NEW YORK — For most Americans, major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are an opportunity to gather with family and friends. But some folks choose to spend those holidays alone — not because they have nobody to celebrate with, but as a way of unplugging from busy lives and creating a serene, relaxing day. They might take a hike or a bath, read a book or just spend time reflecting.
For Ben Freedland of Austin, Texas, the holidays are a “crazy time.” He runs his own fashion business, Zink, and between extra orders, website traffic and pop-up stores, “we do so much business in those weeks,” he said.
As a result, he often spends Thanksgiving “alone in order to decompress, relax, have time to myself, to gather my thoughts for the busy holiday season. ... You know nobody will be calling you or emailing anything that’s work-related.”
He feels obligated to have turkey, even dining solo, but usually picks up a meal to go from Whole Foods.
Dagny McKinley, an author, blogger and photographer who lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, has “spent birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s alone. For me, having a day of peace and quiet is the best way I can spend any day.”
Her routine is “to get up early, go for a long hike with my dog, come home and clean the house, cook a favorite meal — either spaghetti or roast beef — take my dog for another good walk, take a long bath and read a book.”
Alena Gerst, a New York City-based psychotherapist whose practice focuses on the “mind-body connection,” says it’s not surprising that some folks decide to “opt out of the frenzy” surrounding the holidays. Many people feel emotional and financial stress connected to shopping, gift-giving and traveling to holiday gatherings, while others may experience “anxiety about spending time with family members whose company leaves them feeling worse off.”
As a result, Gerst said, “opting to spend one or more of the holidays completely alone to tend to one’s own emotional, physical and financial health can become its own cherished tradition.”
But it is important to distinguish between “solitude and loneliness,” says J.W. Freiberg, an attorney, social psychologist and author of a book called “Four Seasons of Loneliness: A Lawyer’s Case Stories,” which chronicles four cases where extreme social isolation left individuals “no ally when trauma entered their lives.” Being “anxiously disconnected from others” is very different from choosing to be “peacefully alone, which is something we all do and need to do,” he said.
Someone who is extra busy at work in the lead-up to Christmas and then “exhales” with a day spent alone, “to the extent that that’s a reflection of finding a moment of peace and calm, we can all understand that,” Freiburg said.
Jayo Miko Macasaquit, a human resources manager for a nonprofit in Oakland, has spent Christmas alone nearly every year for the past five years. Macasaquit says that’s partly due to his unusual upbringing as a “Filipino-born, New Zealand citizen who grew up in a very Mormon-like religious environment that prohibited celebration of most of the major holidays,” including Christmas and Easter.
“It sucked not getting presents, but I’ve come to appreciate always being situated on the outskirts of the mainstream looking in,” Macasaquit said.
He’s also come to enjoy using Christmas breaks to undertake “a mini-reinvention” of himself: “One break I took up baking bread in an aggressive way. Another break I picked up all my instruments again in a serious way. This break I’ll probably go on a trip by myself and record something, who knows.”