Traditionally Christmas is a time when people get together with their family. That is great if you have a family you are happy to get together with. But not everyone is in that position
Maybe your Christmas is marred by memories of someone you used to spend Christmas with but don’t anymore. Maybe it is because they have died, or you are estranged, or they have moved away.
Or maybe Christmas is a time of having to visit family when there are difficulties in relationships. When you feel you have to endure contact with people you are frightened of, or may have hurt you, or are downright unpleasant.
Or Christmas may be a reminder of past traumas.
The Cultural Importance of Christmas
Whether you like it or not, Christmas is important culturally for many people. There are those who believe in Jesus and see this time as a celebration of Jesus’ birth, often with family. There are also people who see Christmas as a time to have fun and catch up with family and friends.
If you watch the myriad Christmas movies that exist, you will see a constant message of people having a lovely, perfect time. Suddenly everyone is friendly and old rifts are healed. People are included. There is fun and laughter and all good things.
The reality frequently fails to meet the expectations of the movies.
Christmas Has Significance In Many Lives As A Time To Be With Others
The significance of Christmas as an occasion in our lives means that it takes on a significance that is hard to ignore. Few people report being happy to spend Christmas alone. Many experience stress at what to do for Christmas. Many are alone, and not happy about it.
Christmas can be a joyous time if you have people to celebrate with. But it can be a sad time if you have lost someone. It can be a stressful time if you have traumatic memories of past Christmases that were horrifying. It can also be a stressful time if catching up with some family members is far from pleasant.
An Experience of a Christmas With Gratitude
I recently had a conversation with a man who was facing yet another Christmas alone. He was estranged from his family after the death of his brother, and had experienced many lonely Christmases. He was looking for something different to do for Christmas and decided in the end to plan his own special Christmas camping somewhere he loved.
His choice for Christmas is not everyone’s idea of a fun Christmas. But his attitude may be helpful. He had decided last year he was going to stop fighting the fact that he was alone at Christmas and instead be grateful and seek gratitude in the season. His plans for this year were the result of that decision.
These are his tips for a joyous solo Christmas.
One. You Belong.
It is easy when on your own to think Christmas is not something for you. After all, the images we see everywhere of Christmas are of people in groups. But being on your own doesn’t mean you don’t belong.
You do belong.
He worked out a few years ago that looking for things in his life to be grateful for reminded him that he was loved and worthy even though he was alone. He saw Christmas as a time to have fun. To relax. To eat all the foods he felt he couldn’t eat at other times of the year. To indulge in special foods.
He listed all his friends and the way they showed throughout the year how much he mattered. So many of them had family Christmases and caught up with him at other times near to Christmas. Even though they couldn’t invite him to their family Christmas, often a long way away, he still belonged.
He decided to see Christmas as a time he may be alone, but not lonely. He decided to be grateful for the friends he had and the richness they brought to his life all year around.
He chose to see his life as a gift to himself and to others and decided to plan a Christmas that honoured this. In his case, it was to go camping in a favourite spot and spend a few days doing what he loved to do, knowing he belonged even if he was alone.
Two. Give Yourself Permission to be Real
He found that as a result of practicing gratitude he was able to accept his life exactly as it was. He didn’t try to deny the reality of his life. He accepted it for all its wonder and all its warts.
He was happy to realise he had given himself permission to see his life as it was and be okay with that.
He allowed himself time to feel the pain of the family estrangement. He allowed himself to be honoured by acknowledging this pain. What he found was that honouring that pain and giving it space did not make him miserable. It actually allowed him to accept what was and find joy in the things he decided to do at Christmas.
Life is full of hurts and absences. Fighting those things only makes it more painful. When you accept what is, you are able to find a way to move forward in life and find joy.
Three. Stop. Look. Go.
As he was researching gratitude he came across this practice of grateful living. The practice is to stop. To pause. To not rush into decisions, action, reactions, but to pause.
Once you stop, look around and within. What are you feeling? What opportunities can you see around you? What does your heart tell you?
Once you have given yourself time to examine your future direction and you are comfortable with what you have discovered, then proceed.
As you proceed keep stopping, looking and then going. You may need to try different approaches to see how they fit. You may have an idea and find you can’t proceed with it. You may start doing something and not be happy with it. Be ready to adapt what you are doing and to go on when you feel ready.
Four. Be Open to Opportunities
Last year, he discovered an elderly neighbour who was alone at Christmas, having just lost her husband. He decided to share his Christmas meal with her and give her a simple present at Christmas. The day turned out to be a special one for both of them, especially as the elderly neighbour died during the year.
He saw an opportunity and acted on it.
His planned camping holiday was another opportunity that arose for this year and he has decided to take it.
Being alert to opportunities is a way to honour your life for all it has to give and for all you are able to receive.
Five. Say Yes to Joy
This last point was one he was delighted to learn.
He felt to be happy, to experience joy, would be a betrayal of his brother.
Instead he found that his happiness and joy was there alongside his sadness at his brother’s death and his family estrangement.
He saw the reality of the advice he had read that joy can be present alongside sadness. That joy is an affirmation of life continuing. He also realised the courage it takes to hold the past in the present and experience joy alongside sadness.
He realised he wanted to enjoy Christmas and he chose to live it doing something he enjoyed. Yes it was going to have its sad moments, but it was also going to be a wonderful day.
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