It’s Ok to Spend Christmas Alone

It’s Ok to Spend Christmas Alone

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.

*Bonus Tip*

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?

 

 



63 thoughts on “It’s Ok to Spend Christmas Alone”

    • It really is! Sometimes I want to see two but I don’t think I could physically eat that much popcorn (and you have to have popcorn at the theatre!)

  • Hi Nina. I really enjoyed reading your Christmas post today. It made me feel like I was right there beside you! What I can say about alone time is that it really gives us a chance to rediscover ourselves, tap into the unknowns that havent had an opportunity to surface. Knowing how to be good company ‘for ourselves’ is so important in life and I’m glad you’re getting a chance to experience this. Your mom Emily….what can i say…what a lady! She has been so awesome to me and I cherish her friendship, as you cherish her being your mom. I feel the love and strong connection you have with her when you write. Keep enjoying yourself, keep writing and play safe!

    • Hi Tina! Thank you so much for your kind words! I definitely am super lucky to have a mom like mine. I hope you have a very happy holiday season!

  • While I miss having you there, I am so glad that you are finding your own balance. And thanks for keeping the egg nog recipe secret! We’ll see you on Facetime next week!

    • Of course! We can’t just be giving that out! I love you too and I’ll definirely miss seeing you this year. Talk to you on Sunday/Saturday (I’m not loving this time travel thing).

  • Great suggestions here if you are alone on Christmas. Although, while I do love my alone time, I will admit the thought of spending Christmas alone is a bleak prospect. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but with my family. Being alone on major holidays like this is probably one my bigger fears I guess. That said, you offer some great suggestions on how to deal with it. Thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Nina, I really loved everything you wrote about this post. The honest personal aspect of it. I do not celebrate Christmas, as I am from a different culture and religion. I do understand what you are talking about though. I had missed many festivals while living abroad and had felt lonesome, homesick and culturally isolated. I sadly never got over it. I would, however, Skype with my family, and then go buy myself a nice meal and take myself shopping. Treat myself when alone!

    • Hi Arunima, I think this post could really be about any major holiday where a family gets together. I’m glad that it spoke to you. Treating yourself can be the best way to make it through!

  • I do believe that sometimes, we just need to enjoy our own company. And if you feel like doing it on Christmas, why not, right? Especially when traveling, it can get lonely. But these suggestions can remove the homesick away from it. Thanks Nina!

  • Me too, we stop doing decorations, when I was in highschool, mainly because our cats always ruin them, haha. But when I moved to other country, I experience Christmas alone, and just treat it as ordinary and watch, but of course with a great food though.

  • I love this! Being alone and being lonely are two different things to me. I often enjoy being alone. I often have to skip holiday celebrations due to my illness- so I try to find something enjoyable to do so that I am alone- but not lonely!

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad you understood the post in this way! You’re very right. Alone and lonely are not the same!

  • This is so sweet. However, I’m stuck on the Dear Evan Hanson, not the most cheerful of stories, I saw it and cried too. It’s a big growing up moment to be alone on a major holiday, but once you do it, you realize that it’s ok and everyone still loves you.

    • It was definitely a sad show, but it also sort of puts like in perspective. And, as a theatre nerd, it totally sucked me in!
      I think that’s a good point: it’s kind of an adult stage to learn that Christmas can be whatever you want it to be.

    • That’s a totally fair way to do it. I really do believe that holidays should be a bit self focused so you can actually use that time to recoup, not add more stress.

  • I had no idea you were in New Zealand! Me too! It’s my first time spending Christmas outside of the UK and away from my family, and I’m a HUGE lover of Christmas and everything it entails so the whole thing is bittersweet for me. I’m excited for my first non-UK Christmas experience and I do get to spend it with my boyfriend so not alone, but I’m finding it really, really hard to get into the Christmas spirit! New Zealand just seems so blase about the whole event.
    I mean, I’ve only heard 2 Christmas songs so far and there’s only 5 days left?! Also, it’s hot. For me and my British bones this is all kinds of wrong – Christmas is supposed to be cold!!

    I actually think going to the cinema on Christmas would be an absolute dream for me. A few years ago I spent the whole of Boxing Day watching back-to-back movies (managed to squeeze 3 in!!) which was pretty awesome but have never gone on Christmas Day.
    This comment is getting a bit rambly now, but one last thing: your mother sounds like an absolute sweetheart!!!

    • Hi Rhiannon,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!
      If you’re ever up in Auckland, let me know and we can try to get tea.
      I do agree: they aren’t hugely Christmas-y here. Aside from the terrifying paper mâché santa on top of the Farmers’ building in Auckland, there aren’t many decorations. I think I’ve heard two Christmas songs and have only been able to bring myself to watch one movie. It needs to be cold for Christmas! That’s definitely a truth.
      I went to the movies recently and they played Christmas commercials back-to-back with teachers celebrating that school was out for summer in a pool. I felt like I was on a different planet.
      Wow, three is definitely ambitious! I’ve only managed two in one day before, but that sounds amazing!
      My mom is really great and I’m sure she’ll be glad to know you think that. The dear even sent me flowers for Christmas <3
      Hope you have a wonderful first Christmas away from home with your boyfriend!

  • I appreciated your vulnerability in writing about this topic. I blogged also about how to feel less lonely for the holidays and I think it’s a really important subject to share. I also agree that self care is an important time during christmas, and to be honest, I like flying off-season to visit my family when it’s less chaotic and easier to visit.

    • The off-season tip is a great point. I’ve always told my family I’d rather visit when Canada is sunny and warm too, so everyone’s moods are up!

  • I can totally relate this feeling about lonely Christmas. Being Indian, we have Diwali as the main festival and sometimes I also spent lonely Diwali nights. Otherwise we used to spend the festival with friends and family at home. At the time of blog posts about Christmas celebrations, your post is something unique and honest one. Good job.

    • Thank you so much, Su! I’m sorry that you had to spend some Diwalis without your family. It is definitely tough to get used to.

  • I Agree spending Christmas alone is not a bad thing. After my divorce ( yes I have children) but is a learned trait not an inherit thing. It takes time to adjust and can can good for your soul. I have seasonal depression and I need the alone time -it’s important for me to keep going. Thank you for sharing.

    • You’re so welcome.
      Seasonal depression can definitely make things worse. It’s part of the reason I tried to skip winter this year by moving to New Zealand. The stress on top of already feeling not your best can be catastrophic. I’m glad you figured out what’s right for you!

  • Let me tell you something that I strongly believe in. If you can spend a Sunday alone, you can spend a festive holiday alone as well. Why? Because I think festivals are a product of commercialization. People spend freely in the Holiday season and who benefits from that? The corporate companies, maybe the government. My view might be a bit strong here, but think about it. Don’t people spend more lavishly on festivals? Aren’t the flight tickets more expensive on festivals? I think it’s best we consider such festivals as a normal day only. I mean you can surely follow your rituals but in a subtle way and also staying alone is totally fine!

  • I spent a couple Christmases alone as the plans didn’t really work out, but it’s okay…I ended up watching a movie 😀

  • This is a good topic as alot of people I know spend Christmas alone. I don’t celebrate it but for those that do I can understand. I dont think its a bad thing to be alone because ‘ME’ time is important. Its also soo costly so more chance of saving money if you don’t celebrate is for a year. MORE TRAVELIIING. I like the tips you mentioned.

  • This is a very moving and thought-provoking article. Last year I spent Christmas outside my home country for the first time. I wasn’t alone – I was travelling with my wife, and her parents came out to see us – but it was the first time I’d ever not seen my own family at Christmas. I think doing Christmas in a different way to usual, whatever that is, can be really refreshing and good for the soul.

  • I loved reading your post as it sounded like some emotional filmy story to me. I agree with you that it is OK to spend Christmas all alone as there are many students or people without family living and celebrating festivals all alone. Thanks for sharing great tips about what to do when we are all alone on festive day.

  • I can totally relate to this. Especially coming from a country with longest celebration of Christmas. Philippines start celebrating Christmas as early as September 1st. Aside from this, the Christmas parties you have to attend to whether it’s with friends, family, work or a community event can be so stressful. And the long list of Christmas shopping because you are required to give gifts to friends and family and your god children and their siblings if they come with them, and also all the random kids that knock our door for Christmas. I’m a very introvert person so it’s not about the giving that bothers me but the endless socialization that comes with it. So in the last few years, my family go on a trip few days before Christmas just to avoid the chaos and celebrate the season quietly and without the stress of the party and shopping. And it has never felt so good just to enjoy holidays with your loved ones but less the trimmings.

    • Oh no! My parents definitely struggle with me being gone, but we’ve worked out other times for me to be home when I can spend more time with them.

  • I think it’s always good to break from the confines of what society tells us is the right thing to do. This was a very thought-provoking read and great to hear about your journey having Christmas your own way.

  • It’s good to spend time with yourself once in a while and what better way to know yourself more than celebrating a festival alone. Actually, everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime. We love our family and friends and put a lot of time and effort to cultivate our relationship with them. But what about cultivating the most important relationship – the one you have with yourself 🙂 Cheers!

  • That was such a special read! Thanks for sharing your experience! I am rather into Christmas and I think I would dread the idea of nothingness, but you clearly were strong enough to make the most of it!

  • Having lived in China for 4 years, the most unChristmassy place ever, I can commiserate. There was definitely one or two times I actually worked on Christmas, which is possibly worse than alone Christmas haha. But somehow avoiding all the family drama made them also some of the most memorable and relaxed Christmas’

    • I can imagine working on Christmas would be hard when you’re not used to it. Some of my favourite holidays (past birthdays, etc.) have been on days I’ve worked or been in school. Sometimes not making a fuss lets you enjoy them more.

  • This is such an important post – I have spent a few Christmases alone and people couldnt understand how i dealt with it, it’s such a stressful time of year – you have excellent tips!

  • I’ve never personally been alone on christmas, but I think what you’re saying is absolutely right! You can be alone and still have a great time!

  • Loved reading about your experience. This is such an honest post, so thanks for sharing. Christmas is the most widely celebrated festival and it’s heart warming to see people soaking in the joyous mood of the festivities. I hope you have a great time too.

  • For expats this one would be normal, I live alone with my hubby for about 7 years now since I’ve moved into his place. I don’t have family nor relatives here in his country. We spend Christmas alone well I can call that alone as well as a couple we just eat at home and watch movie and that’s all (haha) do more yo my old life in the Philippines Christmas is like the most biggest feast ever bigger than thanksgiving. So it’s my Christmas is kinda lonely compare before. But anyways thanks to you tips!

    • Alone can mean being away from your family, even if you’re with your new family. I hope you find ways to enjoy your new style of Christmas!

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