A scene of family and friends laughing around a big dinner table, drinking cider, and cutting pie seems to be the vision that is elicited when we think of the holidays, but for some people with unconventional families, like myself, the holidays are much more complex than that. For instance, I usually like to spend the season alone.
Don't get me wrong: throughout elementary and middle school, the holidays were my favourite time of the year to spend with family. I loved going to my grandmother's for Thanksgiving, and enjoyed seeing all of my many cousins on Christmas Eve. I am the oldest of four, and I can still remember the towering stacks of wrapped gifts surrounding the decorated tree in our apartment's living room. I would become so full of anticipation before the holidays that when New Year's Day rolled around and another festive year came to a close, I would cry hysterically while packing the ornaments. The way my family celebrated the holidays was like a dream, and I loved every minute of it.
My perspective on the holidays began to change when I entered high school. My parents had a very tumultuous marriage and my mother decided it was finally time to file for divorce. My father moved out of the house, disappearing for long periods of time and showing up unexpectedly, usually not acting like himself. I still remember that first Christmas as a broken family. My mother, now a single mother of four trying to do her best, begged me to help put the presents under the tree while she put my baby brother to sleep. I still can feel the surprise I felt when I went down to the laundry room to get the boxes that were hiding in one of the storage closets. They were unwrapped, and from the neighbourhood church toy drive. A hot rush of sadness washed over me.
The more time went on, the more distant I became from the holidays I once knew as a child.
The more time went on, the more distant I became from the holidays I once knew as a child. After my parents' split, my mother moved out of state with my three younger siblings, my father went in and out of rehab, and I ended up living with my grandmother. There were no more Christmas Eves full of paternal cousins and cake — my dad's side was also severed. I didn't spend the weeks leading up to Christmas furiously making wish lists with my sisters, and there were no presents underneath the tree. Thanksgiving and Christmas Day were usually spent at one of my maternal uncles', where I would always feel like the odd one out, or like I didn't belong. Instead of crying just when the holidays ended, I would feel a deep sadness from November through the new year. It became my new normal.
Thankfully, this changed when I graduated college and moved into my own apartment. I realized that since I had my own place to live year-round, I could decide for myself how I was going to spend the holidays. One year for Thanksgiving, I went to the Native American Museum in downtown New York City and walked around the South Street Seaport. One year for Christmas, I stayed in my apartment in Brooklyn cat-sitting and watching Christmas movies while eating a festive spread for one from Whole Foods. I can honestly say these were two of the most relaxing, joyous holidays I ever spent. This is when I realized I was happiest spending the holidays alone, and figured out that it healed me. The possibilities feel endless when you have full control.
Spending the holidays alone, to me, doesn't feel depressing. It feels liberating. I find that my mind feels more relaxed, and I have a better handle on my emotions. Plus, it brings me happiness creating my own little traditions.
It's my choice to be alone during the holidays, and I want you to know that if that sounds like something you'd prefer as well, it's totally OK to do it. If you're on the other end, and have extended an invitation to someone spending the holidays solo, and they politely decline, it's fine — you don't have to press it. I can't tell you how many times people say to me, "I feel so badly you spend the holidays alone, isn't that depressing?" I am always confused. Spending the holidays alone, to me, doesn't feel depressing; it feels liberating. I find that my mind feels more relaxed and I have a better handle on my emotions. Plus, it brings me happiness creating my own little traditions. Before I spent my holidays alone, I imagined all the alone time to feel emotional and heavy, but now I know it's the exact opposite.
There is such a stigma attached to doing things by yourself, especially during the holiday season. It is important to remember that everyone heals and works through the effects of their past experiences differently. There is no wrong or right way to go about doing things, and if it means someone would rather spend the holidays with just themselves, then maybe they prefer to.
With another holiday season already here, I am once again faced with the question: what will I do? And I am planning on spending it how I always do — however I'd like.