“I am 30 years old, and I’ve spent every holiday as a single person. Being single is difficult anytime, but it feels worse during the holidays. All of my friends are married with children, so it’s difficult to socialize with them in general, because people usually spend more time with their partners and children. It gets worse during the holidays, because holidays are about family. I also don’t have a family, so I’m alone. I always get invited to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with my friends and their families. I did that once, and I didn’t want to do it again, because you see people with their families and then go home alone. It’s almost like it enhances the fact that I’m single. Once New Year’s is over, I feel much better and look forward to having a productive year.” — Tiffany
If American culture tends to make single people feel bad, Christmas is America on steroids. Yes, many people work hard to remind us of the “reason for the season.” We get holiday cards that proclaim the importance of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. We’re encouraged to give to the needy. And if we flip on the TV at the right time, we might get to see Charlie Brown and the Grinch discover what Christmas is all about.
But if the birth of a child, and the subsequent message to be peaceful and kind, was truly what the holidays were about, then they wouldn’t make so many people feel terrible.
The images blasting into our homes every December aren’t of people mopping floors at homeless shelters or visiting nursing homes. We don’t see people deciding to skip the shopping, make a quick online payment to a charity and then curl up with hot cocoa and a library book. Instead, we see high-gloss, 21st-century iterations of Norman Rockwell-style sentimentality: Friends and family members coming in from the cold carrying towering boxes of gifts. Wide-eyed toddlers in footed pajamas. Handsome husbands giving beaming wives diamond pendants. Couples having snowball fights.
Advertisers aren’t the only ones peddling gauzy images of holiday happiness—social media now enables us to market our lifestyles to each other.
It all adds up to a single message: Everyone is having a wonderful time, except you. Intellectually we understand this isn’t true—we know the goal of holiday advertising is not to promote peace on earth. But these images don’t hit us in the logical part of our brain; they strike a much deeper place than that.
So here’s my suggestion: If your life does not resemble a department store ad this year, own it. Ditch those pre-packaged ideas of how you’re supposed to feel. I don’t mean blab to all your friends about how much you loooove spending the holidays alone. I’m suggesting you make a conscious choice to drop out of the holiday happiness arms race. Watch movies. Get caught up on stuff. If you feel sad and lonely, that’s okay. As you note in your letter, it will pass.
You could even take it a step further by turning this dilemma into an interesting philosophical question. Ask yourself: “How can I connect with the true spirit of the holidays?” You know, the part that Linus tells Charlie Brown about. That could mean spending the day in some sort of service project — serving Christmas dinner to the homeless, joining the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count—but it doesn’t have to. It could also mean spending this time reflecting on how you would like to promote peace on earth and goodwill towards all. These are more than just greeting card concepts; they’re important. Click on the news any day, and that much is clear.
The world is in a tough place right now, and many people are suffering. You may be suffering too, and while what you are dealing with is difficult, I think there’s also an opportunity there. You have a chance to experience the holidays stripped of the consumption and the glitz. It might not be fun, but it could be interesting.
How do you experience the holidays as a single person? Please go to saraeckel.com/contact and let me know.