I got one Christmas with him.
After 28 years of singleness, I was so excited that I was in a relationship for the holidays. The fact that we spent Christmas on separate continents couldn’t dampen my joy. I had someone who I could spoil at Christmas, kiss under the mistletoe (when he surprised me with a brief visit in December), and receive that “Merry Christmas!” text from.
Our relationship was just beginning, and I pictured many big, cozy, family Christmases to come. My dream was coming true.
By February it had fallen apart.
The year leading up to that next Christmas is not one I wish to relive. I lost my stepfather in a sudden and tragic way, ended my first serious relationship and was told by my biological father that my geographical distance from him meant I wasn’t the priority. It didn’t help that my cozy, family-filled holiday season had already shattered seven years earlier, when my parents got divorced.
Now, with a series of broken relationships (of all types) behind me, I faced my first holiday season not only single, but with my overall situation being far from ideal.
For many like myself, the holidays represent a lot of expectation. Growing up, the Christmas season seemed like perfection to me. The holidays represented family time, good food and cozy fires. As a single adult, I have felt like I’ll never reclaim those warm and magical feelings.
When I was a kid, on Christmas Eve the house would be filled with the smell of cinnamon. After the turkey had been devoured and the dishes stacked high in the sink, my parents, aunts, uncles and family friends would curl up in the living room to sip warm eggnog and tell old family stories. I loved this time of year and to this day, a house crammed with people always warms my heart.
Soon we would hear Santa’s bells and all of the children would scurry up to the bedroom, because we knew that Santa wouldn’t come if the children see him. To keep us out of Santa’s path, the mamas would barricade the door and bribe us with a piece of Grandma’s cake and more hot chocolate. We tried to push back our eagerness to run down the stairs to see the tree consumed by presents.
It felt perfect. Nothing could go wrong, and all was right with the world. The days preceding Christmas were filled with countdowns to Santa, Grandpa reading the Christmas story, and way too many shortbread cookies.
Picking Up the Pieces
It’s been five years since my first and only Christmas in a relationship. I look back on that Christmas fondly, mainly, but not only, because I was finally facing all the brokenness with someone by my side—someone to hold me up and encourage me in the difficult moments.
Whether you’re a long-time member of the “single Christmas club” or you’re “single again” this year, facing the holiday without a significant other or strong emotional bonds can be heartbreaking. You may be feeling helpless to put back together the pieces to form a “happy” holiday.
I can’t tell you how to mend your own broken relationships or find healing. But these simple practices have helped me find joy in the brokenness.
Acknowledge your pain.
Holidays can be hard for everyone, including young adults. It’s OK to be angry, hurt, and to grieve unmet expectations. As I’ve acknowledged these feelings, they have loosened their control over me. Share your feelings with a trusted friend or write a letter to the person or about the experience causing the pain. Seal the envelope and throw it away or shred it.
Simply releasing the feelings of pain and hurt can let the light of hope and joy into your heart. The first Christmas my parents divorced, I had to spend Christmas Eve with my mom and then join my dad’s new family for the morning celebrations. I made it through with a happy, cheerful demeanor, but when I returned home, I broke down.
God brought Psalm 22:24 to mind: “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.” I went to my mom and she told me it was OK to be angry, but that God would be my comfort.
Create a space that brings you joy.
Whether you live in your own home or share with roommates, decorate! Declutter, clean up and create a holiday environment that makes you feel happy. I have lived in everything from a shared flat to my own tiny studio apartment. Each year, I have taken the time to make my space feel like it did during childhood Christmases.
It’s amazing how much a dollar store garland, some decorations and a lot of candles will renew your sense of joy and wonder at Christmastime. Even if the budget is tight, we live in a world of Pinterest with simple crafts using household items. And if you’re really strapped for cash, pop some popcorn and grab a bag of cranberries to string your very own handmade (read: hipster) piece of décor.
I’ve lived in Sweden and the Swedes have it right. Their concept of “mys” meaning “cozy” (and the Danish tradition “hygge”) is to create an environment inside which shelters you from the harsh reality of long, dark winters and combats seasonal depression through warm and cozy environments.
I used to call them “Orphan Christmases.” My flatmates, friends and I invited anyone and everyone without a place to go for our frequent celebrations throughout the season. These get-togethers were never complicated and very rarely expensive.
Notice the people around you—new friends, old friends—and gather together to celebrate the season. Go ice skating, decorate cookies, make snow angels, have a Christmas-themed pancake breakfast, cook soup on Christmas eve. Community heals.
Use this season to celebrate the wonderful memories of childhood, or to create new ones. Whatever you do, don’t isolate yourself. Being around people will allow you to look past the pain of the season and focus on joy as you support each other and celebrate the birth of the Savior.
Give as much as you can.
We all may be facing different financial situations, but we all have something to give. One of my all-time favorite Thanksgivings was spent in Rockaway, in New York City. Hundreds of women, including many who would be flying solo throughout the holidays, gathered together through our church to volunteer.
We divided into groups and found people who needed Thanksgiving dinner. About 15 of us each donated one item to build each dinner. As we all showed up at different homes, mainly of elderly and childless widows, we contributed out of our abundance.
Not only did serving others feel great, but I also learned a lot about dealing with grief. The beautiful soul I was honored to serve had been through so much in her life, and listening to her story enabled me to heal and to find hope in my own story.
Last year, with no money or time to travel across the world to be with even part of my family, I opened my doors to friends. My bestie and I had a quiet but hilarious Christmas Eve, opening presents and drinking spicy hot chocolate. (I blame the craving on our South American heritage.) We then Skyped with family from around the world.
The next morning we ate “Breakfast Pizza” and watched Christmas movies. By afternoon we had prepared a traditional German dinner (in Sweden) and invited four friends to join us to celebrate the day. We didn’t have significant others to cuddle with, of course, but our day was amazing nonetheless. Whatever happens this Christmas, or in future ones, I’m confident some of these traditions will carry on throughout our lives, infusing new life into the holidays.
Maybe this December (or this year) has been a rough one for you. This Christmas let the reality of God sending His own Son into a sinful, broken world remind you that you are so incredibly loved. No matter how broken your current season may feel, Jesus came to fix broken things—including Christmases.
Copyright 2016 Michelle Plett. All rights reserved.