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Some Thoughts on Spending Christmas Day Alone

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

I’m not spending Christmas Day alone. I’m spending it with Ingrid. 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 Wednesday and why the hell are all the stores closed… I hope you have a great day today.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for saying this. My sister and I both dread the stress, expectations and overwhelming family obligations of this holiday, and look forward to the day after Christmas for the same reasons you so enjoyed Christmas alone. It’s the first opportunity we have to be alone, with nowhere to travel, nothing to cook, nothing to clean, nothing to shop for, nothing to ship, nothing to do but enjoy our own company in whatever way we see fit. In less than 24 hours we’ll have agency over our own lives back. That’s a good thing whenever it happens, no matter the date on the calendar.

  2. smhll says

    I received several cool books last night. I’d almost like to spend the day alone. (Would be happy to delete the planned freeway driving to the in-laws for some quality book time.)

  3. Lofty says

    After 52 years I finally managed to get the xmas dinner I always wished for, just me and my wife, alone together across a shared meal. That’s despite the machinations of her younger sister to include us with her gormless partner and child in a shared glare-off.
    I find that company that expects you to perform acts of togetherness difficult to cope with. Now I don’t bother going to family dinners very often any more. My brother’s wife has never forgiven me for cancelling the family Shared Xmas Do a few years ago, which in many ways is a Good Thing.
    Happy orbital cycles, Greta.

  4. maddog1129 says

    I have happily spent some Christmases alone, and even purposely, voluntarily spent some at work (no extra pay), alone. I’ve also spent too many Christmases “together” with others who are drunk, belligerent, unhappy, tense, angry, and otherwise extremely unpleasant. I’ve also been lucky enough to be together with happy, fun people. Done Christmas a lot of different ways … alone can be really nice and enjoyable.

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