No Faking: How To Actually Enjoy The Holidays When You’re Single

Pairs well with anything from any Pentatonix Christmas CD ever.

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Ah, my adversary. At last we meet.

I don’t want to exhaust your Xanax prescription, but once the election is over, we have more scary incoming this fall. Born from the inevitability of time and bearing the immovability of Excalibur from its stoney holster, this reality comes calling, and Jingle Bells can’t be switched to vibrate. We’re about to be single during the holidays, and I’m sorry.

It’s time once again to Aunt Jackie our way from November to early January with the hopes of making it to the new year with our dignity and sanity intact. Typical holiday niceties include fighting holiday crowds, fighting holiday calories, and fighting holiday family, but we get to sprinkle our single on top, too, doesn’t that sound delicious?

I’m sick of holiday “survival” guides. If we’re thinking of the holidays as something we need to “survive,” I think it’s time we address our perception of quite a few things, really. I don’t want to talk about how to survive the holidays as a single person, I don’t like starting out at that deficit. I want to talk about how to enjoy them.

I love the holidays. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, all of them — they’re truly wonderful to me and I’m happy to celebrate them. But it took a really long time to be able to say that as a single person. The holidays aren’t made for me. I have to make them for myself.

The holidays are made for coupled people, families, and children. To quote Love Actually and definitely not for the last time, “for people with someone they love in their lives.” There are no holidays or celebrations for single people, and unless you make them happen, the holidays won’t happen to you. Which is why every November I have to MacGyver myself whatever joy and cheer I’m going to experience for the next two months with scotch tape, twine, and these wits.

Rule One: Perspective is key. The wine glass is half full, both literally and figuratively speaking. You have to see things from a positive perspective, and modify your thinking to look at the ways you’re really lucky, instead of really left out. Also bottoms up sweetheart, whenever and wherever you need to. Anyone who stink eyes you is probably married and is in no position to judge how you take of your own goddamn edges.

On seeing the positive: yes, at the holidays, you’re going to have to spend a little money. Almond milk peppermint mochas and six-foot-tall faux trees from Target don’t buy themselves. But I said a little money — not all of it. Because if you had a significant other and even one kid, you might as well walk into your bank and set it aflame. I hope you and the annual bonus you get to keep all to yourself have a wonderful time on vacation in February.

You’ll likely be traveling somewhere alone on one if not two holidays. Which could be seen as a bummer. Or you could quickly scan the families in the TSA line trying to make it from La Guardia to Denver with a double stroller, a carseat, two suitcases, and four carryons and thank your lucky stars you have a free latte hand right now. Traveling at the holidays is (barring cancelled flights) a breeze when you’re single. What’s that? My flight is delayed an hour? Good because I hate flying sober and I intend to shop every Hudson News in this terminal until I find a bag of trail mix with the chocolate to almond ratio I find acceptable. Parents have to spend that hour entertaining/calming/distracting their children and peeing in shifts.

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Bowls, bowls, all kinds of bowls.

Saturday Night Live takes a lot of shit these days (and I’d like to see you write 90 minutes of sketch comedy once a week), but two years ago they created Back Home Ballers and I felt understood for the first time in my life. It’s about a bunch of single women traveling home for the holidays and seeing it for what it is — the fucking best. I’m the only person my parents are hosting for the holidays — those snacks are there for ME. That washer and dryer is just sitting there waiting for me to go back to New York with a suitcase of clean clothing. If I want to spend money I have to somehow trick my parents into letting me. What’s not completely fabulous about this?!

Rule Two: Participation not avoidance. One quick way to feel sad during the holidays is to pretend they’re not happening. You’ll exert far more effort avoiding cheer than you will embracing it. Walk through a holiday market alone. You only have to stop at booths you like. Play holiday tunes you enjoy, without taking turns. (Did you know there’s a Spotify playlist that only plays holiday music they’d have enjoyed at Downton Abbey?!)

Decorate. Do it. Make your space something lovely to come home to, any way you want. It’ll more closely mirror the outside world, so that arriving at home at the end of the day isn’t a more bleak experience than the average American sidewalk. It is my personal belief that one can never have too many strings of lights. My orange and purple ones are up now, as it’s Halloween season, you see.

Light a fire in the fireplace (or use the Netflix one, whatever). Hang a wreath. Set out a menorah or five. Bake a goddamn cookie. Buy presents. For anyone! Someone you know has a baby, or a toddler, or some other small human. Small humans are so fun to shop for, especially when you only have to buy them one affordable present. When’s the last time you went to the children’s section at a book store? When’s the last time you went to a book store? This is fun, I promise.

And I do realize that many holiday activities require company. It’s weird going to an apple orchard alone. But its not weird going to a holiday movie alone. No one in that theater gives a reindeer shit about whether or not you’re there alone. You don’t have to care either. If baking for no one bums you out, bring those treats to work! Better still, invite your reproductively inclined friends over with their kids to bake and decorate a cookie or two while some holiday DVD meant for kids plays in the background even though you bought it for yourself. I imagine parents would be grateful for a holiday activity they didn’t have to plan or clean up after. They’d be even more grateful if the grown ups’ cider was spiked.

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I tried.

Do the things that are only done at this time of year, before it’s January and we’re stuck with pittance holidays like The Superbowl and St. Patrick’s Day to get us through to warm weather. The thing about holiday activities? They’re there for a reason. They work.

Last year I had the notion I’d be just aces at making mincemeat pies. I’m shit at it, as you can see here, but I will say the apartment smelled AMAZING throughout the process. If you didn’t look at what you were eating they tasted pretty damn good, too. Would I make them in July? No. But my oven barely gets a break in December.

Rule Three: Anticipation. The main reason single people hate the holidays is because they have to explain why they’re single at the holidays. “So, you seeing anybodyyyyyyy?” is the first and most consistent question you’ll get from family and friends you don’t see on regular rotation. First of all, it’s truly none of their business. But second of all, cut them some slack. They don’t know what else to ask you. They don’t get your life. It doesn’t look like their life. You’re something they’d see on safari in a distant land for all they know about being single as a grown-up. My solution? Come prepared.

Anticipate the questions single people get asked and replace them by offering up interesting life details instead. When your great aunt gets that look in her eggnoged eye, jump in there and tell her about a place you travelled this year. Tell a cousin about the new HBO series you think she’d love. Better still, ask them a question. It’ll keep them from remembering you’re still sleeping in the bunk bed room.

Know what’s coming, but also know that being prepared and dreading something are two different things.

Rule Four: There are no rules. There is no “correct” way to celebrate the holidays. This is your blissfully unshared holiday, you can celebrate it any way you damn well please.

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You celebrate your way, I’ll celebrate mine.

One way I damn well please is carrying out personal traditions I’ve come up with over the years. I add new practices all the time. My favorite is Christmas eve (on which I am always alone) champagne while watching Love Actually and dining on something fabulous I’ve made myself, typically something roasted in a cast iron skillet. If I’m feeling indulgent, I’ll also have some dreidel gelt I didn’t have to win off anybody.

Another: There are no ornaments on my tree. Yes, I was raised Jewish and have a Christmas tree, but there’s nothing “Christmas” about it other than its name. It’s six feet tall, white, and all it’s got are bright white twinkle lights glowing in the corner of my Brooklyn flat from the day I get home from Texas at Thanksgiving until somewhere during the week after New Years when I give in and take it down. Not one ornament to unpack, hook, hang, and then store for a year. I hate that shit, so I don’t do it. I do however love the Hanukkah tea towels I got on sale at Target a couple years ago, so I use those.

The point is, it’s yours. Don’t let something as bullshit as your single status rob you of a really fun time of year. A little creativity and perspective shift can mean the difference between looking forward to the holidays and running from them, arms a-flail.

In conclusion: One day, you won’t be single at the holidays. One day you won’t feel like you’re missing out on things families and couples do because you’ll be doing them. That is for sure going to happen. So why not enjoy the good parts of being single at the holidays while you can? It’s DIY, it’s a little harder than it is for other people, but I’ll take a good memory any way I can make it — even by myself. Celebrate the holidays your way, on your own, and when “one day” shows up, you might even miss them.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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