This time every year, I start seeing articles pop up about celebrating the holidays with family and friends--what to cook, what to bring, what to wear. How about I cook a microwave pizza, bring it to the couch, and wear my pajamas? You see, I spend the holidays alone. While I am lucky to have close friends and family, none of them live here in Portland. I moved for work over two years ago, and while I have some casual friendships, I don't have anyone I'm close enough with for a co-celebration. My budget only allows me to travel home once a year, and my family has too many small children for traveling to be reasonable, so I spend many holidays on my own.
Does that sound sad? I guess I thought so too, at first, but then I realized that so many Americans don't have friends and family, period. Even though my loved ones are far away, I take so much comfort in knowing that they are a phone call or a text away. Instead of focusing on what I don't have, I've challenged myself to think about what I do have--and what I can do with it to make solo holidays something to truly celebrate. And now, I'll share it with you.
First thing first, check your assets. Are you alone because you choose to be? Are you like me and your finances dictate restricted travel? Don't let the greeting card industry tell you how to spend the holidays, or set expectations for what you think should be happening--focus on reality. If, sadly, you don't have any family living or close by friends, think about your pets. Think about your colleagues. There is someone meaningful in your life, even if they are friends on the internet. Take time to let them know how much they mean to you. Spend Thanksgiving day doing a gratitude craft, like reading emails or texts from the previous year and combining them into hilarious scrapbooks to remind you why your relationships are so special. Make some cards, write letters, do whatever makes you feel connected to others. If you truly don't have anyone close by, join a pen-pal club such as Geek Girl Pen Pals.
Connect to nature. I thought I'd seen all of the pretty natural bounty Portland had to offer, and I was wrong. I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving taking myself out to breakfast and pouring over a guidebook on local hikes I checked out of the library. I am NOT a hiker, but you know what I found? So many glorious walking trails, small state parks, and nature preserves I'd never heard of. On Thanksgiving Day, I packed myself a lunch, took a drive, and spent a few hours soaking up the fall leaves. Note on this one? If you plan on going into the wilderness alone, take proper precautions, let someone know where you are, bring a first aide kit and check to see if park rangers are on duty. Take care of you.
Consider volunteering. Soup kitchens are a popular choice, but it's fine if that's not your thing. Find a local animal shelter, an elderly home, an orphanage or boarding school that might need extra hands around the holidays. Think about what brings you joy, and parlay that into bringing joy to others. One year, I spent the day at a home for developmentally disabled kids. We read comics, we played Candy Land, and by 5pm, I was exhausted and so thankful for the time I was able to spend with them. If you plan to volunteer, start looking for a place now--some locations require a background check or similar, so be prepared!
Make Thanksgiving a self-care day. It can be easy to neglect yourself around the holidays, and essential to create intentional time for yourself. Make a list of things you've been meaning to do--clean out your closet, deep condition your hair, check out yoga on YouTube--whatever it is, pick three or four activities designed to make your body, brain, and heart thankful. My favorite combination is an activity that I consider doing my future self a favor, such a spending an hour tackling a proect that's been nagging me (last year I purged all of my clothes while watching a movie and it was positively cathardic.) Then I like to do an activity that gives my body some much needed attention, such as a professional manicure, a massage, a super long nap, or home spa rituals. I follow it up with doing something for a friend or loved one, such as handmaking greeting cards with special messages. Gratitude comes in all forms, and spending a day taking care of your body is the ultimate way to connect to the spirit of giving.
No matter what you do, remember--you don't need to fit into the stereotypical ideals of what holidays look like. No turkey and stuffing? So what! No Hallmark chanel worthy romance? Who cares! You can make your own traditions and celebrate in a way that feels right for you.