“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” Judy Garland croons from the Bluetooth speaker perched on my family’s end table. The bittersweet classic is a Christmas favorite of mine. The song became famous in the 1944 musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” when, near the end, Garland’s character, Esther, encourages her little sister to have joy despite their family’s troubles.
As singles, many of us can use a dose of Esther’s advice.
“Joy to the World”
Christians know the meaning of Christmas. We sing about the baby away in a manger. We preach that Christ our savior is born. We sing again that glorious song of old that came upon a midnight clear. But knowing and living within the story are two different things.
As the streetlights and stoplights blink bright red and green and the shoppers rush home with their treasures, so many of us get lost in all this bustle. It can feel like consumerism has hijacked the holidays. All the while Hollywood and Hallmark drench us in the romantic side of the season, until we can’t help belting out with Mariah Carey, “Santa won’t you bring me the one I really need? Won’t you please bring my baby to me?” As singles, we could swap “Santa” with “God” and find Carey’s song too often becomes our Christmas prayer — all we want for Christmas is a relationship.
Nostalgia reigns during the holidays, and we reminisce with loved ones about the Christmases we used to know. In the midst of remembering, those things that have not changed can feel particularly poignant. We see our friends falling in love and getting married, many starting families of their own. For those of us facing yet another Christmas alone, it can feel like time is going forward for everyone else. The holidays can be equally painful for those who are single again, whether through the death of a spouse or the end of marriage. With so many distractions and emotions, how do we find our way back to the hallowed manger ground and experience that hope-drenched joy to the world?
For those willing to look, the answer might be found in Advent, the season of now-and-not-yet.
“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”
In the traditional Christian calendar, Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and lasts through Christmas Eve.
Historically Advent is a time of repentance as we prepare ourselves for that future day when Christ comes again. We grieve the brokenness of the world and look forward to the ending of tears and sorrow. In the reflective nature of Advent, singles can find particular comfort. Unwanted singleness is part of the global brokenness; God himself said: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) Even as we grieve the wrongs of the world, we can remember that Christ has come and will come again to restore all things. That hope can help us rediscover the joy of Christmas as we celebrate Christ’s first coming and the promise of His return.
Yet as we watch our friends planning Christmas weddings or coming up with yet another Elf on the Shelf prank for their children, it can be tempting to lament yet another blue, blue Christmas. Elisabeth Elliot wrote famously in “Passion and Purity,” “Refuse self-pity. Refuse it absolutely. It is a deadly thing with power to destroy you.” As a woman who was widowed twice and spent much of her adult life alone, Elliot knew the temptation to wallow at times. Her advice is direct: “Turn your thoughts to Christ who has already carried your griefs and sorrows.”
Christmas is the perfect time to reorient our focus. So as the holidays began looming once again, I polled some single friends for tips to avoid the comparison trap.
Select an Advent or Christmas devotional to be part of your daily spiritual practice. My friend Brandon recommends this tradition. “I go through one a year, and they keep me contemplative and focused on Christ’s advent and the sacredness of the season.” Many devotional options are available online, from free downloadable resources such as “Good News of Great Joy” by John Piper to books such as “God Is in the Manger,” which features the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
During this season consider keeping a gratitude journal like the one Ann Voskamp describes here; write down the blessings all around you. Or make a list of people who have blessed you this year and send thank-you cards to them. As we open our eyes to the daily gifts — most particularly the gift of Christ — we will begin to experience the joy that is ours through Him. In “One Thousand Gifts” Voskamp wrote, “God asks me to give thanks in all things, because he knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving.”
Though becoming cliché, this advice is true — unplugging fosters contentment with what you have. Instagram and Facebook can turn into a merriment contest as couples and families show off all they are doing to make the holidays bright. The same principle applies to movies and music. If you are feeling especially lonely, choose entertainment that focuses on the real meaning of Christmas instead of yet another holiday love story.
Be a light.
One of the most prominent themes of Advent is light overcoming the darkness. In “Let Me Be a Woman” Elisabeth Elliot wrote about singles “whose lives were rich and fruitful because they understood a paradoxical spiritual principle: ‘If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.’” What better way to commemorate Advent than to participate in the light that Christ brings into the world?
My friend Candace aptly said, “Looking for opportunities to help others and/or share the gospel during this opportune time of the year can refocus our attention away from ourselves.” You may not have children of your own to shop for, but you could shop for a needy child in your community through programs like Angel Tree. Instead of dwelling on your own loneliness, reach out to others in your community who might need some holiday cheer, such as those in skilled care facilities or older singles. (Miriam Neff wrote, “Loneliness and solitude are not descriptive enough of the space that becomes the cocoon of the widow.”)
Start new traditions.
While you may love nostalgia, starting your own traditions can help you find your own place in the season. Why not host an ugly sweater party or Christmas movie trivia night as a way to bring light to some others who are lonely? Buy several boxes of graham crackers and have a mock gingerbread house-decorating contest. My friend Kristen has been making new traditions, including attending local parades and concerts, as well as throwing a Christmas dinner. For a more solo activity, whip up some holiday treats, put them in festive tubs, and hand-deliver them. (This fudge is an easy and delicious place to start.)
Going home (or staying home) for the holidays can be a challenge. With people or situations that leave you feeling left out, setting boundaries can help. Kristen said, “I ensure time alone to pray and recharge; it is vital as an introvert.” She also books her own hotel room when she visits family, which she said has “removed the reminder of not fitting in the traditional mold of a single in her late 30s, as I am not relegated to an air mattress or hard futon.” While setting boundaries can be difficult, Kristen said, “If I am not focused on feeling like a square peg in the midst of round holes, I am able to shift focus onto the true reason for us all coming together: celebrating the birth of Christ.”
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Elliot writes, “Accept your loneliness. It is one stage, and only one stage, on a journey that brings you to God. It will not always last.” The pangs of loneliness are real, but they are not eternal. We have the same hope in Christ as all believers. Christ has come, and Christ will come again for eternity. So, have yourself a merry little Christmas now. Don’t wait.
Copyright 2018 Candice Gage. All rights reserved.