Jennifer speaks from the heart to those spending the holidays alone, or experiencing the “holiday blues” for whatever reason. If you’re feeling alone–well, you’re not alone in feeling that way! Here are some practical ways to keep the holiday season from bringing you down.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find a transcript of this episode.
The “Big Snow” article in the Winter 2020 edition of Sandpoint is not available online as a single article, but can be read in the online flip-through edition of the magazine here. It’s on page 39.
Transcript of Episode 23: 9 Ways to Ease the Holiday Blues
Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we discuss all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. It’s November 29, 2019, as I record this, and it’s the day after Thanksgiving here in the United States. It’s also Black Friday, when shoppers go crazy. But not me…I’d rather stay in my warm, cozy house and talk to you!
There’s not much to report this week in writing news, just a reminder that The Highlanders novella collection is now available in both e-book and softcover versions. I’ll put a link in the show notes. I also have an article in the current issue of Sandpoint magazine, all about the Big Snow of 1969. Writing that article got me in a rather snowy mood, but there’s no snow on the ground here on this almost-Thanksgiving Day, although it’s bitter cold and windy.
At this time of year we’re bombarded over and over with the message that holidays are meant for families, the bigger the family the better, and if you’re not part of a family, or if your family is far away, the holidays aren’t really meant for you.
This, of course, is bunkum, to use a vintage term that means exactly what it sound like. Single people, widowed people, couples without children, all of us deserve to have a good holiday, and the answer isn’t automatically to attach us to a family so that we feel less weird and out of step. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve come up with nine ways to enjoy the holidays when you’re on your own, for whatever reason.
The first thing to address is your mindset. You are not the only one who’s having a solo holiday, although it can certainly feel like that sometimes. You are not “less than” or inadequate or whatever other lie you’re telling yourself. You need not have a miserable holiday. You may prefer to be with your family, but circumstances are preventing a visit this year. On the other hand, you may NOT prefer to be with your family, but have chosen to go solo or get together with friends who are not blood relations. None of this makes you strange, weird, or worthy of pity.
- A corollary to shifting your mindset is to watch what media you’re consuming and temper it if necessary. If you let the messages of too many Hallmark movies or too many sweet stories or songs sink in, to tell you that family is everything, that only relationships by blood or marriage count as worthwhile relationships, or that you are some kind of a loser if you’re alone on a holiday, you’ll be sunk before you start. Counteract some of those holiday specials with mysteries, thrillers, or whatever type of entertainment normally floats your boat.
- If you’re spending the holiday alone because you’ve lost someone close to you, give yourself time and space to grieve. Leaf through old photos. Remember the good times, the funny times, the poignant times. Let yourself have a good cry. One advantage to having a solo holiday is you don’t have to paste on a smile and a happy demeanor when you don’t feel like it. Don’t try to force yourself to have a jolly good time when you’re not feeling it. On the other hand, if you’re not feeling weepy or blue, don’t force that either.
- Do something for somebody else. It’s kind of a cliché, but the quickest way I’ve found to stop feeling sorry for myself is to do something kind for somebody else. When we moved to a new community and didn’t know anybody, my husband and I volunteered at a community Christmas dinner, and we did that for several years. It felt good to focus on making somebody else’s holiday special, instead of worrying about our own. Those were some of the best holidays I’ve enjoyed. You can minister in other ways, too. I used to recommend delivering cookies to places like police and fire stations where people had to work on the holiday. Sadly I no longer recommend doing this, because in this day and age officers are unlikely to eat food delivered by strangers for their own safety. But you could still deliver cards or other expressions of thanks to the people who work hard on the holidays so we can celebrate. You could also visit shut-ins or people who are too sick or too elderly to go out in cold weather, but might appreciate some cheering up. Call first to make sure a visit would be welcome and convenient for the person.
- Keep up some traditions. If you love certain aspects of the holidays, don’t feel you have to drop them just because you’re solo this year. If you love baking and decorating cookies, pull out the flour, sugar, and butter. My mom and I loved to bake cookies together at Christmas. Now that she’s gone, I still bake cookies using her cookie cutters, and I love reliving the memories. But I give most of them away so I don’t overdose on sugar. Maybe you love listening to certain music at the holidays, or watching certain movies, you can do so over and over if you want, without anyone plugging their ears and running out of the room at the opening notes of Buffalo Gals.
- Drop some traditions. Another joy of solo holidays is that no one will pressure you to keep up traditions that have grown stale or no longer have the meaning they once did. If you’d rather chew tinfoil than watch George Bailey find Zuzu’s petals one more time, you get to skip the annual showing of It’s a Wonderful Life. If making Grandma’s mince pie is no longer your thing, the Holiday Police aren’t going to show up at your door and arrest you. It’s okay. Let it go.
- Don’t over-idealize other people’s holidays, or your own past holidays. It’s easy to romanticize holidays of the past, remembering the good parts and forgetting the arguments or the boredom. All over the country, for every family that is truly living out the ideal Norman Rockwell thanksgiving, there’s probably at least one other family where that ideal is falling short. Remember that what you see on Instagram or Facebook is other people’s highlight reels, their best moments. Don’t make the mistake of thinking their whole life is like that. They just may have managed to snap a photo at a moment when everyone was smiling between arguments.
- If you’re on your own this holiday, take advantage of it. Set your own schedule. Sleep as much as you want. Eat when you want. Go out if you want, or stay home. Catch up on your reading, or go see a movie. You’re in charge of your domain.
- And finally–and this should probably be number one– Remember the purpose of the day is to give thanks to God for all of the many blessings He’s given us. If all you do today is ponder the good things in your life instead of your disappointments and discouragements, you are bound to feel better. If you’re a believer, you’re never alone, because He’s there with you. And with a lack of demands for your time and attention, you can dive deep into conversations with Him,
So that’s it–nine ways to make the most of a holiday spent solo. Maybe you can arrange things so that next year you won’t be on your own. On the other hand, maybe you’ll have such a good holiday on your own that you won’t want next year to be different. Godspeed.
Today’s grace note is a short bit of inspiration written during World War II by Margery Wilson. It’s a postscript to her book The Woman You Want to Be, titled “Adjusting Yourself to Today.” In it she encourages readers to have a positive attitude during some of the privations and straitened circumstances of the war years. I think much of her advice can be applied by those going through a season of the holiday blues as well.
Adjusting Yourself to Today
by Margery Wilson
But how to live beautifully today–on less than usual? Faced with the shortages, priorities and allotments of consumer goods, we must make life and happiness for ourselves. No longer is it to be delivered on our doorstep wrapped in cellophane.
We have more to do–and less on which to do it. Yet down in our hearts we know that we have the skill, the courage, the ingenuity, the imagination and the all-important good taste to make a very fair success of living with the materials at hand.
Take the subject of pleasure. It is entirely in what you make of it. For instance, haven’t you often heard it said that if people work as hard for a living as they do at play that they would think themselves dreadfully persecuted? If you can’t play golf, for instance [maybe because of high greens fees or overall lack of resources during the war], you still have your legs. And it is sheer willful moaning that will keep you from taking the long walks that won’t cost a penny, but will help to keep your figure in trim and your nerves and your liver in order.
Consider all your inconveniences temporary–just for the duration of the war [or the holiday season]. Skip over them as you mentally would some obstacle that is going to be removed shortly. And keep your mind’s eye on time to come.
We will be using substitutes for many erstwhile luxuries before very long. Some of us will test our skill in finding something homemade just as good. It’s surprising how often we find the substitute no sacrifice at all.
It comes as a surprise to many of us that one game is about as engrossing as another. It is the sense of contest, of pitting luck and skill against that of the others that makes a game fun. So parlor croquet, table-tennis, charades, twenty questions, rhyming contests, pitching horseshoes and potato races can be made just as amusing for sophisticates as many more expensive and less hilarious games.
Hospitality, good talk and gaiety are the stuff of social happiness. When you are really having a good time, it is not because Mrs. Hostess is laden with her famous gems, or because you are eating from priceless heirloom Venetian glass. You are happy because someone has managed to flash a light of warmth, appreciation, challenge or compliment your way. One of the most telling and touching scenes for me in Gone with the Wind was the picture of Melanie entertaining with gracious charm after the war in her bare little house with broken teacups without saucers–and no one but the feverishly grasping Scarlett noticed the lack.
We may or may not be reduced to similar straits, but even if we aren’t, we shall do as Melanie did–with seeming detachment from all materialism–rising graciously above anything, spiritually whole, and entirely ourselves.
It has never been considered the essence of elegance anyway to depend on luxurious appointments for hospitality. It’s nice to have them–but a charming host or hostess can offer the merest cracker with a natural, gracious and unaffected warmth, with all the true elegance necessary for anybody’s entertainment I have noticed that people who had to depend upon fancy trappings for their fun seldom keep their friends or win secure positions.
Singing is the soul’s expression. It cleans out the corners of the heart and doesn’t let stale emotions pile up. If you can’t sing out loud for fear of disturbing someone or being conspicuous, then sing in your mind, thinking the actual words and tune. Do so going down the street and see what it does to your posture, your walk, your spirits. Sing new songs, old songs, hymns, national anthems, football songs, arias, swing, anything–but sing! Get the neighbors in and sing. Set aside a regular evening for a songfest. A singing nation has heart!
Above all, do not drop out of normal social activities. Be determinedly hospitable. Get out the corn-popper. Have play readings–each of the neighbors reading a part. Reading aloud is being rediscovered today. Alexander Woollcott once said that almost every man has a poem in his vest pocket. And choose your own reading matter carefully. It can be an escape as well as entertainment and nourishment for the mind and soul.
An air-raid warden in London wrote that she reads mystery stories to take her mind entirely from the tragedies that occurred last night and those that may happen tonight. Another woman says that poetry helps her keep closer touch with sane beauty in the harsh duties that tire the body and weary the spirit. Still another devotes herself to historical novels packed with adventure.
The interesting thought was brought out that these tired workers hardly hear the booming of the great guns–one of them even referred to it as a “comfortingly loud barrage” that they sleep through pandemonium and hear only the tinkle of the telephone bell that calls them to duty. Isn’t this further evidence that we can train our sensibilities to register whatever we wish to register and only that?
Consider at this moment you register only the impressions you wish to recognize. It is true.
Consider that when the war is over you can have from all your experiences whatever you choose to bring with you from them. So choose now whether you are going to be embittered, drained, pessimistic and tired–or whether you are going to be disciplined, healthier, better adjusted to reality, more inspired and exalted, and full of plans for the future.
The courage and indomitable spirit of our men and women are going to win this war–and are going to leap into the after-task of making this a better world in which to live. not the least important of your contributions will be bringing to it your full measure of grace, beauty and charm.
(excerpted from “Adjusting Yourself to Today,” the postscript to the wartime edition of The Woman You Want to Be by Margery Wilson, copyright 1942 by Margery Wilson.)
And that’s our show for today. If you have a heart that sometimes yearns for the misty memories of yesteryear, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter at sparklingvintagelife.com. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. And tune in again next time when I’ll be back to discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.