Home alone this Christmas? It doesn’t have to be holiday hell

If you choose to fly solo during the festivities, here’s how to really enjoy your own company

This might be the only year you get to choose what you eat, what you watch, who you speak to. It can get you back in touch with what Christmas really means to you. Photograph: iStock

This might be the only year you get to choose what you eat, what you watch, who you speak to. It can get you back in touch with what Christmas really means to you. Photograph: iStock

 

There isn’t a twinkly supermarket ad featuring a person happily enjoying Christmas Day on their own, but maybe there should be. Think about it: a festive solo flyer gets to miss out on many of the hazards of the season, from having to cede dominion over the remote control and be on “trifle duty”, to finicky questions about boyfriends from meddling aunties.

Yet the idea of spending Christmas alone in 2020 will be a different beast. So many people would love nothing more than to see out this terrible year with the people they love, yet staying away and protecting people may feel like the right thing to do. This year, whether they hope to or not, there will be many people not making the annual pilgrimage to catch up with relatives and friends this Christmas. But, far from “surviving” the day, it is in fact possible to thrive on a solo Christmas.

Three years ago, Dublin-born success coach/author Judymay Murphy was based in LA, and decided to spend Christmas Day on her own.

Judymay Murphy
Judymay Murphy
There’s a lot of pressure from people, but I’m choosing to stay home and stay well, and have some self-care time

“It didn’t make sense to fly back for a couple of days,” she recalls. “But I wasn’t stuck, and I wasn’t feeling like I had no options. On Christmas Eve, a friend brought me to a party where all the top session musicians in the city were having their Christmas celebration, so I got to watch essentially the best gig in the world. On Christmas Day, I checked in with family, there was an old Russian movie that I wanted to watch, and I had some great food planned. The day came and went and that’s important to remember. It was just a day, and it was great and my ideal Christmas, but it passed.”

Now based in London, Murphy plans to spend Christmas Day this year on her own too, despite several offers from neighbours and friends.

“You don’t have to justify spending Christmas on your own, and I tell this to my clients in a similar position,” she observes. “There’s a lot of pressure from people, but I’m choosing to stay home and stay well, and have some self-care time, and it’s the only time I’ll get to do that.”

Space

First things first: for your solo Christmas, get your space in order.

“If your favourite person in the world was going to be your guest on Christmas Day, what would you do? You’d go all out with decorations and food planning. Be that for yourself,” says Murphy.

Use the cash you’d otherwise spend on rounds in the pub on Christmas Eve on something to liven up your living space. Perhaps it’s a question of plopping down some money on a cashmere throw you’ve always coveted, or investing in a spendy candle.

Irish company Brooke & Shoals have kept wisely to a classic scent palette and Cloon Keen’s Antique Library fragrance is hugely comforting.

With the Scandinavian Hygge trend now past the point of critical mass, a raft of unpronounceable contenders are coming for its crown: lagom, ikagai, umage and even pantsdrunk (which, yes, involves sitting around imbibing a lot in your smalls. A decent festive suggestion).

Dr Malie Coyne
Dr Malie Coyne
Even with a family Christmas, we think it needs to be perfect, and it’s not. It’s really just another day

The Scandis have even managed to put a lifestyle spin on “being outdoors and being happy”. Friluftsliv, pronounced “free-luftz-leev” is a term coined by Henrik Ibsen back in the 1850s and means “free air life”.

It sounds exciting and exotic, yet is simply a new word for, well, being outside. And on Christmas Day, solo fliers will have the great outdoors pretty much to themselves.

Letting go

With your exercise planned and your living space ready to host you and you alone, the next step to enjoying yourself is letting go of the age-old idea of what Christmas should look like.

“There are certain ideas about the ‘perfect’ Christmas generated in the media, and it’s not easy to ignore them,” says Dr Malie Coyne, clinical psychologist and author of Love in, Love Out. “Even with a family Christmas, we think it needs to be perfect, and it’s not. It’s really just another day. Conflicts and tensions can arise from these heightened expectations.”

If you are spending Christmas alone and don’t necessarily want to, Coyne notes that’s important to acknowledge these feelings of sadness, loneliness and even shame. “Practice self-compassion and acknowledge these feelings. Don’t push them away and don’t judge yourself for having them. If we take them as they are, they are much more likely to run their natural course.”

However, Murphy adds: “If it does all fall apart, have an emergency kit ready. Not a bottle of vodka, but arrange with a good friend, if too much negative emotion is unleashed and if you’re feeling lonely or even ashamed, that this friend will pick up your call.

Judymay Murphy
Judymay Murphy
This year could be about creating radical self-care, rather than the bog-standard selection box, Beaujolais and Netflix

“A lot of people go into a solo Christmas thinking that this is a ‘less-than’ option. But it’s more helpful to think, ‘can I use this as an opportunity to get back to what’s amazing for me?’

“This might be the only year you get to choose what you eat, what you watch, who you speak to. It can get you back in touch with what Christmas really means to you.

“It’s so easy to focus on other Christmases and see them through rose-tinted glasses, but you can forget how stressed you really were, how resentful you were when you were the only one doing the washing-up, and how much you overspent.”

Solitude

The day itself might be a reason to indulge in solitude, but solo fliers can involve loved ones as much or as little as they like.

“The important thing is not to schedule the calls, as it’s putting too much pressure on the day.” Murphy suggests starting the day with simple text messages and taking it from there.

Having a “free range” Christmas and getting rid of the idea of “should” can mean taking yourself off the clock entirely, but Murphy suggests doing something meaningful with it.

“The mistake a lot of people make is thinking they can do what they want, and then they let the day run away on them,” she says.

“This year could be about creating radical self-care, rather than the bog-standard selection box, bottle of Beaujolais and Netflix, ” Murphy says. “What would be a really yummy meal? What songs would be good for a little dance party in the kitchen?”

Above all, people need to park their old expectations of the festive season this year. Whether you are choosing solitude or the pandemic has forced your hand, enjoy being freed from age-old traditions, the forced merriment and the pressure to join in. They’ll all be there next year anyway.

“In the same way we put pressure on our summer holiday to rescue the year, we put pressure on Christmas to deliver all our feel-good feelings to us,” Murphy says.

“We need to realise that this year has been really difficult and is a year like no other,” Coyne adds. “If you’re watching other people’s Instagram posts, you might think people are all having a wonderful time, but everyone has their own difficulties and pains and tensions.”

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