The Single Person’s Holiday Playbook

“Home Alone” Holidays —
without the tears

(Make this your LAST awkward holiday!)

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Note: If you’re jumping over from the 2016 edited reblog
[How to navigate those “Home Alone” Holidays]

scroll down to “NOW let’s really shake things up”
to read the remainder of the article (with the TIPS)

ENOUGH with the questions!

Whether we are alone by choice or circumstance, holidays can be, at best, awkward.

Found on: Lolsnaps

“Have any plans for the upcoming holiday?” is asked even by total strangers trying to be friendly in grocery lines.

ANY version of, “Not really,” is something they do NOT, actually, want to hear, and not something that most of us who are already feeling marooned are eager to utter aloud.

No Mom, s/he’s not coming

As any single person who’s ever gone “HOME for the holidays” can probably tell you, being “unpartnered” during special family events can present a unique set of challenges, especially the first time.

From feeling awkward, maybe a bit defensive about your lack-of-relationship status this time, all the way to feeling that you must either “ruin everyone’s holiday with a display of pique” -or- grit your teeth and bear it as you attempt to find a way to politely field unintentionally rude inquiries about why you happen to be alone.

The Formerly Familied

Far too many individuals who are divorced, widowed, separated (or outliving their friends and families) find solo-holidays sad and depressing.

A friend of mine, an emotionally healthy, extremely self-reliant, empty-nest single parent says her married kids “make other plans” for major holidays every other year at minimum.

She really doesn’t resent the reality that the kids have their own lives, hope to start their own family traditions, and deserve to feel unconflicted about making holiday plans that won’t always include her,  BUT . . .

She says that she can’t face cooking a holiday meal for one OR going to a restaurant alone when everyone but her seems to have somebody celebrating WITH them.

She also finds it unbearably depressing to fuff around in her pajamas and slippers ALL day, even though she feels like she is “all dressed up with no place to go” if she doesn’t.

Reaching out to help others?

Even singles who volunteer at soup kitchens and so on have to make it through at least a portion of the day totally alone, at a time that was once known for family get-togethers.

Even the ones who are teetotalers tell me that the idea of becoming a regular at their town’s version of the Cheers bar crosses their minds more than a few times, just to have somewhere to go and a few people to talk to on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Eve.

Different ways to make it work . . .

Since I have spent most of the major holidays alone for many years now, I’m hoping that I will be able to help you look at things in ways you haven’t already thought of, tried and rejected.

In any case, I’m not planning to rehash the holiday survival tips already found all over the internet (but in case you have missed a few bloggy ideas, check out the articles under the Related Articles ’round the net heading in the links below.)

So read on . . .


Don’t forget that you can always check out the sidebar
for a reminder of how links work on this site, they’re subtle ==>

Wikepedia: Norman Rockwell

The Expectations Mismatch

Even those of us who love to shake things up relatively often tend to be traditionalists-at-heart where the major holidays are concerned. That tendency can make mood-management more difficult than it needs to be, however.

We are in danger of falling into a black and white thinking trap all too easily – then making ourselves and the holiday wrong if we aren’t able to reproduce every single element!

Make-wrong, by the way, is a term bandied about easily in the coaching community and, for the rest of you, it means exactly what you probably think it does.

Make-wrong is a particular view of the world and human interaction that appears to maintain that there is some single appropriate-and-proper way that things are to be handled and languaged (and that the person on the receiving end of any not-so-subtle comments is somehow NOT behaving appropriately, according to “the rules of the universe as absolutes in polite society.”)

It’s not always easy to put your finger on, but
most of us have been on the receiving end far too often!

What’s really sad is that, given enough exposure, most of us internalize the make-wrong to the extent that we begin to do it to ourselves!

Where the holidays are concerned, we can hardly be blamed for wanting to recreate that special glow we so fondly recall – but the instant it begins to slide over into SHOULD territory, we’re setting ourselves up for misery.

So what’s a poor Single to DO?

Before reading further,
it might help to check out THESE posts
for a different perspective:


NOW let’s really shake things up

Before we can make friends with navigating the holidays solo, we need to realize somewhere d-e-e-p in our core that things have changed – and that “change” is not necessarily the same as “worsened.”  (Depending on the reasons we find ourselves alone, of course, that will be more difficult for some of us to accept.)

However, as long as we keep dragging our expectations back to the past, we’re going to have to live with fresh disappointment every single moment of every single holiday.

We really don’t WANT anything to change
we simply want things to be different!

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that nothing stays the same forever. Even when things stay fundamentally the same, they change.

  • Hosting gets old as people grow older, so the venues change, even if the cast of characters remains the same.
  • Children grow up and partner – so the cast changes, even if nobody ever leaves the fold.
  • Deployment, work transfers and in-law desires create holes in your family tapestry sometimes.
  • Even if the expectation is that things can and will return to “normal” at some point in the future, normal is a sliding scale.  And that, as it turns out, is not a good thing!

“Almost normal” can be a heart-breaker —
BIG Changes are somehow easier to deal with.

We do not miss what we are not reminded of.

Change the Date

Yep! That’s the first BIG change I recommend. Let everybody off the should hook by celebrating on a different day altogether.  Permanently.

FOR EXAMPLE: I celebrate Christmas on January 6th, known as Epiphany, or Twelfth Night (12 days after Christmas), and have let December 25th become a much more laissez-faire situation.  (For more: click the links directly above to check out 2 brief articles, including the rationale behind how my own change came about initially).

  • Some years I mark the occasion with friends who invite me to join their celebrations. Times when I receive a last-minute invite I don’t have to wonder if perhaps they feel obligated (or worse, sorry for me!).

I also feel totally free to accept or decline a last-minute invitation — I either have no other plans, or “already have plans” (to spend it in bed!)

  • Some years I make it to a candlelight service, either alone or with anyone else interested in a Christmas glow of a different sort, and
  • Some years I remain happily in my Christmas Jammies all day, reading or listening to my vast collection of Christmas music while I sip my Christmas Cheer out of a fancy glass, and maybe place a few calls.  After all, my own celebration is still practically two weeks away – and there are no ghosts of childhood past to haunt that day.

Thanksgiving moves all over the map all by itself

Another adorable Phillip Martin Graphic

What’s the big deal about moving it around a bit more?  And changing the menu, if we feel like it? It’s not exactly like those Pilgrims left accurate records for us to follow, right?

Because my birthday is November 29th and Thanksgiving can fall as late as November 28th, I have been known to shuffle the date I cook for the big pig-out for most of my adult life, so that I can maintain a bit of reserve to be able to enjoy my own birthday every year.

Years I don’t feel up to fussing at all, I don’t, without worrying that I’m disappointing anyone.   After all, they probably celebrated Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day – so my observation is a should-free holiday for me.

  • So whenever I have decided to invite others to get grateful with me that freed me up to host a spaghetti dinner, if I chose – or even a potluck soup supper, should I have the urge but not the sheckels.  I LOVE the idea of honoring the spirit of the holiday, gratitude in community, without the pressure of honoring the actual date or accustomed menu.
  • Those of you who live in larger cities and towns and have been used to home-cooked Thanksgiving feasts are probably unaware of how GOOD restaurant turkey-lurky meals tend to be, should you decide you can’t face a Thanksgiving Day without turkey.

Even though the prix-fixe menu was traditional, a single girlfriend and I had one of the best meals of my life one Thanksgiving — a last minute decision to venture out together to a 3-star restaurant in a well-known hotel in New York City.  After all, the chef had a reputation to uphold! (The price was relatively reasonable as well!)

Most hotel restaurants are open for the holidays, by the way – so dial around to find out serving times, costs and reservation policies.

I highly doubt that, in that setting, you will find yourself the ONLY person eating alone – the food will probably be delightful, and you might just meet your new best friend who is doing the very same thing you are.

Ride the horse in the direction it’s going

Another adorable Phillip Martin Graphic

Expand the concept.

Think about ALL the holidays that make you sad to be alone, and change the date. Rename the holiday if it strikes your fancy or tickles your funny-bone.

Decide to celebrate UN-Valentines Day, for example, or The Easter Bunny’s Birthday instead of a fancy Easter dinner (or The Autumnal Solstice Gathering rather than the yearly Halloween Party that you once hosted with your spouse).

Change your own expectations to fit your new reality.  In other words, ride the horse in the direction it’s going.

THAT leaves you free on the actual holiday itself to do whatever you choose, by yourself or with a brand new community.  No expectations, no shoulds.

Click below to check out Molly’s hysterical post sharing
Talking points for lump free dialogue
Scroll DOWN to read about her Thanksgiving breakfast with her married son.

Decide what’s important about each holiday

Really think about this one, because it’s not as easy as it sounds.  What’s important to YOU – not what’s important to you because it has always been important to someone in your life.

I have a friend who would miss making a variety of pies and dozens upon dozens of Christmas cookies for friends and family (with a few dozen to nibble on throughout November and December herself).  While others certainly adore her home-baked goodies, she really doesn’t do it for them as much as for her own experience of holiday joy.  It wouldn’t feel like the holidays to her if she wasn’t spending a great deal of time in the kitchen.

Except for a glass or two of purchased eggnog in December, I have discovered that I’ve never really been all that invested in special holiday meals or noshes. I love them, of course, but they’re not what makes the holidays truly special – for me.

One Christmas dinner in Knoxville actually turned out to be a hastily-grabbed couple of hot dogs (following the oh-so-standard appetizer of a chocolate-dipped vanilla soft-serve cone) — from a fast food drive-through I passed on my way to a party!

That would be the killer of all holiday joy for someone more on the order of one of the network food divas, while my baking friend might be happy as a clam making a Christmas or Thanksgiving supper of her own home-baked cookies and slices of pies!

I myself care most about the SET!

Decorating the White House (Michelle Obama-Instagram)

For me, it’s about the way my living space looks. I would feel as if I were being punished for the entire Christmas season if I didn’t have decorations throughout my abode.

In years past, for example, I spent a great deal of time – all by myself – putting up differently themed trees in every room, lighted garlands around most doorways and windows, candles in all front-facing windows,  a wreath on every door to every room, my entire collection of stockings, Santas of all sorts and sizes, and a host of Byers Choice Carolers displayed somewhere (and more!) — and I loved every minute of it!!!

Think I’m kidding?
Check out Christmas Happy Christmas!
for my 2014 Christmas Prep!

Now that I am getting older, I am just beginning to feel the need to pare it down! For the first time this year, it felt like work.  So I am asking myself what I would really miss if I didn’t haul it out and put it on display.

Since I haven’t been blessed with the White House staff of decorators or a cadre of worker elves, I’m also wondering if it might be worth it to replace a bazillion-and-two smaller items with one or two B-I-G ones that go up and come down in a flash.

But it is up to ME – my Holiday Season polls are not open for voting.  We must each take a ruthlessly honest look to decide what elements make each holiday uniquely our own and make sure we do that for ourselves, even if it means we must jettison a great deal that has always come along for the ride.

Announce the News early, as you think about planning

The thing that will make this big change work is the fact that it is a big CHANGE – so let everyone in your life know well ahead of time that you have decided to follow the lead of your loved ones and intend to celebrate your holidays quite differently from this point on.  (NOW isn’t too early for next Thanksgiving and Christmas, by the way.)

So even if your entire extended family suddenly decides to make themselves available for one of the major holidays in the future, be prepared in your mind to make sure that they realize that somebody else is going to have to host the holiday, unless they all want to “visit” your new tradition, moving the celebration to the day you will now be observing (and you really are okay with hosting again).

The idea is to permanently shift your expectations of what is going to happen on the day that most people celebrate.  You may well be amazed at how willing others are to celebrate with YOU on a different day in a different way, but stick to your guns, even if they’re not.

Don’t set yourself for a miserable holiday time (and a good hit of resentment) when nobody is available down the line.  Make sure you “set things up so that you get to win” — even if you spend most of your holidays alone in the future.

AS ALWAYS, comments are encouraged and eagerly awaited – EVEN from Grinches – as long as you don’t make individual people wrong, and do your best to avoid the dreaded “should” word, I will approve all comers (link-spammers shot on sight, however).

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

17 Responses to The Single Person’s Holiday Playbook

  1. Pingback: Friday Fun: Happy Thanksgiving! | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: How to navigate those “Home Alone” Holidays | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  3. Pingback: Happy Turkey Day! | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  4. Steve Richie says:

    Just want to wish you a Happy New Year, Madelyn, from li’l ole lonely me! I am teasing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nick Stokes says:

    Nothing worse than staying home alone. Happened to me couple of times and I have never been as depressed. Swore that it will never happen again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It goes both ways for me, Nick. Some years have been non-stop work and I have felt practically exhausted by the time the holidays rolled around, so a jammy day alone felt perfect. Other years, I h-a-d to get out and do SOMETHING or I’d feel like I was on house arrest!

      For me, the main thing is choice. If I leave my holiday celebrations in anyone else’s hands, I’m setting myself up for major depression if things turn out to be a bust. I learned THAT the hard way!

      Happy New Year.


  6. wendy says:

    I like the idea of celebrating holidays on different days, we try to have the spirit of gratitude and giving all year so I get a bit sad that so many people seem to only get the “SPIRT” at a certain time of year. I do like decorating a bit, but it’s just been too hard the last couple of years. And I love to cook, now I can’t do that. So we normally have Chinese. A treat for me because it has too much sodium. We curl up and watch It’s a Wonderful Life every Christmas Eve, in honor of my mom. That’s all.

    This year it didn’t feel like Christmas here until the day. Stuart got a racetrack…we had a ball playin with cars like kids. It was like an old time Christmas. Getting down in the floor and playing with your toys. Haha.

    Normally we only have things we need. We are minimalist. This year I asked him to put o his wish list somethings he wanted that he would never buy for himself that were I practical…so I got him something I wanted too…hee hee.

    New years is hard for me. It was my mom’s birthday. I used to always call her as close to midnight as I could. So it’s hard now. I haven’t figured out a way to make that one easier.

    A good article. Thank you.


    Liked by 1 person

    • A good friend of mine’s mother died in his arms on Christmas Eve. That kind of thing you never get over – as you will never really make friends with not celebrating your Mom’s birthday.

      I miss NYC most on New Years Eve – because the way that I celebrated yearly during the 20 years I lived there is simply not available anywhere else on earth – and I miss it terribly. It’s almost happier for me to stay in.

      One thing I like to do on “homebound” New Years Eves is to put on the Christmas music, fix a festive drink (often times simply strong coffee with a ton of whipped cream – but sometimes mulled wine or spiced cider – or spiked eggnog), and hunker down on the couch with my journal to revisit the past year and set some intentions for the upcoming one.

      It sounds like you guys had a GREAT Christmas (Chinese, lol) — what a loving thing for you to do to ask him for something on his wish list that was NOT “practical,” and how smart to make it a gift you could enjoy together.

      Here’s to 2016 being wonderful for you – happy and healthy (and for me too!)



      • wendy says:

        How horrible for your friend. We spent last night curled up watching movies…Stuart went to kiss me at midnight and I said “wait, wait…we have to see this part!” Then I realized what was happening, and we could back the movie up…duh. I think we kept my mind off of things.

        Today a normal day filled with a migraine, but plenty of stories about my mom. Making it special instead of sad.

        My best to you for the new year. May it be an easy year filled with much love and joy. ☺

        Love you.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Your New Years Eve sounds warm and wonderful – did you win the sweet man lottery or WHAT?!

          My friend’s partner has an inconsiderate Scrooge for a boss, so their NY’s plans fell thru at 3pm on NYE day because some (supposedly automated) monthly reports weren’t done right and ALL had to be fixed manually and submitted before midnight — for the second year in a row, btw – so the boss has NO excuse for not checking *much* earlier (like all along maybe?) I would have said some version of “Not by ME!” – which is probably another good reason why I can’t work for anyone but myself, huh?

          Anyway, my friend came along with me to my very own version of the Cheers bar (right down the street – where they let me bring TinkerToy!). We got there shortly before 11 and stayed for an hour or two after the champagne toasts were over. Tink thoroughly enjoyed seeing all his fans (it’s on our walk route, so they know him there because we often stop in to get out of the weather for a minute).

          Not only was a good time had by all, I got to dress up a bit. I’ll take any excuse to deck; I SO miss the formal occasions of NYC here in Cincinnati where every day seems to be casual Friday. Tink wore his Christmas Elf coat with the addition of a bow tie. We weren’t the only ones who decked for the event, but close! (Not that it ever matters to me what others choose to wear)

          You do tend to get “overserved” in that bar, however, so I woke up with a bit of a headache (so I’m glad it’s only once a year!)

          Again, HAPPY New Year: my best to you in 2016, my dear friend.



          • wendy says:

            I’m so glad you and your friend were at least able to go out and get decked out and ring in the new year. I know it’s not New York, but we make our happiness where we are don’t we?

            And yep, I did win the lottery with my hubby, I had to get something right didn’t I?

            I did update my blog about the plans for upcoming treatments for me. 2016 just might be a pretty decent year, it’s starting off scary with and hopeful. I’ll take it.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. janetkwest says:

    I had never heard the term Make-Wrong but we all know what it feels like. Excellent tips for all us. I have a couple of friends who are like minded and we created our own holiday tradition for Christmas. We renamed it and celebrate it in our own wacky way. I love your writing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • How do I hate thee, let me count the ways (this is me making my computer wrong, Firefox wrong, Adobe Flash updates wrong) – because I have had to reboot my computer over and over and OVER as I attempted to respond to your comment, Janet – YOU, however, I love, and I adore your writing, as I’ve said many times (but nobody gets too much acknowledgment, huh?)

      Your holiday tradition sounds wonderful – I wish we lived closer so that I could celebrate with YOU!

      In January I hope to get a Geek in here to straighten out whatever is wrong, along with purchasing a new-to-me laptop, so perhaps being – um, attempting to be – online won’t be such a toleration, so that I can get back to regular visits.

      Happy New Year. I’m ready for 2016 to make up for the 2 years prior!


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