Alone for the Holidays

“Nobody should be alone on Christmas Day,” proclaims the advertisement in the newspaper. A community service group is opening its doors on the afternoon of December 25 this year so that those who are alone for the holidays can enjoy a festive meal in the company of others.

For many of those who celebrate Christmas, whether they be practising Christians or not, part of the celebration is spending time with family and friends. For some, finding themselves alone on Christmas can be depressing and, well, lonely.

Helen emigrated to Canada years ago, just before Christmas. Despite the stress of moving to a foreign country, she was looking forward to spending Christmas in her new home. Unexpectedly, her husband, the only other person she knew in the whole country, was obliged to travel out of Canada on business and would not return until Boxing Day.

On Christmas Eve, Helen trudged up her new street balancing bags of groceries in each hand. She did not know a soul in this unfamiliar neighbourhood. The overwhelming aloneness of facing Christmas dinner in a silent house weighed heavily on her. Just before reaching home with her shopping, a woman burst out of the neighbouring house to introduce herself.

Discovering that Helen would be on her own for Christmas, the neighbour insisted that Helen join her family for the holiday. Not wishing to intrude, Helen initially hesitated, but in the end was persuaded to celebrate her first Canadian Christmas with her new neighbour—now the second person she knew in Canada—and her family. Decades after Helen’s arrival in Canada, it is the memory she most cherishes.

Grace, in contrast, was looking forward to her first Christmas alone. Divorced, and living many miles away from her family, she planned to spend the day quietly with her two dogs. She shared her plans with a co-worker. The co-worker, who could not conceive of a quiet Christmas, was appalled. “You must come to my house and have Christmas dinner with my family.” Grace assured the co-worker that she preferred to spend the day at home. The co-worker insisted. So did Grace.

In the end, Grace prevailed, and spent December 25 at home, in her pyjamas, in the company of her beloved dogs. She caught up on her favourite TV show, phoned her parents, and enjoyed her favourite Chinese take-out meal (purchased the day before and re-heated.) After supper, she walked her dogs around the neighbourhood. With snow softly falling and Christmas lights twinkling, “It was magical,” said Grace, and it remains one of her favourite Christmas memories.

The difference between the experiences of these two women is as vast as the difference between lonely and alone. While both terms describe a state of solitariness—being without companions—they each connote different experiences. According to the ITP Nelson Canadian Dictionary, “alone emphasizes being apart from others but does not necessarily imply unhappiness.” On the other hand, “lonely connotes painful awareness of being alone.”

If You’re facing a lonely Christmas, you may choose to seek out those community groups who open their doors December 25. Whether you partake of a festive meal or assist in serving it, you’ll find camaraderie and shared joy.

Others, in the spirit of brotherly love, may pause in the middle of the season’s bustle and think about those who are alone for the holidays this year. If there’s room in your day and at your table, you may extend an invitation to someone to join you and your family.

Recall, though, that alone doesn’t always mean lonely. don’t make the mistake of Grace’s co-worker and try to impose your idea of the holiday on someone else. Be sensitive and respectful of the individual’s preference for how they want to spend their day. For some, aloneness is lonely desolation. For others, alone for the holidays is exactly what they wish for.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario