On Choosing to Be Alone for the Holidays

For too many of us, holidays are a trying time rather than a joyous one.

Before I learned the profound difference between “honoring family” and “enduring horrifically dysfunctional gatherings with people who swim in my gene pool,” it was every year, right about this time, that my sleepless nights and heart palpitations would begin. Nothing to do with the limited daylight hours, as I’d once assumed.

No, it was because I knew in just a few days, I’d be subjecting myself to the loud bitterness, the jeering sarcasm, the barely-disguised envy, and the general passive-aggressive cruelty known in my circle as “Christmas Day.”

But luckily, for the past sixteen years, I’ve been spending my holidays with the Davis family, and that’s been an entirely different experience.
Don’t get me wrong ─ I do have some wonderful blood relatives whom I adore. But I hardly ever get to see them during the holidays, unfortunately. The Davis family, including my charming sisters-in-law from two other families, have never once made me feel as though I was about to go through some grueling psychological test by spending the day with them. My husband’s family is charming, kindhearted, and sometimes too intelligent for their own good, because it makes them quirky. For that reason they’re occasionally misunderstood, and because they are, they have an unprecedented amount of patience for the quirks of others, including my own. I love being with them, and not one of them shares a drop of blood with me. You can see that just by looking at us. But, they are my family.

If you weren’t fortunate enough to marry into a loving family, you might feet you need to hang onto the one you were assigned at birth, whether they make you feel like crap or otherwise. I hope you’re not going to do what I did, and wait until you’re in your mid-forties before you figure out you can make your own family, be it through marriage, or, as many of us ex-pats were compelled to do while living overseas, through friendships.
There are friendships that can have more value, more meaning, than any blood ties. To some, that statement is heresy, I know. And that’s how society gets ya: They make you feel ashamed that you’re not “looking after your own blood.”

Ironically, you are looking after your own blood ─ the blood that flows through your own veins, that is. If you feel it’s being sucked out by some emotional vampire every time you sit down for a roast turkey dinner, it’s time to get up and walk away while you still have enough blood left in you to function.

But most people are afraid to do that: What will I do on holidays if I don’t go visit my family? What will people think about me if I distance myself from my family? How will I answer the question, “What are you doing for the holidays?” without sounding like a pathetic loser because I’m not spending it with family?

The answer to all three of those questions should be, “Who gives a damn?” There are so many worthwhile ways to spend the days out of the year that society has heaped wishes and meaning upon, without making yourself physically and mentally sick.

You’ll be lonely at first if you choose this path. You’ll feel like an outsider. Eventually that feeling of being the odd one out will become a badge of honor. Believe that, because it’s the truth. And believe this: There’s no amount of therapy that will make up for allowing yourself to be abused. For what? So you can play a role for society? Guess what? You’ll still feel ostracized from society, only you will feel it within the society you are allowing to dictate to you. And that’s the worst kind of loneliness.

The best kind is when you allow yourself to stay home, or stay away, feeling a little sad, but at peace. After a while, I promise you, the sad part disappears, and you learn to like yourself, like what you do, what you say, who you are, without the constant barbs, snipes, jokes at your expense, criticisms, and other kicks to the gut some of our so-called families revel in administering. And then at the end of all that, they tell us they “love us.” That’s our reward for allowing ourselves to be demoralized ─ their “love.”

Come on, now. Do you really think being used as a punching bag is love?

For those in this situation who want to get out of it, here’s what I recommend: On December 25, go to the movies. Go eat Chinese food with some of your Jewish friends. If you don’t have any Jewish friends, make some. They will need you come Hanukkah, if they have the same type of “family” you have. And they’ll need you not for one day, but eight. So, they’ll share wonton soup with you on December 25, in exchange for having a friend to lean on when it’s their turn.

Or, if you’re the spiritual type, go to church, and try to remember what this particular day is really supposed to be about.

In short, give yourself the gift of being you, without a bunch of people making you feel bad, people with whom your DNA forced you to come into contact. And if you’re in a domestic violence situation and feel you can’t get out, that feeling of helplessness is part of the psychological situation you’re in. You can get out, and once you realize that, you’ll be able to see the ways that getting out can happen, and you’ll find the people, even the strangers, who will be more than happy to help you. We’ve been taught that strangers are bad, family is good. If you’re reading this, you’re old enough to know that’s just not always true. Many women and men find that out too late, after they’ve been seriously injured or their children have.

I know this is morbid, and not at all the kind of thing people post only a few days before Christmas. But it needed to be said, and if it’s helped even one person, I’m happy I said it.

Wishing you hope and peace and love.


  1. This is one of the hard lessons to learn in life. I’ve done a couple of posts in the past about being alone for the holidays. It does comes down to understanding the difference between putting up with that annoying relative at family gatherings and being in a poisonous atmosphere.

    Happy Holidays to you!

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