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Published On: Tue, Dec 23rd, 2014

The people who choose to be alone at Christmas

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ChristmasChristmas Day is traditionally seen as an event to be spent around loved ones. But what about those who want to spend it alone, asks Ross Davies.

Some would say there is no more poignant festive moment than to hear of a Christmas spent alone.

Take last year’s story of James Gray, the London-based Irish pensioner who placed an advert in the Irish Post in a bid to find someone to share the holiday with, having spent nine consecutive Christmases on his own.

Or the report earlier this year of an unnamed widow, who hired an entire Devon pub so as to host a Christmas lunch for herself and 50 strangers also expecting to spend the day alone.

Christmas can be a difficult time for many, especially in the face of ubiquitous reminders that it is the season to be jolly – not to mention the financial pressures that come with it.

Last December, the Samaritans are said to have received 244,000 calls from people suffering from depression and stress across Britain and Ireland.

Such statistics shouldn’t be scoffed at. Likewise, the tale of James Gray serves as an apt reflection of the endemic loneliness suffered among the elderly.

But a Yuletide in one’s own company isn’t always quite as disheartening as it seems.

A few years ago, I spent the big day unaccompanied – albeit not quite by design. I had planned to be in New York with friends, until a Christmas Eve snowstorm led to a cancelled flight and scuppered plans.

Back home alone, the day passed by in an air of non-conformity – not wholly unpleasant. For once, the TV remote was unilaterally mine.

There was no need to shave. The turkey dinner (never a favourite) was supplanted by a more preferable Indian takeaway.

When my flight for the US finally departed two days later, I was able to reflect on a tranquil holiday.

Of course, reasons for spending the festive season alone – or any day or event, for that matter – vary from person to person.

Since losing his partner two years ago, Rob Moore, a 48-year-old graphic designer, has chosen to spend his Christmases alone, and will do so again this year. While clearly not without its poignancy as a reminder of the loss of a loved one, he has found parts of the experience to be surprisingly cathartic.

“I must admit that spending time on my own – completely devoid of any feeling that I should be somewhere else over Christmas – is something I’ve found to be far more positive than I expected,” he says.

“When I’ve told friends and family that I’ll be spending Christmas alone, a couple of them have even been quite jealous.”

Psychologist Dr Arthur Cassidy agrees that introversion for one day of the year needn’t necessarily imply loneliness and social isolation.

“There is actually a liberty to being in one’s own company, even if you are construed by others as being lonely,” he explains. “Spending Christmas alone can certainly be liberating. We live in a world where we are expected to conform – not doing so can be an exciting phenomenon.

“Of course, it really depends on which part of the world you are in – culturally speaking. Here in the West, social solitude is still stigmatised. Instead, the cultural norm is to be connected on a day-to-day basis, especially on Christmas Day.”

Monika Pallenberg, a 25-year-old student, will also be spending this Christmas Day alone of her own free will. A self-identified pantheist, she feels uncomfortable celebrating one of the most important events in the Christian calendar, and instead views it like any other public holiday.

“I really don’t like the religious aspect being forced upon me by some people,” she says. “So I don’t feel obligated to spend the day with my family – who live abroad – or anyone else for that matter. It’s no big deal and I don’t feel like I am disappointing anybody.”

Nonetheless, she admits that some of her peers find it hard to understand her decision. “When I explain that I am planning to spend Christmas alone, my friends will inevitably invite me around theirs.

It’s the same with my neighbours. I know they are only being nice, and I appreciate that, but I’d rather relax on my own.”

According to Diane Ofili, 30, a freelance writer who has spent several Christmases alone, the stigma of shunning company is still evident.

“I try to be as vague as possible when people ask me what I’m doing for Christmas,” she says. “From past experience, when I have said I plan to be alone, some people have actually been quite hostile about it. But, quite frankly, I see that as their problem, and not mine.”

Trite as it sounds, Christmas is what you make it. For every individual filled with the ardour of spending the day with family and loved ones, there is someone who might have no inclination or responsibility – be it familial or religious – to do “something special”.

“I’ve never had a wide social circle. I am introverted, quite withdrawn, always valued my privacy and autonomy,” says Ofili.

“In terms of family, I’ve never been close to my own family – I’ve been estranged from them a couple of times. In the past, I’ve spent a couple of Christmases with my aunt and cousins, but most of my family is in Africa.

Moore received offers from friends and family at first, after his partner died, but they now accept he is happy in his own company.

“Because they see I have established an alternative routine, and am unlikely to accept their invitations, less people ask now.”

Here is a selection of your comments.

I don’t mind being alone at crimbo, phone the local Chinese have spare ribs, beef and black bean sauce, egg fried rice, 2 banana fritters and 2 cans of coke. I buy myself a bottle of Martell brandy and watch TV with my dog.

James Aubrey, Aberdeen

 I spend every Christmas alone – my reasoning is that I am neither Christian or Pagan. I am not a materialist. I have no family nor children. Take all of that out of “Christmas” and what is there left?

Just another day really – and gives me time to psych up for the Boxing Day Test 🙂

Pearl Maya, Deloraine, Australia

I have spent Christmas alone three times including this year. I enjoy the big Christmas meal but I’m not fussed about the rest of it. I usually go for a bike ride in the evening then go home and watch telly or read a book.

Lucien Bennett, London

When my wife and I split up some 17 years ago I made it a rule to spend Christmas Day alone (previously we’d hosted up to 12 people for Xmas Day lunch for over 10 years). My kids would then arrive on Boxing Day and we could spend quality time together. For the past 4 years I’ve spent Christmas with my mother, who I was carer for (she suffers dementia) and one or two close friends. Mum went into a care home this year and I can’t wait to have Christmas on my own again. This might all sound a bit glum, but I really enjoy having a full day to do whatever I like with no pressures – its a perfect Xmas present!

Peter Dixon, North Shields, England

My wife works in the care industry and has often had to work over the Christmas period. Family and friends often seem horrified that I’m going to be on my own for 12 hours. But I actually enjoy it. I get to spend the day doing what I won’t without feeling guilty or selfish.

Chris Oldham, Gravesend, UK

I have spent many a Christmas alone and love it. I don’t like being “taken pity on” or patronised. I live alone, have masses of friends and no family, so am free to choose. Not religious, so the date means nothing to me. It is, however, very difficult to remain alone without alienating everyone. I have sometimes had to go away to avoid persecution, which is bonkers.

L R Taylor, Wiltshire UK

I spent a xmas day, totally on my own a few years ago. My girlfriend headed to stay with family in France on xmas eve, and I was due to have my two children from boxing day for a few days to spend with my parents about 50 miles away. It didn’t make sense to travel.

So, it was in-part, by choice but also with some trepidation. I’m an atheist, and not too fond of xmas dinner/roasts in general. I collected a takeaway Indian curry on xmas eve, to warm in the  microwave. I spent the day finishing Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, thoroughly enjoying my takeaway, a few beers, glass or two of wine and my “traditional xmas” malibu and coke (I’m male). Watched some TV and spent time on the internet, mainly atheist web-sites and chat-rooms, inspired by Richard Dawkins. All in all, I enjoyed my xmas day alone (and I am a normally sociable person who thrives on company). I haven’t repeated the experience, but wouldn’t object to it should the circumstances arise. The indian takeaway has now become part of my christmas tradition when inviting family and friends for xmas day. My xmas is totally stress-free.

Blaine Buchanan, Bristol, UK

I’ve spent a couple of Christmas days alone and they were glorious. It’s not because I don’t like Christmas or don’t consider it special. On the contrary, I love Christmas and I spend December in a whirl of planned festive activities. Some of those things – workChristmas party, catching up with friends etc – will be social, but many – carol concerts, theatre trips, cinema, meals out – will be solitary, through choice. Christmas is what you make of it. For me,

it’s important to do things that give me a feeling of festivity and many of those things I don’t need to do them in a social setting or I actively prefer when I am doing them alone. Introverted people like myself, who often prefer to spend time on their own rather than with others, are often misunderstood. Our choice to spend time in our own company does not mean we are lonely or bitter or that we dislike others. For me, it is exhausting to be in company and soothing to be alone. This doesn’t mean I am never social, just that I am choosier about when I decide to be social.

Caroline, I spent Christmas Day 1994 alone, having be separated from my wife two years previously. It proved to be a surprisingly liberating experience. I have always found the ritual opening of presents to be an awkward experience as people feign pleasure and excitement at gifts that they clearly are underwhelmed to receive. The day then becomes increasingly claustrophobic as copious amounts of food and drink are consumed and you find yourself imprisoned in an overheated room, full of people who feel obliged to come together at this time each year. The space and the freedom to choose how I wanted to spend the day was very positive. A Christmas morning run enabled me to remove any cobwebs. The lack of traffic and pedestrians generally enhanced the experience further. The feeling that almost everybody else was locked into the Christmas Day ritual added to the experience. There is a stigma about spending Christmas Day alone, but it is an experience that I remember positively and even now it remains a low key event spent only with my wife and daughter. The highlight of my day remains the 60 minute slot where I can leave the house either for a run or a bike ride and relish the feeling of solitude and liberty.

John Offord, Rugby

I’m just about to spend Christmas alone, apart from the dog. I did last year. I’m single (divorced), have an interesting job involving interesting people and have lots of friends, some of whom are slightly insulted that I’d rather spend Christmas alone than with them… but what I’m actually choosing to do is spend Christmas at home, eating a Christmas dinner that I’ve cooked, watching what I want to on TV, staying in my pyjamas if I choose and not having to be guest polite.

I’m polite most of the year. It would be lovely to have a close-knit family who peel the sprouts together… but my Mother turns nasty after the first sherry. Of the options available this is the one thatI enjoy the most, as does the dog (lashings of turkey). I’m quite open about it and the only drawback is peoples’ reaction, sympathy, which makes me question whether I’m a bit of a sad case and just don’t know it.

Yvonne, Devon

I have spent 5 of the last 7 Christmas’ alone at home since my wife died in 2007. I cook a roast Turkey dinner for myself and enjoy the day. Friends and family are very understanding (with the exception of one ex girlfriend!) and don’t pressurise me into going round to their house for Christmas dinner.

Rod Smith, Newport, South Wales

Like a lot of people I prefer to spend Christmas alone. Not entirely alone as I have four wonderful dogs. I cannot bear the enforced bonhomie of it all, the hype, the crowds, the now superficiality of it all. I’m perfectly happy this way, feeling smug in a way about all the people who feel trapped over the holiday season, wearing a plastic smile and stifling the urgent need to just run. At any time of year it astounds me how many people can’t bear to be alone for more than a few hours. Being alone isn’t selfish. It’s a personal choice.

Jery Forbes, Littlehampton

I’m a contented and independent single woman in my 30s. I have spent 3 Christmases alone. The first was the day my uncle died 4 years ago, I was with him in the hospice when he passed away on Christmas morning to the background sound of carol singers in the family room.

That was a nice touch on a difficult day and made it all the more poignant. Since then I’ve had two more Christmases alone. The most pressure I’ve had to deal at with is in declining the sympathy invites, most people don’t believe that I can have a good day in my own company. I have my routine, I wake up early and deliver my bag of gifts to the children in my life. Once I’ve seen their smiles and received their thanks and cuddles I can happily move on to the next family. After a couple of hours, I get home to open my gifts, nibble on the inevitable gift of chocolates and have a snooze before enjoying

the TV’s festive offerings and a nice meal. There is no family bickering, no stressful meal prep and no big clean up afterwards. This year I’ve chosen to spend the day with my friend’s family. The invitation was extended because they wanted my company, not because they felt sorry for me being alone. That made all the difference to me, and I’m looking forward to a great day in great company, some joy and merriment, and no pressure. If I can’t enjoy the company this year, I’m not sure I will ever be able to… so here goes!

Lea Mann, Prestonpans, East Lothian

I spend most of my time on my own, and to be honest I find the company of more than one other person at a time quite stressful. I am not religious, and therefore do not celebrate any religious festivals, so Christmas this year is just a Thursday. I’ll be having a fresh fruit yoghurt for lunch, the same thing I have every day, and I’ve got a bit of boiled gammon for dinner. I will also, hopefully, have written a few more words of the book I’m writing and read a few more pages of the book I’m reading. And, so far, you are the only one who has even asked.

Martin Garrod, Portsmouth, Hampshire

My husband and I do shift work so are quite often at work over the Christmas period. Last year I wasn’t working but my husband was. I was invited to various family members houses for Christmas but I wanted to stay at home and do my own thing. I have an awkward relationship withmy family and I find the enforced merriment hypocritical. My family think I’m strange for not wanting the big family Christmas but I don’t have children, don’t really get along with them and I enjoy my own company and being able to choose for myself how to spend Christmas.

Dianne Giles, Twyford, Berks UK

I really don’t enjoy the whole circus surrounding Christmas since my son grew up. I socialise a lot during the year but prefer to spend Christmas in contemplative isolation and just relax and have a bit of “me time”. My son goes off to his mother’s relatives for the day quite early and I have my house and time to myself. I may cook something I like, which will certainly not be turkey, and then go for drive in my TVR to somewhere nice in the Yorkshire countryside and enjoy a walk.

The TV offerings are usually garbage at this time of year, so when I get in, I’ll probably listen to some LPs and read a good book in the evening with a nice glass of beer (not lager). I’ll be as happy as anyone else in Britain.

BBC News.com

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