Christmas For One: Mental Health Over the Holidays
By Kristin Johnson
My dear friend, poet Dessa Byrd Reed, often spends holidays alone as a widow. However, she doesn’t see this, as many people often do, as a depressing circumstance. In a November 2000 POETIC VOICES interview, she said, “Because I am single and live alone, I eat out a lot. I love to talk to strangers. That's one of my favorite things. I go out for breakfast and talk to people.”
Another talented writer, Leslie Lafayette, dealt with being a childless woman by choice in WHY DON’T YOU HAVE KIDS?: Living a Full Life Without Parenthood. You can bet that because of her choice many people would pity her. She writes the “Alone Again, Naturally” column for the outstanding magazine THE DESERT WOMAN. Observers might conclude she’s miserable on the holidays.
Both Leslie and Dessa have full lives and radiate Christmas cheer, not just in December but all year round. While we all need human contact, it’s a mistake to conclude that people without the traditional family dinner are all on suicide watch. Anyone who has negotiated where to have Christmas and which family members can come when, not to mention refereed in-law and spouse disputes, knows that the allure of having a table for one at Christmas is powerful.
However, when people aren’t alone by choice, Christmas can be lonely. In Michigan, I interviewed a woman, the founder of a divorced and widowed support group, who chose to have Christmas dinner every year for lonely widows, widowers and divorced people, usually from her support group. Her children understood that she needed to start this new tradition in her new life.
Similarly, having children around, even with the relentless gimmes and commercialism, lends a special magic to Christmas, which is why playing Santa appeals to so many.
The holidays can be joyous if you’re alone, or they can be difficult. As with so much, your feelings depend on your personality, your circumstances, your childhood, and in many cases on medical or psychological conditions.
Some tips to remember if you’re alone or without your support system:
*Take advantage of counseling services in your community, including from your local church, synagogue, temple or other place of worship.
*Take time out for spirituality. You might attend services just to experience human contact and community. People are generally nicer at Christmas.
*Do all the things you wanted to do but couldn’t in your former life. Travel. Even in this post-9/11 world, you can visit faraway places. There are many tour groups for singles.
*Attend art walks, holiday concerts, lectures, and movie screenings alone. Or invite a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.
*Volunteer—it’s a wonderful way to make friends, stay active, and feel fulfilled.
*Go out to dinner alone! While women in particular feel uncomfortable, project an air of confidence. You are a strong, vital woman. This doesn’t mean that you should go bar-hopping or take risks alone at night. But you have the right to ask for a table for one without feeling as though people are judging you. (Most people are too preoccupied with their own lives to notice.)
*Gather a circle of friends or people in the same situation—just make sure the evening doesn’t turn into a pity party.
*Don’t overdrink, overeat or do drugs. It’s just not a good tradition.
*Bake cookies if you’re so inclined. Cookies make wonderful Christmas presents and ways to reconnect with your friends.
You may be tempted to think of yourself as Ebenezer Scrooge. Don’t, and boil anyone in his own pudding who calls you “Scrooge.” You are honoring Christmas in your own heart and keeping it always. Christmas for one, anyone?