The first Christmas I spent by myself was in 2004. I remember going to the store on Christmas Eve and buying a tenderloin and some jumbo shrimp. I was determined to have a good dinner. I broiled the tenderloin and flambéed the shrimp, listening to my family’s Christmas favorites: The Ray Conniff Singers, Al Hirt, and Elvis. I put on a nice shirt, a tie, and a blazer, and sat down to eat.
I spent ten Christmases alone prior to my engagement, repeating a similar ritual. At some point, my Christmas Eves came to include evening services at Episcopal churches. Grace Church on Broadway, St. Bart’s on Park, St. James’ on Madison: These places became havens where pomp and circumstance lent beauty to my solitude. It may sound strange, but I relished those nights. Working in news, I could have easily volunteered to take a Christmas shift, escaping the feelings that come with being alone for the holidays. But I never did. I always took Christmas off—even before I came to actually believe in Christ—because the mix of joy and melancholy made me feel fully alive.
LGBTQ people often find ourselves alone for Christmas. The first few times for me it was because I couldn't afford the time or money to make the trip home. Later it was because my parents’ house no longer felt like home. I’m sure many will relate.
Spending Christmas alone, as you may have gathered, didn’t make me particularly sad. It was never my preference, but as an introvert, I was able to create my own traditions and rituals. I crafted my own space to celebrate and honor the full range of my feelings. But different personalities react to these situations differently. There are many for whom the holidays are the most difficult time of the year.
This is a season when you’re supposed to be with your kin—your people. And friends may be very loving and close, but they aren’t kin. December is hard for those of us who’ve seen the bonds of kinship dissolve in our family because it’s when our friends go home to theirs. In my years alone I was sometimes invited to spend Christmas with friends’ families. The invitations were gracious, and I received them with gratitude. But the feeling I couldn’t express was that often those celebrations made me feel worse. Seeing families interact during the holidays was like watching someone eat cake while you’re on a diet. Eventually I began to turn down those invitations.
Now that I once again have a family of my own, I find myself wondering what the best way is to care for those who don’t. I know that what worked for me won’t work for everyone, especially those who are on Solo Christmas number one or two, as opposed to number eight or nine. And looking back, it is clear to me that these holidays didn’t bring sadness into my life; they merely shed light on it. So what I needed wasn’t to not be alone for Christmas. What I needed was to not be alone, period.
What I missed most during that decade was the feeling that I belonged. What I wanted, you see, wasn’t a good meal, presents, or an evening of fun. What I longed for but couldn’t articulate was to have a celebration that felt mine—I didn’t want to just share in someone else’s. And to have that, I needed to be with people who were my people; I needed to be doing life with people year-round. I needed that ideal I’ve come to understand as church—a community that hopefully includes your family, but goes beyond it.
This Christmas, if you have friends who are alone, consider inviting them into your home. But more important than that one day, make a commitment to live with them in intentional community throughout the year. If you keep that promise, you all will have a celebration you can call your own next Christmas—a celebration to which they will need no invitation.
Photo by Michael Krigsman used with permission through Flickr Creative Commons.
Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: