christmas Day alone.

In my Bay Area circle of friends, the weeks leading up to Christmas are almost always a bit of a wild social whirl, with parties and gatherings starting the first weekend of December and not ending until New Year’s Eve. A big part of that social whirl is a Christmas Eve dinner that I co-host/ co-organize every year, about half the time in whatever apartment I’m living in: a Christmas Eve dinner that’s hosted as few as eight people and as many as twenty-one. I’m one of those freaks of nature who actually loves Christmas: the December social whirl is fun and awesome, the Christmas Eve dinner is a high point of my year, and I look forward to all of it for months. But it’s also kind of exhausting. And when I was single, Christmas Day was the eye of the hurricane. Christmas Day was my day of peace and quiet. Christmas Day was the day I spent reading books people had given me, listening to CDs people had given me, eating leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner. I’d talk to friends and family on the phone… but otherwise, Christmas Day was the day that I fed my introverted brain with all the downtime it wanted.

Here’s the reason I bring this up.

The one thing that sucked about spending Christmas Day alone was the way other people reacted to it. The one thing that sucked about spending Christmas Day alone was the expectation that of course you want to spend Christmas Day with family and/ or friends… and that you were a big sad loser if you spent it alone. The one thing that sucked about spending Christmas Day alone was the cultural trope that the only possible reason anyone would spend Christmas Day alone was that they had no family, no friends, nobody who cared about them, no other choice.

I remember in particular one phone conversation I had on one particular Christmas Day. I was doing the rounds of Christmas phone calls, and one of the people I was talking to asked what I was doing that day. I said that I was just hanging around reading books and eating leftovers. And they said, in a voice filled with horror and shock, “ALONE?!? You’re not spending Christmas alone, are you?”

Up until that moment, I’d felt fine about spending Christmas alone. I’d felt more than fine about it. I’d felt positive and happy about it. I’d been looking forward to my Christmas day alone almost as much as I’d been looking forward to my Christmas Eve of food and festivity and boisterous social chaos. But as soon as I heard, ” You’re not spending Christmas alone, are you?”, I suddenly felt ashamed. I actually wound up lying, just to stop the horrified sympathy: I told them I was alone at the moment, but had plans to go visit friends later in the day. This person’s concern — and I do think it was genuine, well-meaning concern — about me not being a big sad loser on Christmas… it was exactly the thing that made me feel like a big sad loser. (And if I had, in fact, felt sad about being alone on Christmas Day, this would have made me feel even worse.)

I know, from what I’ve been told, that I’m not the only one to feel pressured about not spending Christmas alone. I know that this pressure to not spend Christmas alone is felt even by people who don’t care about Christmas. Even people who don’t come from a Christian background, religiously or culturally, get hit with this “You’re not spending Christmas alone, are you?!?!” thing. And I know I’m not the only one who’s been made to feel ashamed about spending Christmas alone, even if they personally were fine with it.

So I want to say two things.

One: If you have people in your life who may be spending Christmas alone — please don’t make them feel bad about it. Sure, extend an invitation if you’re having a gathering. But please don’t frame it with, “You don’t have to spend Christmas alone.” Please don’t frame it with the “You don’t have to be a big sad loser who can’t even find anyone to cadge an invitation from on Christmas” trope. Please don’t frame it as “You poor thing, we’ll invite you to join us out of charity.” Frame it as, “We would love to have your company if you’d like to join us.” (And if they say “No, thank you” accept it.)

And two: If you’re spending Christmas Day alone, I hope you have a good one. Whether you care about Christmas, or you don’t give a damn about Christmas and as far as you’re concerned today is Tuesday and why the hell are all the stores closed… I hope you have a great day today.

Comments

  1. says

    Spending my xmas alone. Because: Halo4. And I’ve got some nice snow peas and some squid and some shiitakes in the fridge and I’m going to eventually pause the Halo action and have stir fry and some of this fantastic cheap red wine. What’s not to like? I suppose if I had company I could play co-op and I’ve got enough snow peas. But… I’m gonna have a happy holiday because every day that you’ve got life as good as I do is a fucking holiday.

  2. Rieux says

    without the stress of . . . December in the Midwest.

    [Raspberry]!

    It’s 3˚ F and sunny here in the Twin Cities . . . and it’s awesome!

  3. llewelly says

    Alone? I spend Christmas with books.

    I need a substantial amount of alone time to recover from all the kinds of meatspace socialization I cannot readily avoid.

    This is probably my 20th christmas alone. I prefer it that way. Futhermore, I do not usually do anything (other than read) for any of the other winter holidays either.

    It seems to me that as I grow older, I get a lot less flak for spending holidays alone. Perhaps I have grown better at avoiding the kinds of people who pester me about it.

  4. Ginnis says

    Peacefulness, Pacefulness, and Passing the Ladle .
    I spent most of my life in the hustle-bustle zone of things, and now I find peace in doing the things I enjoy at a pace I enjoy. I don’t have to multitask unless I feel like it. I don’t have to make lots of food and get ready for events unless I really want to do that. It is peaceful and rejuvenating. For most of my adult life, I have hosted large (or small) holiday soup parties (all were invited), and those gatherings were very pleasant (the soup I prepared was best if prepared a day early). This will be the first year that I have not done that and that’s okay. I am willing to pass the ladle to someone else or even the next generation.
    .
    Late last night I returned from several days xc skiing and helping clear the trails where I like to ski. I have lots of laundry and it is nice and quiet here at home. I don’t even have pets, because I like the freedom. (Since I gave up pet ownership, I have discovered that I am allergic to them, so that has become a deterrent to future pet parenting.) Mostly, the peacefulness of my own little house is perfectly wonderful. I thank the universe for all that I have, even this quiet house that functions well virtually all of the time, and waits patiently for me to return from my various gallivants. Today, it is peaceful and nice, with only the rumblings of the dryer. There is about 3″ of snow outside and I’d love to go out for a walk, but it is also nice to give my muscles a day off. Maybe some stretching, yoga, foam roller, and maybe a bowl of something healthy for lunch. It’s better than “all good” because it’s me in my own peacefulness at my own pace.

  5. Cipher says

    I love this. I’m not spending Christmas alone, because it’s important to my family that I be here, but I feel the allure of it – it sounded really nice to me to just make myself some lovely food, burn some candles, and read a book in my house. Instead it’s allthechaos with brief interruptions. (But I don’t get many chances to see my family, either, so this is a good thing anyway.) I caught some of the very kind sympathy when I tried to spend Thanksgiving alone and use it for some peaceful uninterrupted work time, and I remember realizing that I was Sad if I did so. Changed my whole plan because I thought I wasn’t Doing It Right. Hope this post makes people feel more okay about how they choose to spend their holidays.

    I hope you all have a great Christmas/Squidmas/Cthulhumas/other winter holiday/Tuesday however you spend it. (And a Happy Monkey to the Pharyngulites!)

  6. grumpyoldfart says

    Not only do I spend Christmas alone, sometimes I don’t even notice it. On more than one occasion I’ve switched on my computer and found that the date is December 26th – “Well blow me down; yesterday was Christmas Day and I missed it…”

  7. shouldbeworking says

    When I was young and living at home I wished I could spend Xmas alone. When I was older, I enjoyed it. Reading, eating my favourite foods, opening presents from friends and recovering from years of unpleasant family life.

  8. says

    This mirrors my experience so well. I loved being single, when I was, and I especially loved having a whole day, just for me. I’ve never minded being alone and there is nothing particularly important to me about christmas, that I feel it needs to fulfill some role in my life. My husband and I don’t really celebrate christmas beyond using it as an excuse to either cook a nice meal or buy too much chinese food. I share some small gifts with my immediate family, but those are all mailed. It’s all very low key, low pressure, and inexpensive, which is fine by me. There’s enough in my life that is full of expense, responsibility and expectation. I don’t need to impose more on myself just because other people think the day especially important.

  9. stonyground says

    I’ve never spent Christmas day alone but I can’t see what would be so terrible about it. I have lots of family and friends so I don’t get to be alone that often, so I do make the most of it when I do. I can see why always being alone would be difficult, but just for a short time is fine.

    I got your angry atheists book in my stocking today, as well as lots of other books, so there will be lots of reading to do.

  10. hexidecima says

    Greta, I’d love to see you write on the like vs love concept since you do so well on some complex issues. I personally don’t think one can have one without the other.

  11. robyn slinger says

    Thank you so much for this post, Greta!
    I can totally relate to that. The best Christmas I’ve ever spent was spent alone. The only downside was horrified comments like, ‘but you can’t do that! Do come and visit us, you can’t stay alone, you can’t be happy with it’. Some people simply wouldn’t understand that I could enjoy spending xmas time alone, nor even believe me when I insisted that I do. Don’t you hate it when people project their own tastes onto you.

  12. nonnie says

    For the first 21 christmases of my life, I was with my family at home or on vacation and had no idea it was christmas day (we are Jewish). When I finally had a job and no winter break, christmas day was a big shock. My roommate and girlfriend were with their families. All the stores were closed. It was so lonely. I felt resentful that this day I didn’t care about was making me feel lonely.
    Since then I’ve spent some christmases with my girlfriend’s family (which is really fun!), but it’s still sinking in what a big family day christmas is for most other people in the US, even bigger than thanksgiving.
    One possible moral: If people bug you about your plans or being alone, you can tell them you don’t celebrate christmas and they’ll leave you alone!

  13. allencdexter says

    This is the first Christmas in a long time that we’ve spent as just the two of us. Made us feel strange at first and kind of left out. Then, we decided to drive over to Camp Verde and take in Cliff Castle’s excellent holiday buffet.
    Phyllis had enough points on record to make our meal free, and it was good! Then, she played the slots awhile, was over two hundred ahead at one point. After a little over three hours, we left, basically even with what we came with. We are not compulsive gamblers and know when it’s time to walk away.

    The rest of the day is ours to do with as we see fit. Phyllis is taking her afternoon nap and I’m on the computer.
    No guests to entertain. No cleanup. No hassle. We didn’t even put up our fake tree this year, just a few outside lights. We don’t do any of it for religious reasons. We just like the brightening of the dull solstice season. Sort of the “Festivus” approach.

  14. Gorg says

    What a great post Greta. Some people really enjoy the communal festivities and some people not so much. I’m one of the latter. Like others, I love relaxing on Christmas Day. I actually end up spending the morning/afternoon with family (we usually go out to a buffet or brunch). After presents are opened though it’s a bit of relief to get back to my place and drink tea and read, futz around on the internet, cook, organize, stare out at the rain, or – this year at least – drink tea and listen to the World Series replays on the radio. Thanks so much for this post!

  15. novainateacup says

    Great post, Greta!

    I have to admit: I’m a big introvert, and I think there really are a lot of messages out there that kind of assume extraversion and treat introversion as being freaky and weird, but I always feel kind of silly pointing it out because honestly, what am I complaining about? Oppression against introverts? But even if it’s just small things, well, it still kind of bothers me. (Like, the whole romantic vision of a small town where everyone knows each other and is constantly poking around in each others’ business? Kill me now. I’d much rather live in a big city where you can choose your friends and no-one else gives a shit who you’re wearing or what you’re doing.)

    Like how there’s this common refrain in movies like The Grinch where being with people you love is the TRUE magic of Christmas/wonderful thing/whatever! And sure, it is! But…being on your own can be really wonderful as well! And it’s just a bit disheartening that some of the greatest times of my life – reading amazing stories that touched my heart and which I was never able to forget, learning new incredible things about the world on the internet and marveling that such information is available to me today, feeling that satisfying feeling as I reached the end of a challenging game, writing and joining together words to create beautiful stories that at the least pleased me so very much, and more – or, rather, interacting with things – so often get ignored or treated as pointless.

    I know, I know – the point is meant to be not to get caught up in pointless consumerism and forget to care about other people, but that’s not quite the same as ‘being around other people is always the best thing and if you don’t agree you’re a misanthropic freak’ which is how it normally seems to end up. I love people! I just think they’re tiring to be around. And nothing’s more relaxing than sitting back at a computer with a cup of tea and reading a bought but carefully-chosen and cherished book (or game, or movie, or TV series, or anime, or whatever) I’ve been looking forward to for ages.

  16. anothersara says

    I didn’t spend Christmas alone. I went to work, just as normal, on Christmas. I happen to live in a part of the world where Christmas is not a national holiday. Of course, If I had requested it in advance, my employer would have let me have the day off on Christmas, but I was fine with going to work on Christmas.

    Anyway, if I didn’t have work, I just might have ended up spending Christmas alone (which would have been fine).

  17. says

    Thank you for articulating the sentiment so well. As an introvert, partnered with an introvert, we don’t feel the need to surround ourselves with inconsequential people at Christmas (or for that matter, any other time of the year). We spend these days enjoying each other’s company, reading and exploring all of the wonderful experiences that has come our way over this period. We certainly don’t enjoy the call of the extrovert wanting to “bring us out of our shell”, and we certainly don’t need to be “fixed”. I hope you and Ingrid, and those wonderful kitties, had all the wonderful solitude you needed for mythmas to be special.

  18. left0ver1under says

    I spent yesterday working, it was just another day. I love working and living in a country where the number of christians is insignificant (and as insignificant as their beliefs) and “western” holidays are ignored. The only holidays I miss are Labour Day and Victoria Day.

    When I lived in Canada, the only objection I had to being alone on December 25th was the lack of things to do. Everything was closed – I couldn’t shop, I couldn’t go to a restaurant, I couldn’t go to the local pools, etc., and the winters made going outside pointless.

    It wasn’t so bad back when there were “all star” college football games on TV, there was something to watch, but now there aren’t any. Even on the internet, many boards and forums were vacant of half their members, and those who were around, what else where they talking about except for the flippin’ holiday?

  19. azportsider says

    I routinely spend xmas alone. Usually I go birding at a local preserve, and so it’s just me, my camera and the birds. What could be better than that?

  20. Ginnis says

    This is a wonderful discussion – thanks to Greta and all of the participants. Usually I feel like an extravert – but I love my time alone. Birding would be delightful too. I am often xc-skiing with my son, but this year he spent the holidays with his partner. Atheist or not (although I am), some of the holiday rituals are rather disgusting (e.g. too many sweets and too many presents – not to mention the inconsequential or even annoying people),

    :)

  21. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    When I first moved to LA, all my family was on the other side of the country, so I ended up spending a couple Xmas days solo. I would get up early and drive out to the mountains and go skiing. With no traffic, and most people still at home opening presents, the trails were usually pretty empty until noon. Then I’d drive back home (again with no traffic, which in LA is an xmas gift all it’s own!) and watch basketball, play guitar, surf the net etc. Sometimes I would end up going to a friend’s for dinner or something just not to spend the whole day alone. But much like Greta writes, alot of that was due to pressure from others, when frankly, I probably would have been totally fine by myself.

  22. maddog1129 says

    I’ve spent a number of Christmases alone. Sometimes it was lonely. Other times I was fully content. I’ve spent lots of Christmases with others, too, and sometimes that was lonely, and other times fully content. At least a couple of times, I chose to spend my Christmas alone, at work. I felt very fulfilled and happy. Nowadays, they won’t let me do that, but that’s okay too. I like Abraham Lincoln’s homily, that most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

  23. magistramarla says

    My hubby and I just spent a quiet xmas day far away from all of our kids and grandkids.
    It’s really nice to be living far away from all of their noise and drama.
    We sent the packages off in the mail and then our holiday stress was over.

    We spent the day with the TV on to BBC America for the Dr. Who marathon.
    Dear Hubby worked on writing his dissertation while I cooked a nice small prime rib roast.
    We enjoyed our quiet dinner and then sat down with a bottle of wine to enjoy the new Dr. Who
    Christmas special.

    Next year, with the degree finished, we will be living near the kids and grandkids again.
    I’m sure that they will drag us back into their noisy and drama-filled holidays again.
    We will be missing our nice quiet little duplex by the sea.

  24. says

    I spent Christmas alone and it was a bummer. Not really because I was alone but because I had to grade all day and that made me miserable. And I miss my ex-girlfriend terribly. But I surely would have missed her terribly with people around too. And there was nothing unique about it being Christmas to make me miss her terribly either.

  25. ismenia says

    Last year my husband and I spent Christmas at home by ourselves. I wish we could do this every year. What I find difficult is the expectation and pressure that goes with Christmas. Also, as someone who has had to spend years recovering from the trauma of family problems, I find the sentimentalism about family very painful. I think the idealisation of family is a huge obstacle to being a genuinely happy family.

    This year we went to my mother-in-law’s. My brother-in-law and his finace were there too. I found it quite stressful. Six days, heavily confined by bad weather. Too much food, too little exercise and lack of personal space got to me. By Christmas day I just wanted to slob out for the day and eat small meals.

    I also can’t think of a tactful way to tell my mother-in-law that being badgered to eat too much is very uncomfortable. I like my food and can eat a lot but not for days on end. She was concerned when I declined turkey sandwiches for supper when I’d only had a three-course Christmas dinner at lunchtime.

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