Last year, I spent my first Christmas alone.
I’ve travelled a lot, but I’ve always made it home for the holidays. So, to challenge myself last year, I decided to spend the holidays away from my family. I hadn’t intended to be entirely alone, but one thing lead to another and I was on my own for the holidays.
It was nerve wracking to say the least. Especially since I spent Christmas in maybe the most Christmas-obsessed place in the world: Germany.
Literally every square has a Christmas market in December. You can hear carols playing almost anywhere you go. Every store has a brightly adorned tree somewhere amongst their wares.
It’s hard not to get in the festive spirit when you’re surrounded by Christmas music, gluwein and homemade ornaments.
Christmas to Me
I stopped being “into” Christmas around high school. By the time I went away for university, it was just a welcome break from exams and a chance to get a good meal. School seems to be the enemy of festivity.
Eventually, Christmas became the one time I saw my extended family all year. Honestly, that made me like it less. Not because I don’t love my family – they’re mostly awesome, if a bit crazy – but because it became a stressful race to catch up with a dozen people before we carved the turkey.
I relished the chance to get to spend the holiday alone in a small apartment in Wedding (the Turkish neighbourhood of Berlin).
I wouldn’t have to put on a nice outfit or worry about answering the dreaded question: “when are you going back to school?” The holiday would be about doing what I wanted to do for once.
My family was appalled.
My Russian grandmother still talks about how “sad” it was that I was alone for Christmas. But I was happy.
How I Ended Up Alone on Christmas
I had carefully planned my schedule for the first three months of my European trip so that I would be occupied during Christmas. But things fell through. First, I couldn’t get any responses for volunteer options. Then, the one I got ended up not working out (picture Harry Potter beneath the stairs, but without a fridge).
Unexpectedly, I found myself in a bachelor apartment in Wedding, alone, just weeks before Christmas.
The distraction of work that I had carefully engineered was gone. I couldn’t find a new place to volunteer. My attempts to make friends through meetups and couchsurfing socials didn’t result in anything more than a few laughs over drinks.
That’s when it hit me for the first time: I was truly going to be alone on Christmas.
The Solo Christmas Blues
A few weeks before Christmas, I wasn’t feeling very optimistic. I was homesick, my plans for Berlin had fallen through, and I was visiting markets that made me yearn for the classic TV Christmas experience with my family.
I considered flying home for the month, but I knew it would only make it worse. That would feel like giving up. And I don’t back down from a challenge – even one entirely in my own head.
I tried to fill my time watching cheesy Christmas movies, visiting every Christmas market and cooking some of the foods that I missed (maple mustard salmon, anyone?).
Those were probably the worst things I could have done. They just fed into this crazed need for this “perfect Christmas.”
My mom finally had to remind me what is Christmas really like for me.
My Not So Perfect Christmases
I come from a divorced family. Two Christmases really aren’t as great as TV makes them out to be. It means that presents were always rushed before running to the next family function. And it meant twice the stress.
Because of the two Christmases, we’ve never really had a relaxed holiday. My sister and I used to tear open presents, only to be rushed on to the next event before we could play with them.
While my friends got to go to a movie or sit around eating cookies, I was busy pulling on another festive dress to head to yet another party.
Big family parties have always overwhelmed me. There’re too many people with too many stories for me to process. It feels like speed dating: two minutes to catch up on a year, then switch! I want to give everyone equal attention, but I’m an introvert. My energy starts to fade rather quickly. Too soon, I’m running away from conversations I want to have to try and fuss with the potatoes in the kitchen.
My anxiety, my perfectionism and my insecurities result in this need to be perfect and, ultimately, failing to achieve perfection. I create an impossible “perfect Christmas” that would require lights, cameras and “action” to exist. So, I feel let down. Or, more accurately, like I’m letting everyone else down.
It was all too much. I needed a break. I needed to take control of my Christmas experience.
Taking Back Christmas
I made a plan to help me tackle Christmas.
With my homesickness and anxiety rocking their A-game, I knew I’d have to be particularly agile if I wanted to enjoy my first Christmas alone.
I scheduled to Facetime into my mom and dad’s family Christmas parties. I bought the secret ingredients for my mom’s eggnog. I planned my meals, so I’d have food when the shops closed. And I checked the movies playing on Christmas day.
I was finally going to spend Christmas the way that I wanted to!
And, honestly, it went great.
All that panic leading up to Christmas Day, the stress of how horrible it was going to be, was so unnecessary.
I ended up having an amazing Christmas that was utterly my own.
My First Christmas (Eve) Alone
I woke up without an alarm for maybe the first Christmas Eve ever. I put on leggings and a T-shirt that I wouldn’t have to change out of an hour later. I made breakfast without fear of overeating before a giant meal. And I wasted time watching TV.
Later, I went to my favourite Christmas market and bought my favourite turkey burger for lunch (complete with cranberry sauce and crispy onions).
My afternoon was my mom’s Christmas Eve morning when they were, for the first time, opening presents. They Facetimes me in so I could open the presents my mom had given me when we met up in Prague (yes, I really didn’t open them until Christmas).
I want to take a second to talk about the absolutely incredible card she wrote me. Back before I was struggling with Berlin or questioning my decision to spend a year travelling, my mom wrote me a card telling me how brave she thinks I am. The amount of love in that card had me nearly in tears, especially on a day I had been equal parts dreading and anticipating.
Sometimes, all you need is a card to make your Christmas.
My mom even made me a calendar, like she does every year, regardless of the fact that I was five time zones away. I felt included, just as I would have if I had been there.
But I got to leave.
They turned me off to go through the stressful parts of preparing their Christmas Eve celebration, and I went back to relaxing.
My sister had sent me a link to watch Dear Evan Hansen online, so I spent the afternoon crying along to what may be my new favourite musical (sorry, Wicked!).
When my mom’s Christmas party was in full swing, they Facetimed again. I never even had to leave my bed!
My family passed around my mom’s iPad and gave me a chance to see everyone I was worried I would have missed. I probably got exactly as much face time (pardon the pun) as I would have had I been there.
My grandma even pretended she was ok with my insane plan to spend Christmas away from her; though the amount of times she demanded to know what I was eating and ensuring I had enough money showed that she was worried.
I even made my sister put a Santa hat on the iPad so I could be in the annual family photo with everyone. (I still haven’t seen the photo, but I’m pretty sure it’s epic.)
I drank eggnog along with them for a bit longer before signing off to head to bed.
I can’t remember a time that I have ever gotten to dictate my bedtime on Christmas Eve. Usually, there’s an hour of clean-up to do. Then an hour of detoxing to get out the stress of the day.
But I got to hop into bed whenever I wanted to.
Freedom tastes sweet! (And a bit like eggnog.)
My First Christmas Alone
The next morning was relatively the same. I was free to do whatever I wanted.
I didn’t even have to send the forty-two obligatory “Merry Christmas!” texts to everyone in my phone.
I got to eat my German bread, streaky bacon and pile of eggs in peace. I even had time to lay around with tea bags on my eyes (still not sure that was a relaxing thing to do, but I did it!).
In the afternoon, I headed to the movie theatre and spent my first ever Christmas day alone watching Jumanji on the big screen!
This may not sound like a big deal, but I have always wanted to see a movie on Christmas. I’ve heard friends talk about it for years. But I knew that we’d never have the time. I’d even asked once. I think my dad looked at me like I’d grown a second head. Or maybe he’d laughed. I’m not sure, but he definitely didn’t say yes.
2017 was finally the year I got to eat a giant bag of popcorn while watching, what turned out to be, a surprisingly good movie. There was no guilt or countdown to the next event. There was just me in a plush red seat, laughing at Jack Black pretending to be a teenage girl.
What more could you want on Christmas?
In the evening, I Facetimed my dad’s Christmas party. It was a bit rockier to figure out the timing and forced me to stay up later than I’d intended, but it was worth it to be able to see my family. When I travel, I’m pretty terrible at keeping in touch with people. This was my first chance to see my grandparents since I’d left the country – maybe even since the previous Christmas.
They all yelled questions at me as they crowded through the kitchen to baste the turkey and prepare my nana’s famous cheese sauce. The screen was all smiles, even when I had to sign off early because I couldn’t stop yawning.
How I Felt About My First Christmas Alone
In the end, I managed to spend my first Christmas alone feeling not so alone. I got to be a part of my family’s celebrations, while also doing what mattered to me. While there was certainly stress leading up to it, Christmas itself was surprisingly relaxing.
I didn’t even know it was possible for a national holiday to be anything but hectic!
Even though I was physically alone, I managed to be a part of my family celebrations from afar. It may not have looked particularly Christmas-y, with me perched on a kitchen stool to get decent lighting and drinking my attempt at eggnog, but it felt like it.
I don’t think I’ve been able to revel in Christmas like that since I was 10. I can’t even remember the last time I watched more than one Christmas movie leading up to the holidays.
Getting in the Christmas spirit may have been what made me more homesick, but it also helped me to appreciate the Christmas parties I’d come to dread. I looked at them fondly and remembered the positives. And I got to be a part of them (thank you technology!).
Spending Christmas alone was one of the best ideas (/accidents) I’ve had recently.
That’s probably why I decided to do it again this year. Although now I’m further away, in the too-sunny-to-be-Christmas country of New Zealand.
I’m positive that I’ll find a way to enjoy myself just like I did last year – maybe even on a beach!
5 Tips for Enjoying Christmas Alone
For anyone considering spending Christmas alone, try not to worry as much as I did.
Being alone for holidays, away from family and friends, is a risk for travellers. Sometimes you can’t afford or fit in a trip home for a few days at peak travel time. Some people just want to be alone for the holidays. And that’s all ok.
But, if you’re struggling, I’m here to help! Here are 5 tips for enjoying your Christmas alone:
1. Do something that matters to you.
This can be heading to a movie or going for a walk in the snow. Having an activity to look forward to helps ease some of the anxiety around how to fill the day.
2. Treat yourself to a special food.
Christmas is a holiday, and, to me, holidays are all about the food. I made my mom’s eggnog and bought a giant chocolate chip cookie. Then I gorged myself on popcorn solely because I wanted to. Maybe make some stuffing or buy a turkey pie to help you celebrate.
3. Open a present.
I am very lucky to have a mother that makes sure I always have a present on major holidays, because she knows how much I love unwrapping things. But you don’t need someone like her to be able to have your own Christmas present. Buy yourself something nice and take the time to wrap it. It may not be a surprise, but the experience of opening a gift that you had to wait for can really put you in the holiday spirit!
4. Let yourself be homesick.
It’s ok to feel a bit sad that you’re away at Christmas, even if you don’t usually enjoy the holiday. Something about not being able to be a part of the celebration can make you wish you could be. I ended up focussing on the bad parts about being home to help get over this, but I don’t recommend it. Instead, try to balance out the good and the bad. Remember that it’s not perfect, but that you’re allowed to miss it. Maybe try to emulate some of the celebrations that you usually enjoy where you are now.
5. Connect with your family or friends.
Even sending a quick email can make you feel less alone. I managed to Facetime my family, but sometimes that isn’t an option. This year, time zones will make that a challenge as I’m almost a day ahead of my family. Some people don’t have service to even send a “hello.” Perhaps send some notes a few days early if that’s the case.
6. Don’t celebrate Christmas
This tip is a bit different than the rest. It’s what I will probably do this year, since being in a country where Christmas is in the summer has me in a decidedly un-Christmas-y mood. Don’t celebrate Christmas. There’s no rule saying you have to. I’ll still call my family and eat some good food, but I don’t intend to focus on the holiday beyond that. I might go to the beach or climb another volcano. It doesn’t really matter. You’re allowed to do whatever you want. Take advantage of a day off where most things are closed to have some you time, whatever that may be.
Enjoy Your Solo Christmas!
So, there you have it. Christmas alone isn’t the worst thing in the world – no matter what my Baba might tell you. It can be a great chance to appreciate your celebrations back home or to make some new traditions that matter to you.
I felt guilty for wanting to do this initially, but there was no reason to. It was about focusing on myself and spending a day doing something that mattered to me, which is totally allowed.
In fact, I recommend that everyone spend a Christmas by themselves at least once in their lives. It’s a great chance to grow and to experience something different.
I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Enjoy yourselves doing whatever it is you’re planning to do!
Would you ever spend Christmas alone?