A Griever's Pocket Guide To Spending The Holidays Alone

Holidays and Special Days / Holidays and Special Days : Litsa Williams

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The other day I did a Google search looking for articles about spending the holidays alone. What I found was a 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"—we want to offer a few tips for coping if you're spending the holiday alone.

1. 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.

2. Set realistic expectations for the holidays.

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.

3. 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.

"anyone up for some holiday togetherness? i don't have any christmas day plans yet. if any of wonderful friends also don't have plans, let me know and we can plan something" 2
"anyone else looking for low-key nye's plans"

4. Call, 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 FaceTime and Zoom 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 schedule a time for those calls ahead of time. 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!

5. 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. You may spend just as much energy on dread and anxiety as you would on coming up with a constructive plan. And 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.

6. 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 you may want to think about traveling if the prospect of being home alone for the holiday fills you with complete dread. When we say "travel," we mean going anywhere but home: out of town, splurging on a stay in a local hotel, 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!

7. 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, 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Look for events in your area.

Many places of worship hold 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.

11. Control what you watch or read.

TV is a world of triggers around the holidays, from movies you used to watch together to shows that are filled with romanticized images of holiday cheer. So, 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!).

12. 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 movie-day to decompress from all that holiday togetherness. Or 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). You can also invite friends over to make decorations together if you're crafty, or 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

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18 Comments on "A Griever's Pocket Guide To Spending The Holidays Alone"

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  1. Judy  December 22, 2021 at 2:31 pm Reply

    My husband passed away this year and this is my first Xmas without him l have been invited to friends house but l choose to spend it alone with my little dog Rosie It has been very hard since he passed l am angry that he left me but l know it was not his choice he was sick for many years and l took care of him and l would do it all over again l loved him so much Hope to see him again

  2. Dawn  November 23, 2021 at 1:04 pm Reply

    Holidays were always bright, fun & festive when my little sister & mom were here. Mom died in 2012, and my precious sister in 2018, both from cancer. When my mom died my sister & I kept up the traditions and supported each other through the holidays. Now they are both gone, and I am left with lonely, painful reminders of what was, and will never be again. My saving grace is that I work in a field that is open all year, so I opt to work on the holidays. Staying busy, helping others provides a diversion, albeit temporary. I cry at the holiday adverts, and I just wish friends would stop sending texts with pictures of their warm family gatherings. Holidays will never be the same without my loved ones who brought joy and meaning to the Season. I just wish I could sleep through those dreaded months.

  3. Jim  December 19, 2019 at 12:32 pm Reply

    A terrible thing has happened to our home…. My beloved wife of 40 + yrs. has been taken. My first holiday, Thanksgiving was terrible and now Christmas and whatever next ! A very big house with one is awful. Being alone in a world with over 7 Billion folks, how depressing. What a terrible world this has become????

  4. Lana Evans  November 15, 2019 at 2:23 pm Reply

    Hi and thankyou for writing this. I spent the morning searching for something just like this. I have 5 adult children and 2 grandchildren and yet i will alone on Thanksgiving and Christmas. My oldest who is married and the father of my 2 grandchildren is married to a woman whom decided last January that i am no longer ‘allowed’ in my Grandchildren’s lives. The only reason she gave was that she didnt like the fact that i had kept my sons ex’s relatives, whom are linked to my first grandaughter on my social media account,…even though i rarely even use that acct and never talk to them. I tried apologizing. I tried deleting them all. She saw that i did so and then deleted me. I feel like there must be more to it but neither my son or her will answer my messages. // My other children ‘always’ go to their Dads & his new wifes home which is large and fancy. I live in a small apt near Hollywood. This also is difficult to understand because their father was not a good one at all. They suffered a lot of mental abuse from him. I was always the one who was there for them in every way. I suppose i should just be grateful they have learned to forgive and move on. I should also be grateful they do call me. I guess i’m just very confused. I would have never left my Mom all alone like that. I guess times have really changed. Maybe i will walk up and see a movie.

    • Theresa Jesselli  November 24, 2019 at 1:43 pm Reply

      Hi lana how are you. I just read your article and tears rolled down my face. I can truly relate to you. This is going to be the 3rd yr i will be alone for the holidays i keep trying to convince myself its just another day. But it still hurts. God bless

  5. Connie  December 25, 2018 at 2:19 am Reply

    I lost my beloved of 23 years in May 2015, so this is my third holiday alone.
    I have no family, and have never been invited to any holiday event. I figure it is what it is.

    This might sound silly, but each year during the holidays I have focused on one thing, this year is our closet. (last year was the freezer, the year before was the pantry)

    Keeping busy helps to keep me from feeling lonely and unwanted

  6. Sophia  December 20, 2018 at 9:44 am Reply

    Christmas, New Year, and even my birthday. I wont just be lonely, i’ll be alone. I wish my family accepted me, and I wish I was braver not to care what people think of me being transgender…I’d like to have close friends as well, but i’m just too shy and after being hurt so often I just dont know how to trust. What a life. Cheers!

    • Sarah  December 22, 2018 at 4:02 pm Reply

      Dear Sophia, your comment is so wistful and sad that it touched my heart. Even if your family won’t be there to wish you a Merry Christmas I hope you’ll accept my seasonal greetings. You can be sure that at least one person will be thinking of you over Christmas, hoping that you find some happiness and hoping that 2019 turns out better for you.

      Best regards

      Sarah in London, UK

    • Alexander  December 30, 2018 at 10:42 pm Reply

      Hey Sophia,
      You and i are on the same boat. These past few years I’ve spent my holidays alone or at someone else’s family event. My family doesn’t want me going to family gatherings or parties so I stay home or if I’m lucky my friends invite me to their family parties and actually have a good time. But mostly, I try to make the best of it. It’s never been easy considering I’ve done it so many times. I hope you can make the best of it. We just have to get through this.

    • Deb  December 8, 2021 at 5:15 pm Reply

      I am so sorry to hear that you will be alone, my child is transgender also and I cant imagine not spending the holidays with them. I will be thinking of you over the holiday times, don’t give up on people.

  7. Marianne  December 16, 2018 at 2:44 pm Reply

    I lost my husband, my best friend, the love of my life two months ago. I am devastated and I do not want to do anything for Christmas. I loved the holidays with my husband and adult children. I can’t even watch a Christmas show. I don’t want any part of Christmas and I have not told my children, Everyone just keeps telling me I have to be strong for my family. I was strong for over 4 years of his illness and now I’m tired. I was with him since I was 15 years old, I am now 54. I love the memories, he made sure I would be ok with everything, but I can’t get past the heart ache. I miss him so much. I am consumed with thinking about him and can’t wait to see him again. I am just not the same person anymore. I know it is soon, but people close to me who have lost their loved ones have said it doesn’t get any better.
    Please give me some advise to get through this season.
    Thank you

    • Melissa Pool  December 25, 2018 at 11:00 pm Reply

      Hello Marianne, I’m sorry for your tremendous loss. Being strong is not what you need to hear right now. People who have not lost someone they loved with all their hearts can’t understand. The pain and grief of the loss doesn’t go away, but it just becomes who you are now. You will go on and no you will never be the same but that’s ok. You don’t get over the loss of your loved one, you get through it though. I pray for your comfort and you do what is right for You! Best, Melissa

  8. Kelly T  December 11, 2018 at 11:43 am Reply

    You know, this isn’t exactly on the topic, but I think it’s ok to feel sad when you’ve lost someone, particularly if it’s recent. Holidays can be difficult even with family around, and more so when your support network has been dramatically altered. The problem with sadness comes from thinking we’re “expected” to put up a brave front so that other people won’t feel uncomfortable around us, but how caring is that? If grief becomes immobilizing, then it’s presenting a problem, but in most cases grief over a big loss is healthy, to be expected, and totally normal.

  9. Sandra  November 21, 2018 at 10:46 pm Reply

    My husband died 9 months ago. I had planned to go to our church dinner, but there is a lot of animosity there now, so I decided to spend it alone with my dog. We will go out and pick up trash tomorrow. I will watch football and work on some crafts. I think it will be a nice day. I do not plan to feel sorry for myself.

  10. Martha l Rosborough  October 20, 2018 at 8:57 pm Reply

    Hello my Name is Martha Rosborough ..
    My husband passed away in January 2017 and I alone this Holiday Season for the first time. My Sister came and spent a year with me and she was with me last year through the Holiday’s. But she lost her husband summer of 2018 and had to go back home to tend to her affairs. So even though this is my 2nd Holiday Season without my husband, I feel more alone than ever. I don’t really know how to do the Holidays by myself and I am not good alone .. I managed to avoid the emotions that I should have faced last year and now I am uncertain how to get through this year. I really like a lot of the tips on going it alone, and I know it’s possible to create a new normal. I think volunteering would be great, I like the idea of sharing with others that are going to be alone. Although the types of social circles I used to be a part of are no longer the norm for me. Maybe some creative get togethers to meet new people would be nice ? A movie night or something that people could do to mengele a bit ? I don’t know, I just think the Holidays are rushing in pretty fast and I don’t have a lot of time to find something to be a part of in my community. Any ideas or suggestions would be great !
    I loved your article by the way , I just want to get off to a good start this New Year !

  11. Daphne  December 13, 2016 at 4:01 pm Reply

    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.

  12. Martha  December 13, 2016 at 9:35 am Reply

    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.

    • Litsa  December 13, 2016 at 8:36 pm Reply

      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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