3 Tips for surviving the holidays as a single person

betty ming liu Inspiration, Relationships 8 Comments

What a relief. After a dozen post-divorce years of figuring out how to deal with the holidays, I actually had a very happy, stress-free Thanksgiving. Now I’m sailing into the Christmas season feeling very serene. And grasshoppers, there is no turning back.

This relaxed positivity is totally new. The initial phase as  a single mom was quite frantic. It seemed both un-American AND anti-Asian/anti-family to spend the holidays on our own. Even with my little girl in tow, it still felt “alone” back then because it was only the two of us. We did a lot of hopping around, landing with either family or friends. After nearly a decade, this got pretty exhausting. It was time to reorganize….

So right before Thanksgiving 2009, I told my daughter that we were going to start a new tradition of trying something different every year. We would experiment and see what we liked. That particular November, we went to New York City and helped to feed the homeless. Afterwards, we grabbed a bite at Buddha Bodai, a vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown.

Then in 2010, we went to a Thanksgiving night Nicki Minaj concert in midtown Manhattan. It was the first time either of us had been to a hip hop concert! Right before the show, we were back at Buddha Bodai for a quick bite. As for 2011, we had our first traditional turkey dinner in Manhattan, at the lovely home of a friend. That was memorable too.

And this year? Well, our new adventure was to plan NOTHING. But on Nov. 22, we decided, hey, let’s go back to Buddha Bodai. So we drove down and it was so interesting. The restaurant was busier than in Thanksgivings past. There were also more non-Asians than ever before — mostly white folks. Could it be that other people are breaking away from the traditional turkey day routine too?

We ordered a lot had took home a bunch of doggie bags:

I don’t know if we’ll be back at Buddha Bodai in 2013. The point is, ho hum, who cares? Anything goes. Some people have the joys of a big family tradition filled with lots of people and food. For us, there is the freedom to do whatever we want.

It’s been a long haul to get to this contented state. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:

Tip #1: It’s okay to feel lonely. The first few post-divorce years were tough, like going through holiday de-tox. Looking back, I can see this was normal and necessary. It was important to let go.

Tip #2: Experimentation leads to new options. It takes real effort to try different things during a period that celebrates tradition. But getting out and about was the only way to figure out what else might be fun.

Tip #3: There is no such thing as the perfect holiday or perfect family. In the past, I attached so much symbolism to the season and basically set myself up to feel pathetic. But the truth is, nobody has everything. The goal is to fully appreciate what I have.

Going forward, there will be new challenges. I see a future where the holidays will have me more and more on my own. The kid already spends alternating Christmases with her daddy. But even more important, she is growing up and will soon have her own life and plans — depending on where she ends up in this world, some years, the holidays might not include her parents at all.

In other words, this is just the beginning of me getting a life. Well, bring it on!


And here are two earlier related posts that you might like:

Holiday Season and Divorce: 10 Survival Skills (Nov. 25, 2010)

Chinese vegetarian at Buddha Bodai (Oct. 18, 2009)

Also worth reading…a fabulous, info-packed New York Time travel story:

Single for the Holidays (Nov. 2, 2012)


Comments 8

  1. Here’s another tip that has worked well for me for many years – start your Christmas shopping in January. If you have a lot of people on your present list – as I do – shop all year long using garage/yard sales. thrift shops and flea markets as a major resource. Wonderful things turn up in such places at absurdly cheap prices but you need to be a regular haunter of those venues to find them as they appear. Then you bag and tag the items and put them in one place – a closet or where ever, where you will know to find them when the season approaches. Having done this all year I have not only satisfied my love of shopping but when Black Friday rolls around, I can look on the crazy mobs from a distance because I’m already in the gift wrapping phase and the whole gift giving aspect of the holidays has been transformed from a high stress, last minute pressure situation into a relaxed, year long hobby.

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    Toby, you hit the nail on the head — it’s the pressure that makes the holidays so difficult. Of course, the definition of “pressure” varies for each of us. I love this idea of yours. Thanks for sharing.

    Does anyone else have tips? Or would you like to share how your Thanksgiving went — and how your upcoming December holidays look? This should be a season of fun. I am done with being a bah-humbug single woman grump. :)

  3. Hi, Betty: You figured it out a solution sooner than many of us singles! I discovered kind of late in life that if I was too anxious about holiday invitations, lack thereof,or which of several should be accepted, I should do events myself. So when the hard part of my training years were over (during which I often worked on holidays), I started my own holiday family gatherings. Once in control of the guest list, the menu, and the date and time of the event (not always the holiday, sometimes a day or two before or after), I got less nutsy. Now my anxiety was about whether the food would all be finished on time, whether it would be hot enough when served, and whether feuding family members would behave, etc., which I thought an improvement over worrying how I fit in. And the effort wasn’t wasted. After many years of doing Christmas, a new family member by marriage, who has liked these “galas” with lots of family, is taking over teh lead role of Christmas from me. Hallelujah! Now I get to have my cake and eat it too! What resonates for me with your posting is that when one takes charge, things improve, at least in some areas of the psyche.

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    Gerry, you sound so happy in this comment! The concept that stuck out for me was that you got into the big dinner planning after your work schedule freed up. I guess that’s part of having control too — knowing when you want something. It’s really important to be clear on the heart’s desires. And those desires can change, which is critical to the equation too. As you say, a newer family member is taking over Christmas. Now THAT’s a real holiday tradition worth celebrating — the sharing of the planning!

    I’m also glad you posted this comment because it reminds me that there is a fluidity to this process. Maybe someday, when my day-to-day schedule is less hectic, I’ll want to plan a big holiday dinner too. :)

  5. Great entry, Betty. Like most fortunate American kids, I loved the holidays but that feeling disappeared at the age of 23 when I found myself standing in the middle of Market St in San Francisco two days before Christmas wondering, WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE? (After that, I stopped giving into the consumer madness.) For a few years I enjoyed having a boyfriend to attend holiday parties with, but after we broke up I started dreading the holidays again (it’s not like they were that great with him anyway). During last Thursday’s morning meditation, I was given a reminder – I can’t control anyone. It’s my choice to make the experience fun or miserable and I choose to make it fun. As stressful as the days leading up to the big event might feel sometimes, it’s not going to be this way forever and rather than focus on all the things I’d like to change, I learned to accept my family for who they are (and I’m sure they’ve done the same for me). In the end, I had a great time eating more carbs than I probably “should,” but that’s another story. Thanks for sharing. I always enjoy reading your blog.

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    Taylor! How nice to hear from you. Hope you’re having a good holiday season. Hugs!

    And Christie, so happy that you’re here too. I appreciate knowing that you’re out there reading! That image of you in SF as a lost soul is so vivid. How great that you ca return to the nest now with more compassion and delight. Not everyone can do that. Congrats to you for finding your sense of self. Never easy but you did it!!

  7. Bety,
    Your post got me thinking more than most. Thinking of the many thanksgivings and holidays I have spent with family and “Alone”. I have been single and alone for a long time. When I was young we would go to my grandparents house and have a big meal and watch the football game. Grandpa was a High School Band Teacher so this gave him a love of football games too.We also went to eat with my mothers parents. My grandmothers cooking was so good that my mother made a cookbook of over 100 of her recipies
    I spent one Thanksgiving and Christmas in England.

    Thanksgiving and Christmas was a big holiday up until I was 19 when I was in England for those holidays. I still remember mrs. mitchells joke about bring the turkey over with a string (for a leash) tied around it’s neck. We pulled into Perto Rico one Thanksgiving so I spend the day diving with the divers from the sub. Another Thanksgiving I was in New Hampshire so I drove down to Conneticut where I had dinner with a retired Green Beret frind of mine. We had two Turkeys, one Deep Fried and one smoked with Maple syrup injected in it. I spent New Years Eve once in Peru with my fiance. That was crazy! It took us two hours (vs 20 min) to drive to the airport.The driver had to route around the bon fires in all the streets. That was also the time when I was on a boat in the headwaters of the Amazon River and Snow Skiing on the 2002 Winter Olympic Down Hill Course! One Thanksgiving I had dinner with a Retired Navy Captain and we went boating before dinner. I guess i woul have to check box #2.
    Your story of the Buddha Bodai restaraunt really had me laughing. It reminded me of the Movie “Christmas Story” where they end up eating at a Chinese Place (because the dogs ate their turkey) The place sounds like the “Long Life vegi house” Chinese place (apparently there is one in Berkley CA and Salt Lake City, UT… I wonder if they are a chain)

    There are times in our life when I have been able to get together with family and times when I can’t. The begininings and ends of era’s. This year was an end of an era. My sister lost her big house due to the real estate bust. This was the first big holiday in ten years that she didn’t have a big party at her place.She had a 7500 square foot house so there was always a lots of people there. They moved into their other house. They have the only house on the block where the furnishings are worth more than the house!
    you would think that a big party would a good place to meet people but the only person I met at one of my sisters parties was a woman who lived next door when I was growing up!

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