I'll be alone for Christmas -- merrily!

Do not pity me: I prefer solitude.

By Cary Tennis

Published December 20, 2007 11:25AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Here's a timely topic for you. Please address this not just for me, but for thousands of others who are alone for the holidays.

I'm divorced and childless, I broke up with my boyfriend last month, my friends are busy with their families (most of them out of town), my father and two brothers died over 10 years ago, and my mother is a thousand miles away living with her third husband near his large family. Therefore, I have no plans for Christmas.

I'm not Scrooge. I put up lights. I sent out cards. I baked cookies and bought gifts for people I care about, and I shipped them. I'm planning to buy something nice for myself, too. I have presents to open, and every day brings cards from distant friends. I'm not a recluse -- I work two jobs, one full time and one part time, so I'm around people almost every day. I have a couple of parties to go to, and I expect to have a good time. But on Christmas Day, it will be just me and the cats, curled up on the couch, drinking champagne, watching a good movie or two. And that's fine!

I am OK with being alone. It's not the first time, and I was OK then too. I'm an atheist, so there is no religious significance to the holiday for me. I enjoy my own company; I live alone. Being alone is not the problem.

The problem is that my mother will not stop pitying me for being alone, no matter how many times I tell her it doesn't bother me. It's as though she wants me to be miserable, so she keeps asking if I don't have someone to be with. As if being with just anyone would have to be better than what I have planned. Then again, she is the one who stays married to a man she doesn't like very much just because she's afraid of being alone.

I know from experience that being with just anyone solely because it's Christmas is a recipe for disaster. I've tried spending Christmas with Mom and her husband's large family -- now there's an experiment in terror. I was "Harry's wife's child by a former marriage," unknown, unnamed and deeply pitied for being "not one of us (poor thing)." Never again.

I spent Thanksgiving alone this year too. It was fun. I cooked a turkey feast for myself, ate dinner on the good china and shared my leftovers with those less fortunate. I gave thanks for the fact that I wasn't forced by tradition to spend the day with anyone I didn't like. I didn't spend a nanosecond feeling depressed or lonely.

Please, Cary, say something about spending Christmas alone that isn't depressing. All you ever hear or read is "spending Christmas alone is hard."

I say it isn't, and there's no reason to wallow in self-pity just because society (and your mother) keeps telling you there's something wrong with being alone and content.


Dear Solitaire,

Why should your choice to be alone on Christmas bother people?

Let's be fair. Some are probably genuinely concerned. You are alone in part because of the deaths of your brothers and your father, your divorce, your childless status and a recent breakup. Those conditions evince concern in those who love you. When they think of you alone on Christmas they think of these things.

But they do not speak of these things directly, do they? I'm guessing that, out of delicacy of feeling or a lack of words, they speak around these things. They say, Oh, you really can't be alone on Christmas, how sad! And you think, what an interfering dolt this loving relative is; what an intrusive ninny is this person who is supposed to be my friend!

Ideally, you and they could be frank; you could share your feelings and thoughts in an atmosphere of mutual respect. You might admit that of course these things happened and had they not happened you might not be alone, while also making clear that, given the alternatives, being alone suits you quite well. And perhaps you can indeed have such frank conversations with your friends. But not with your mother or her new family.

So you do not have a chance to make yourself understood. Instead, whatever true concern there may be emerges distorted, as controlling and manipulative behavior.


Too bad we can't all be more frank with each other and say, OK, suit yourself.

There is also the matter, this time of year, of mass behavior. Everyone is expected to participate. Annoying as this may be for cultures that do not include Christmas as part of their traditions, it is also annoying for those of us raised in the culture but wishing to have some control over how we pass through these days. Every year, it feels like all the secular autonomy we have so desperately struggled for over the years passes out of our hands when we are dealt the annual trump card of Christmas. Sure, play your hand the rest of the year as you see fit. Pretend to be independent the rest of the year. That's all very cute. But this is Christmas, damn it! Resume your family role!

I celebrate your independence as I celebrate the independence of this nation from all superstitious tyranny.

The crowd is a tyrant, and you must resist. By resisting the tyranny of Christmas, you save your own soul.

So even as I sing carols and pop popcorn, I will think of you on Christmas day with envy.

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