The Conundrum of Christmas When you Live Alone

By Marie Bruce


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The season of celebration is upon us.  We were very fortunate this year to enjoy an extended sunny autumn, it was a shock when the rain and cold weather arrived and even more shocking when the malls put up the Christmas decorations.

It is now early December and Christmas is approaching fast. The malls are decorated – Santa is installed and Jingle Bells are ringing. This has a very unsettling effect on me because for the first time in my life I am on my own this year. It is hard not to feel sorry for myself and I find myself harking back to Christmases past when I was part of a very large family and later on when I ran my own show with my husband and children. Where did all those year go, it was beyond my comprehension back then to think I might be alone one day at Christmas.

All our memories of Christmas are formed early within our own family of origin.  It was different times back then; I have very warm memories of the magic of the season.  It was a big family effort with all hands on deck to bake cakes and puddings, send cards and spend a fair amount of time in church.  When we could escape from our chores we listened to the radio for our favorite carols and stories.  Our decorations were simple and homemade except for a few paper chains hung from the ceiling. Holly with berries was brought in from the garden and hung over the pictures. I loved the feeling of excitement and anticipation and the warm inclusive feeling of our big family together.

Fast forward forty years, I look back on my own marriage and family where I was in charge of creating our family rituals and keeping the magic and wonder alive.  Those wonderful busy years and those hectically busy Christmas celebrations. Thirty years ago the age of rampant commercialization had dawned with a vengeance and of course my children were influenced by all the media hype on TV.  Looking back I think this made our celebrations more stressful. There was way more shopping and my children had high expectations of receiving the exact items on their list.   The shopping and decorations and gifts took centre stage rather than the Christmas dinner. We visited more, entertained more and since I am a Christmas person I loved every minute of all the action despite being exhausted.

Now I am widowed and alone, my children are abroad and while I have the choice to visit them and I did last year, I have decided to stay home this year.  I made that decision in September when the festive season was months away and the sun was shining.  It is almost three years since my husband George died very suddenly. I am regaining some of my inner strength and with false bravo back in September I decided to stay in my own home rather than take those punishing awful Christmas flights.

I’m sure there are many of us out there who find ourselves alone must feel the same pangs of anxiety.  Families are scattered now and we have more individualized lifestyles.  People often find themselves in different cities or countries separated from their loved ones and alone, perhaps sometimes by choice.  

I decided back in September to reinvent some new and enjoyable rituals for myself, to relish the freedom that my solo Christmas offers.  I am going to give it my best shot this year and lest anyone thinks I am friendless or orphaned – I do have old and valued friends and an entire family of sisters and brothers in Europe.   So an action plan is called for and some coping strategies are needed to reinvent Christmas in a very different way.  Many people who are alone often choose to help in the food banks or spend the day working at charity Christmas dinners where a large army of volunteers are needed.  Being busy and helping others less fortunate is always inspiring and worthwhile but I decided this might have the opposite effect on me in my present circumstances.

My survival list is as follows and I may not stick to it but I have some framework lest I fall into the Christmas dumps.

I will not recreate any of my old Christmas traditions but rather do things than emphasize my freedom.   I have time and leisure and friends and with these assets I will set about enjoying what the city and the winter weather brings. 

Forget the Christmas tree instead I will put up three armyllis bulbs in bright red. I will watch them grow and hope they bloom in time for Christmas day.

I like the sacred atmosphere of churches and I enjoy choirs and choral music I will go to as many local concerts as I can. It is always fun to go into town to see a movie and a bite to eat with a friend.

I enjoy baking so instead of the usual mounds of shortbread and sugar cookies,  I will make biscotti’s and cranberry bread  - everything taste better at Christmas with the addition of rum.  Because I am alone I will avoid  the slog of dinner parties, instead  I will host two coffee mornings  in or around Christmas – to bring my friends together to share a coffee  with a tot  of rum or whiskey  and some of my baking. It will be simple but Christmassy.

I will shop locally delighted to miss the piped music and throngs of people at the malls. I detest writing Christmas cards so I will email or phone my friends for a Christmas chat.

I live beside two ski hill and I love snow shoeing, instead of stuffing the turkey and preparing vegetables on Christmas morning I might enjoy an early morning snowshoe – this is what freedom brings.  Books are always a huge part of Christmas and watching the old favorite TV shows.  I will accept an invitation to Christmas dinner from friends.

Remember it is only one day but the season does stretch for two weeks. There are minefields of lonely times in the week following Christmas. This is family party time with “at homes” and dinners and is evocative of the whole big happy family scenario.  It all looks perfect from the outside but perhaps this is an illusion, in any case I for one will be glad to avoid all that work, clean-up and expense.

Maybe none of the above will happen – maybe I won’t feel like it but writing it down and facing my feelings helps me, I have some sort of a game plan to fall back on if I need it. Christmas is only one day – I want to espouse the feeling of good will to all man, to feel peace and even joy.  I am also aware of the pressures, yet, it is worth dwelling on what we can do and what we have, rather than falling into the abyss of sadness. Merry Christmas to all and may your day be blessed whichever way you choose to spend it and remember it is only one day so make it special.

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My childhood memories of Christmas are not all rosy, more unhappy families than cosy, and when I started living on my own I made various arrangements for not being on my own, some of which turned out to be disasters! Many have observed that you can be lonelier in a crowd than by yourself. There were a few more "traditional" times when I was married, but here I am on my own again, a "Christmas orphan". I have, for many years, chosen to create my own rituals, small pleasures to delight my senses . My tree is gold painted branches decorated with my bird ornament collection, and fresh greens, bought on Christmas Eve, bring the smell of the season to my small home. My small gifts for my friends [ and a few treats for myself] come from local stores and Ten Thousand Villages. My special foods are more savoury than sweet, as my friends and myself find our liking for high sugar/fat food is declining.On Christmas Eve morning, with no urgent tasks, I sit with a coffee at Granville Island and watch families that often include three generations bustle about, buoyed by the excitement of the smallest members. I have learned that often my own company is all that I need, but treasure the quiet visits with friends to share a little food and a lot of memories and love. May we all be at peace with where we are at this time of our lives at this time of the year.

Posted by Denny | December 10, 2013 Report Violation

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