I Spend the Holidays Alone Every Year—Here Are 7 Tips for People Doing it the First Time

published Dec 9, 2020
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Credit: Minette Hand

If it seems like almost every tradition has been upended this year, that’s because it likely has. Living through a pandemic is no joke, and while it’s certainly for the best to put plans on pause for now, that doesn’t mean doing so won’t be emotionally painful.

Take the holidays, for example: Last year, AAA estimated that over 115.6 million people would travel in the days leading up to Hanukkah and Christmas, and and through New Year’s Day. This year, however, millions of people said they wouldn’t be traveling, and the CDC voiced its support of that decision in official guidelines. And as someone who typically spends one or more of the winter holidays alone, let me tell you: It’s totally possible to have yourself a cozy little time on your own.

Because my family lives on the other side of the country, I often spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, or both, at home in New York. (Cross-country plane tickets are expensive enough, and during the holidays? Forget it.) Here are seven ways I mark the holidays in both unconventional and traditional methods

Plan the holiday you want, exactly how you want it

Maybe you don’t want to dress up in non-stretchy pants for dinner the way Grandma always insisted, or even eat anything close to a “traditional” holiday meal. If you’re spending the holiday alone, that means you get to make your own rules. Order Thai food from a local restaurant (and remember to tip well!) or have breakfast for dinner if you’re in the mood. By leaning into the comforts that you’re craving in the moment, you are both acknowledging that this isn’t a standard holiday by any means, and finding small ways to comfort yourself through that pain.

Don’t be afraid to decorate—even if you’re the only person who sees the trimmings

… Well, you and Instagram, of course. There’s never been a better year to spend extra time sprucing up your place for the holiday. Whether you’re eying a gilded Christmas tree or want to splurge on a pretty menorah, you’ll get plenty of use from any tinsel or twinkly lights you put up. If you’re looking to avoid the inevitable clean-up in January, try one or more of these small-space decorating ideas for minimal tidying.

Play all of your favorite holiday songs at the loudest volume you want

Take it from someone who has been listening to Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me” since Nov. 1: It is never too early for holiday music, and all of its sometimes-cheesy, mostly cheerful glory. (My apartment building’s superintendent can attest to the fact that I refuse to be embarrassed by the tunes, either; he’s checked in on multiple repairs to the backdrop of *NSYNC’s holiday album.) You’re one click away from a variety of playlists, including new releases, an influencer-curated mix for a party of one, and (of course) Mariah Carey’s holiday masterpiece.

Keep yourself busy with a low-stakes movie marathon

Whether you want to watch the modern Jim Carrey classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000), follow it up with “Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch” (2018), and then chase that viewing with the Boris Karloff-narrated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (1966), or simply watch every holiday episode of “Friends,” the point is to design the holiday marathon of your dreams. I’ve found that picking movies and shows you know well helps take the edge off the experience.

Your to-watch list can be as literally holiday-themed or as loose as you’d like. One year, I watched “Batman Returns” (which is definitely a Christmas movie), and followed it with a marathon of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Does Heath Ledger’s Joker have anything to do with Christmas? Not particularly. Did this marathon make one of the best solo holidays I’ve ever experienced? Absolutely.

Plan a Zoom call with your nearest and dearest

Yep, it’s time to fight the screen fatigue once more (and therapists say it’s worth the effort!) Whether you plan a family catch-up session or FaceTime a parent to touch base, there are plenty of benefits to seeing your loved one’s face, even if it’s through a pixelated screen. Plenty of people marked Thanksgiving by setting a laptop at a free space on their table and making the same dishes in their individual homes—and if you have a go-to holiday recipe, feel free to repurpose the mini tradition for the coming days.

Catch up with your therapist or a friend who gets it

Therapists across the country are likely taking a number of days off during the holiday season, so make sure you’ve scheduled time to process your feelings now. By talking about your feelings, you can give them space to exist outside of you, which helps alleviate their build-up into something more toxic.

Here’s a helpful guide to finding a therapist if you don’t see one regularly. You can also text CONNECT to the Crisis Text Line at 741741, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) if you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed.

Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapy Group NYC, also recommends talking to friends who are in a similar position if they have the emotional bandwidth. The point is to not pretend like you’re OK with being alone if you’re sad about it: “Validate this to yourself and talk openly with loved ones and others who are in a similar position, so you can normalize what you’re feeling,” she suggested to Apartment Therapy.

Lean into every cozy part of your home possible

Snuggle up under that weighted blanket. Make yourself a mug of hot cocoa. Light a candle or three, while you play a festive yule log on your television. (I’m partial to Disney+’s Arendelle yule log, which is “Frozen”-themed without being overdone.) Lean into all of the