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How to Celebrate the Holidays With Depression and No Family


It’s that time of year again: advent calendars, candy canes for breakfast, festive events in the community, an excuse to wear your green and red onesie, hot chocolate by the fireplace, the deep aroma of gingerbread, and that feeling of overwhelming emptiness as you’re experiencing all of these holiday things without family surrounding you. I get it. This year marks the fourth Christmas I’ve spent without my family. And though I still experience feelings of emptiness from time to time, I want to share with you how I have learned to celebrate what has become my favorite time of year.

I have always viewed Christmas as a time for family. This view is influenced primarily by our culture that places much emphasis on family traditions, the technological age where you cannot scroll through your Facebook without seeing your friends’ family photos as they’re all wearing matching pajamas, and where community events such as “family sleigh rides” are, well… obviously very family oriented. But if I have learned anything important in my years of spending holidays alone, it’s not that turkey is way more difficult to cook than I ever imagined it to be, or that Christmas lights use an excessive amount of hydro, but that there is much to still be celebrated. Here’s how to do it:

1. Digitally disconnect in order to emotionally reconnect.

Scrolling through Facebook or Instagram when you’re lonely and seeing other people not being lonely… can inevitably make you feel even lonelier than you were feeling in the first place. Instead, take some time to focus on where you are in the present moment and what feelings and sensations you’re experiencing without external influence. More often than not, your feelings will be intensified until you really zone in on them and can identify that they’re not as realistic as you thought or felt. Once you’re emotionally grounded, take some time to de-stress with activities you might not have time for otherwise, such as painting, going for a walk or reading. Genuinely enjoy your time with yourself; you make the best company.

2. Host your own Christmas dinner or attend a friend’s.

Some people find cooking Christmas dinner to be a stressful endeavor, but if you enjoy cooking, then hosting your own Christmas dinner can be a lot of fun! And if you don’t enjoy cooking… well, you can always order pizza. You cannot go wrong getting a group of friends together, wearing ugly Christmas sweaters and eating food while drinking wine. Family doesn’t always have to be defined by blood.

3. Give back (in other ways than volunteering).

Many organizations stay afloat because of the generosity of civilians and many vulnerable people benefit from this generosity. Volunteering is a great thing to do and I’m not suggesting otherwise. However, there are many other practical ways to support others in need during the Christmas season. I think one of the best things you can do is invite a lonely person for dinner or bring dinner to a homeless individual on the street, then sit there to listen to their story. Other ways to give back are to help shovel an elderly neighbor’s driveway, shop local versus purchasing all of your gifts from large chain companies, or bake goodies for your local EMT service providers, firefighters or teachers. Or all of the above!

4. Get crafty!

There are so many ways to be creative during the Christmas season, from DIY snowmen candle holders to decorate your own ornaments for the Christmas tree. Being creative makes life infinitely interesting and fulfilling. Need inspiration? Try making a Pinterest account and searching there.

5. Acknowledge your grief.

Understand that sadness is a perfectly normal emotion, regardless of whether this is your first Christmas alone or your 10th.

That void and feeling of emptiness you experience during the holidays, when you don’t have a family to celebrate with, may hit you like a freight train every single Christmas season and it may never fully go away. Despite the cheeriness of carols (or annoyingness, up to you) or the cheeriness of Christmas lights, you don’t have to be cheery if you don’t feel like being cheery. If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like you need support, ask for support. If you don’t want to be around people, take time alone. You do not owe anyone an explanation for your emotions and how these make you feel, but you do owe yourself the responsibility to honor these feelings.

So whatever you do, whether you spend the holiday curled up with a good book and some candles or you have a festive feast with your closest pals, know that you can feel fulfilled, a state of content can be reached and joy can be felt. That’s what the Christmas season is all about. Celebrate.

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Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash