A Griever’s Pocket Guide To Spending The Holidays Alone

The other day I did a Google search looking for articles about spending the holidays alone. What I found was a shocking number of articles written by people spending the holidays alone by choice and loving it.  Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this perspective. These posts are lovely, and hearing about the ways in which people relish holidays spent alone did create a sense of hope.  That said, choosing to spend the holidays alone feels different than having to spend the holidays alone which is the scenario some of you may be in. After the death of a loved one people sometimes find themselves facing the holidays and other important events alone for a variety of reasons.  We know that for many people this isn’t a choice, it isn’t something they look forward to, and it can be pretty hard getting through the day once it’s here.  So, in the spirit of our motto “grief support for the rest of us”, today we want to offer a few tips for coping if you’re spending the holiday alone.

Tip Number One: Though you’re alone, remember you’re not the only one

Considering a major theme of the holiday season is “togetherness, yay!”, it’s easy to feel like everyone has love and connection but you.  The reality, though, is that you aren’t the only one spending the holidays alone and you certainly aren’t the only one feeling lonely. Why do we point this out? Because it can be oddly comforting to remember just how many other people are in the same boat.  It’s not that anyone wants other people to also be sad, but knowing that you’re not alone in the struggle can help you feel connected to others through the universality of difficult experiences.

Tip Number Two: Set realistic expectations

Let’s be real, this will probably be a tough holiday.  Really tough.  If you’re spending any of it alone, acknowledge things will be hard and then cut yourself some slack. This holiday won’t look like holidays past or like a feel-good Hallmark movie, but remind yourself (and this is the important part) that just because your holiday doesn’t look ideal doesn’t mean there can’t be moments of peace, comfort, and joy.

Tip Number Three: Reach out to others

Some of you will balk at this suggestion, saying that you have no one to reach out to.  We don’t know your situation and so we can’t question it, but we do recommend that you at least ask yourself this question, “What have I done to reach out and connect with others?”

Quite often people feel alone, but don’t take steps to reach out to others. This is normal and can happen for a variety of reasons including:

  • You feel as though you don’t have the energy to try
  • You feel ambivalent about going anywhere so you’re waiting to be pushed (or dragged)
  • You feel hesitant to rely on, open up to, or trust people
  • You’re scared to put yourself out there for fear that your worst suspicions about being alone will be confirmed

If you decide that you haven’t truly tried to reach out to others, you can make efforts to change that.  You can call friends or family and ask to be part of their holiday, or you can ask others who you know will be alone if they want to make plans. You may be nervous to make these asks, but they can make all the difference if you don’t want to spend the day alone.  And you never know, you may be surprised by the result. Some friends and family simply may not realize that you don’t have other plans. Also, if you have said no in years past, they may not have extended an invite because they assumed you weren’t interested. If you are interested again, you need to let them know!

Reaching Out Via Social Media:

If you’re hesitant to pick up the phone, you might consider putting some feelers out on social media.  Everyone has different levels of comfort about what they share on social media, but if you’re comfortable this can be a great way to reach some of those people you might not think to call.  As alone as you may be feeling, there may be other people in your life who also have no one to spend the day with and who would be happy to connect.  Take a minute and post a simple note, or you could use one of these handy-dandy images we created below.

Tip Number Four: Call, Skype, text, Facetime, or connect online.

If you’re alone because you couldn’t travel to see people or the people you would normally see were away traveling, make plans to talk to them anyway. Things like Skype and Facetime can help you feel even more connected than just a regular phone call because you’re actually able to see one another.  The holidays can be busy, though, so you may want to actually schedule a time for those calls to make sure it is a time that works for everyone and that people have their phones nearby.  Even if everyone you know ‘in real life’ is booked for the holiday, make sure to also ask cyber-friends what they’re up to.  They may have time to connect online during the holiday.

Tip Number Five: Make an actual plan

It’s really easy to stick your head in the sand (snow?) and adopt a full-on avoidance approach to spending the holidays alone, but we speak from experience when we tell you that avoidance is a bad idea.  First of all, you may spend just as much energy on dread and anxiety as you would on coming up with a constructive plan.  Second of all, when the day finally rolls around and you haven’t done anything to get practically or emotionally prepared, you may end up feeling lost and helpless.  If you are a regular reader you know my approach to Father’s Day each year is to shamelessly sulk by myself, but even still I do some serious pre-planning. You can read more about my approach here.

Tip Number Six: Decide where you want to be

Home may be the place where you most want to be (or the only place you can afford to be), but if you are dreading the prospect of being home alone for the holiday, you may want to think about traveling.  When we say “travel” we mean going anywhere but home – out of town, splurging on a stay in a local hotel or Airbnb, or offering/asking to housesit for friends who are going out of town.  If you do decide to travel and are interested in connecting with other solo travelers, take a look online for some of the forums where you can meet and connect with other people traveling alone.  Also, there are some great tour groups that cater specifically to solo travelers!

Tip Number Seven: Do what you want to do

Whether it is movies you want to watch, music you want to listen to, books you want to read, projects you want to work on, or arts/crafts you want to create, or recipes you want to cook or bake — decide what a pleasant/happy/peaceful day looks like to you and do it.  This involves planning in advance and making sure that you have the supplies/snacks/movies/etc that you need because many businesses will be closed on actual holidays.

Tip Number Eight: Decide whether you want to do something to honor your loved one

So you don’t physically have someone to spend the holiday with, but you always have your loved one’s memory.  We recommend setting aside time to spend with your loved one’s memory over the holidays.  Whether it is something big or something small, decide how your loved one will be part of the day.  If you don’t have any ideas, check out this post of 16 Tips For Continuing Bonds With Loved Ones and this post on Creating New Holiday Traditions After A Loss.

Tip Number Nine: Volunteer

There are plenty of places and organizations that need help over the holidays. Whether volunteering at a homeless shelter or at your church, synagogue, or another place of worship; this can be a nice way to give back, spend some time with others, and connect to the true spirit of the holidays.

Tip Number Ten: Look for events in your area

Many places of workship hold “Blue Christmas” events and similar services for people grieving or alone for the holidays.  Also, some cities and towns hold meet-ups and other gatherings for people who don’t have friends or family they can spend the holiday with.  See if there are any near you, or anything else going on that might be nice to attend.

Tip Number Eleven: Control what you watch or read

TV is a world of triggers around the holidays, from airing movies you used to watch together, to shows that are filled with romanticized images of holiday cheer.  Movies and streaming services where you control what you watch can be a good way to avoid triggers that might make the day harder.  If you are itching to get out of the house, going to the movies is also a great holiday option (one of my personal favs). And of course, there are always books!

Tip Number Twelve:  Host your own pre or post-holiday event

Okay, this one might seem terrible to a lot of you, but for some, it might be a welcome distraction and comfort, so I am throwing it out there.  Though the holiday itself might be booked with events for friends and co-workers, consider a pre or post-holiday gathering at your place to connect with people.  Invite friends over for a low-key December 26th movie-day to decompress from all that holiday togetherness.  Plan a pre-holiday wrapping party, where you invite friends over to wrap gifts at your place (careful if that one will bum you out because you don’t have people to buy for) or to make decorations together if you’re crafty.  Invite people over to write cards to send to folks who are alone for the holiday, like those experiencing homelessness, who are deployed overseas, etc.

If you have plans or tips for spending the holidays alone, leave a comment to let us know. As always, subscribe over on the sidebar to get all our new posts by email!  To keep up with us all the time, follow us on facebook, twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest


December 14, 2017

3 responses on "A Griever's Pocket Guide To Spending The Holidays Alone"

  1. Congrats to you, Martha! Choosing to host again after a couple years out sounds lovely.

    Re: choosing (or having) to spend a holiday alone, I find it helps to hedge with people who can’t imagine being alone themselves. To the dreaded question, “You’re not going to be by yourself, are you?” I smile sweetly and say, “Oh, thank you, I have plans.” And they’re reassured and let the subject go. One year I tried to explain myself and got absolutely nowhere, so I’ve learned to let it go, knowing that their question is based on some level of concern for me.

  2. Thank you for this, Litsa. It is helpful to read. This is my third Christmas season without Kevin, my husband. One of our special things was to host a black-tie party at our home on Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas). I didn’t have the heart to even try the last two years, but this year I sent an email to a number of friends telling them to save the date. (I did this in September, so that I would be more likely to keep the promise to myself.) While I am dreading some aspects of doing this alone, I know that Kevin would want me to do it. It’s a tradition worth keeping. I know it won’t be easy. But I hope that I will be glad afterwards.

    • Ahh, best wishes with this Martha. I love your approach of putting it out there to people as a way of holding yourself to it. That can be a really effective approach, especially for things you might cancel on. I am sure it will be tough and good all at once. I hope the event is a success and that you do find some comfort, especially knowing it was one of those things you always did together and that he would probably love to know you are carrying on the tradition.

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