What are some alternative winter holiday traditions I can observe alone?
November 25, 2016 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Long story short: I no longer celebrate Christmas. This year I'd like to do something on the day that makes me feel happy, warm, loved, and good. What are some things I can do, make, experience on my own that I might be able to use as alternative winter holiday traditions?

For a laundry list of reasons, Christmas makes me feel pretty miserable. I made the decision skip it. This was a good decision and has provided a small but significant benefit to my mental health.

Every year a different close friend invites me to spend the holiday with their family. Every time I've taken them up on that offer I'm still left feeling just as miserable but with the added benefit of also feeling like a third wheel in a strange home with a family that is not mine. Years that I've spent with previous partners &co, it feels the same. Other times I've volunteered, which is a good distraction for a good cause, but when I return home I'm still left feeling pretty empty and bad.

At this point I still have the notion that I don't have to feel this way every Christmas. Making the conscious decision to no longer observe the holiday traditionally has helped. I think the way forward is maybe to replace the Christmas I knew with a new one and include things that can make me feel happy. I'm looking for things I can do on the day, or lovely meals I can make for myself, quick crafts, and anything ritual that will promote goodness and warmth and self care.

All suggestions are welcome.
posted by Vrai to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
People in Iceland give each other books on christmas and then spend the day reading them. Isn't that a nice way to spend the day? Buy yourself a nice lengthy detailed cozy book and maybe some things to make yourself cozy too, like a snuggly blanket or PJs or fancy tea, and spend the day immersing in a story.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:40 AM on November 25, 2016 [21 favorites]

You can join those of us in the Jewish community who traditionally celebrate Christmas with Chinese food and a movie!

In my family, we also celebrate the Winter Solstice by throwing a birthday party for the sun. There is usually a sun-decorated cake, which is a nice baking project to spend the day doing, if you like to cook. I would pair that with making myself a nice dinner of everything I enjoy eating (and if you're not into cooking, then treat yourself to procurement of your favorite tasty treats) and eat it while enjoying a fantastic old movie.
posted by gateau at 9:53 AM on November 25, 2016 [27 favorites]

How are you with critters? You can sign up with a service to be a pet sitter for people who have to travel on the holidays. You can still do your reading, cooking, whatever, but also have the accompaniment of animals to keep you entertained and occupied. Bonus: animals dgaf about Christmas!
posted by phunniemee at 9:54 AM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Could you host a not-Christmas?

Today I have a very traditional Christmas because of children, but one of my fondest memories is of the Christmas my ex and I hosted for several people who didn't have or want a traditional Christmas option. To be honest, I don't remember the circumstances, just that we decided to do it, and that we invited people who were also not feeling the holiday spirit. Some people we didn't even know, like the father of a friend of one of my siblings. Another friend had been orphaned early in life and was tired of sitting on the edge of his uncle's table every year. You'd be surprised at how many people are open for alternative holidays.
We had a nice dinner, with the foods we could be bothered with, and obviously no presents or anything. Everyone helped out in the kitchen. After dinner several friends who had fled their more traditional Christmas arrangements joined up and we played music and danced.
posted by mumimor at 10:07 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I enjoy reading aloud for people, and there are some very elderly people at an Assistance facility here that like people who read aloud.

I let them pick what they want, then I try to read it with as much gusto and hyperbolic cheesiness as possible. They really seem to enjoy laughing and reacting to it with as much melodrama as they can muster.

Usually lasts about an hour depending on the number of selections, and it's so liberating, I can't tell you. We giggle, we weep, we have a really good time.

I'm pretty sure that they have some holidays they would rather not sit and reflect on all day, and it helps me get outside mine, too.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 10:23 AM on November 25, 2016 [13 favorites]

I've started being on my own every other Christmas because of family reasons (happy ones - my brother's family goes to his in-laws every other year, so we gather as a family the weekend BEFORE Christmas instead). I've also been doing Thanksgiving on my own every other year for similar reasons.

And honestly, it's a little different every year what I feel like doing - but I make sure that each year I figure out what I honestly feel like doing, and that's perfect. One year Thanksgiving was junk food, knitting, and Law and Order bingewatching, and one year it was making a tiny meal for some Thanksgiving orphans. One year solo Christmas was making an elaborate breakfast and then living off soup for the rest of the day while I read books (I also saved all my presents people had sent me to unwrap on Christmas and I scored this SUPER soft throw I could snuggle under), and one year solo Christmas was my chance to nab cheap airfare for a weeks' vacation in Paris. But in all cases, it was what I uniquely felt like doing.

(Although I recommend the travel; I may make that my regular habit, so that way I can spend New Year's Eve somewhere fun, and I'm thinking of Scotland next year so I can see Hogmanay.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:48 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Winter Solstice Festival. There, problem solved.

Eat glutinous rice balls floating in warm sugary water and celebrate the shortest day of the year and the turn of winter.
posted by moiraine at 10:49 AM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I like to clean my apartment really thoroughly and then watch a movie and or cook something labor intensive that I lobe but don't normally have time for.
posted by janey47 at 11:01 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another Winter Solstice mini-ritual to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun (technically on the night of Dec 20-21 this year, but the 24th or 25th is still plenty close enough): Wait till it's dark. Turn off all the lights in your house and sit for a little while in the darkness. Then light a candle (or other fire -- e.g. a Yule log!) and think about how from that day forward the days will be getting longer again towards summer. Toast the newborn Sun in your preferred manner.
posted by heatherlogan at 11:09 AM on November 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

If there's outdoor ice where you live, go skating! Otherwise, an indoor rink? You may not crave the company of other people, though.
I'm digging gateau's suggestions.
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:23 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I think of holidays, I think of food. If I were coming up with a new winter event for myself there would be some time consuming food item to make every year. Where I live, tamales are a common fall holiday event food. People make hundreds and then sell them to neighbors. Another example is this bread which went viral last winter. Doing that every year would provide a meditative activity and some yumminess to look forward to.
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:45 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Weather & transport permitting, how about wrapping up warm and having a brisk walk in the country? Exercise, fresh air, and a complete absence of Christmassy stuff. Then you’d be all the more ready in the evening for all the cosy activities people have suggested.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 12:06 PM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can join those of us in the Jewish community who traditionally celebrate Christmas with Chinese food and a movie!

Yes! Or go over the top and have people over to your house for Chinese food and watch movies ALL DAY LONG which is pretty much what my Christmas has become. Earlier in the season we do a Solstice Bonfire over at a neighbor's and for me that is the best part of the season, saying "Hey hey the days are getting shorter, let's get ourselves ready to let the light back in" When I was a kid and we'd celebrate this with my uncle we'd write wishes on pieces of paper and let them go up in the fire and it was also a nice way to have a tradition but not have a food or family one, neither of which worked for me for various reasons.
posted by jessamyn at 12:18 PM on November 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you're able to donate blood, blood banks really need your donations around the holidays. People are too busy to donate, but the need for blood stays the same. It would be really, really, appreciated by patients in your area.
posted by radioamy at 1:03 PM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you can swing it: travel! I spent last Christmas in New Orleans, all by myself. It was my first time there, and I regret absolutely nothing about my decision to go or about the trip. I returned feeling like I truly had had a Vacation.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:32 PM on November 25, 2016

My family kind of petered out on celebrating Christmas on Christmas - everyone but me has some combination of in-laws or work obligations. I used to try to come up with elaborate excuses/more awesome prior commitments that allowed me to easily decline invitations to, like, my mom's boyfriend's family's Christmas, but I finally just gave up and did whatever I wanted and told everyone I was good, and I don't know if they believed me but whatever, it was good! I appreciated that there are people who love me and want to give me the option to be with them at Christmas, but I also recognized that I actually prefer to be alone rather than hang out with acquaintances on a holiday.

I guess takeout and/or popcorn and a bottle of wine, accompanied by a good book, movie (whether Christmassy, anti-Christmassy, or Christmas-neutral), or binge-watchable TV show ended up being my default Christmas, and it's a pretty great way to spend a holiday IMO. I've also done some nice Christmas/New Years hikes (or snowshoeing when possible). I live with my SO now so we do stuff together but that's not particularly Christmassy with us either. Just hanging out, quietly, ideally with some nice food.

I will put in another vote for Christmas travel, though - I haven't done it in years but it's really nice! And if you actually travel on Christmas Day you mostly avoid the issue of things being closed on Christmas since airport stuff and highway rest stops and hotels and things don't really close.
posted by mskyle at 5:36 PM on November 25, 2016

When I was living in Japan, there was little overlap between the holidays they celebrated and the ones I celebrated—even the same holidays were celebrated differently—which left behind a big pile of loneliness and general dissatisfaction with holidays that I managed to bring back with me.

But one tradition that I really liked was called osouji, a ritual deep cleaning. Think Spring Cleaning, but in December. I've found that spending an entire day, slowly and methodically giving my house a thought cleaning is a very satisfying way to celebrate the end of the year and prepare for the next. While it is a ritual, it's also a truly valuable thing to do.

Osouji is traditionally done any time between December 12th and Jan 1, so December 25th is right on time.
posted by Ookseer at 8:13 PM on November 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you are so inclined, volunteer somewhere on the day. Nothing, nothing, makes me feel as good as helping out other people. In fact, I'm questioning, at this moment, why I watched a bunch of TV shows today instead of more volunteering.
posted by greermahoney at 1:21 AM on November 27, 2016

"For a laundry list of reasons, Christmas makes me feel pretty miserable. I made the decision skip it. This was a good decision and has provided a small but significant benefit to my mental health."

Sounds like the laundry list makes it's presence known by hanging around in the background. Set some boundaries around it, by scheduling 5-10 minutes to revisit the list, and feel the feelings. Set a timer!

Have one or more activities predetermined to participate in afterwards. Let these activities be whatever you want -- no "shoulds". Acknowledge the list, reaffirm your decision, give your past self kudos for having your back and your present self for following through, and then be done. Go on to your fun activities and enjoy!
posted by dancing leaves at 7:46 AM on November 28, 2016

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