It's just a couple of weeks past Halloween and the advertisers are already gearing up for the season, presenting us with a barrage of images of couples curled up for warm and toasty evenings in front of the fireplace surrounded by the requisite two or three kids. Later on, we will see more images of the kid-centric unwrapping frenzy that constitutes the ideal American Christmas morning.
No doubt about it - this can be the toughest time of year for the childfree. Couples and individuals without kids may feel sad, lonely, excluded from the general celebration, like outsiders, and worse - guilty! For years, my husband and I avoided these seasonal feelings by spending the holiday weeks with my mom and dad in North Carolina. We bypassed the brunt of the holiday kid frenzy by being treated like kids ourselves by my doting parents.
Suddenly, my mother passed away and my father was placed in a nursing home after suffering a stroke. The first year without the ritual holiday trip to my parents house was horrible - I just wanted to hide my head under my pillow and forget the season altogether. Instead, we wound up taking a trip to an island off the coast of Georgia. This worked! The island was decorated for the holidays and it was nice, not painful, we could enjoy the decorations away from our normal routine and setting.
Still, not wanting to travel every year, I started to think about how we can celebrate, really celebrate, the special and lovely feelings of the holiday, at home, without getting caught up in the commercialized kid-centric, hectic atmosphere of the season.
Here are some ideas:
Create some holiday decorations with a group of like-minded people and give the crafts away to holiday charity events. Many of my friends hold knitting parties and holiday crafting parties. The crafts are more fun to create knowing they will bring other people joy and help worthy organizations. The groups have become so popular that a group is meeting almost every weekend from Halloween to Christmas. The groups are made of up childfree people and people with kids. The common threads are a love for making stuff, talking and focusing on helping someone else.
Think about what you liked best about the holidays when you were a kid and use those things to create your own special adult celebration. I think a tendency is to avoid sentimental holiday memories of our childhood holidays when we don't have kids. I know I did this thinking that nothing we did now could ever equal the past. Not true! Once I embraced the memories, I started to work on integrating them into our current holiday rituals - making handmade ornaments, collecting ornaments from favorite artists and crafters, lighting Hanukkah candles and giving little handmade gifts to honor my husband's favorite holiday memories, and having an all out doggy gift unwrapping session on Christmas morning followed by a beautiful hike in the woods.
I know this is a standard suggestion: but try volunteering for the holidays. My husband and I spent several Christmas mornings in the animal shelter we volunteered for, along with a bunch of other volunteers that were choosing to be there on the holiday for various reasons. Those cold Christmas mornings in the shelter have become some of my favorite holiday memories - the shelter manager coming in dressed like Santa with boxes of doughnuts and coffee and all of us making an extra effort to give the dogs a really good walk for Christmas. Whatever volunteer experience you choose for your holiday - know that it can really make someone else's day special too.
Try planning a special activity or event that occurs just after the holiday season is over. We started planning New York weekends in late January. It gives us something special to look forward to after the holidays are over, and something nice to anticipate if we find ourselves getting depressed during the peak of the season.
Celebrate your friends! Remember there is someone out there who is lonely during the holidays and who would love your company. Still, always honor your feelings and if you need to be alone, be alone. My childfree sister handles the holidays by holing in up in her living room with her cats, her books, her fireplace, and her favorite holiday things. She inherited my mom's ornament collection and she still sets up a tree in early November and places the ornaments on it slowly - one each day - my mother's tree decorating ritual.
The holiday season is so much more than the kid-centric shopping-frenzy version advertisers try to shove at us incessantly. Embrace and enjoy your favorite memories. Look at the small beauties found in holiday rituals, religious and cultural beliefs, decorations, music, friendships, and helping others.
If you are mourning the loss of a loved one during the holidays let yourself mourn. Try not to feel guilty about not being cheerful. Don't let people make you feel guilty for not having kids. A woman I know always says, "Ah well, the holidays are for the kids anyway." I don't agree anymore. Everyone is entitled to celebrate and enjoy the holidays in a unique way - there is no one right way - try to find the beautiful things we can celebrate every day and just exaggerate them a bit during the holiday season. Finally, try turning off the television for a couple of days! It really helps!