As a teenager, I always felt like a loner who didn’t fit in.
When I moved to London at the age of 17, even though the pressure to fit in dropped, I still felt like a loner. I entered a completely different world; I was a nobody. Luckily, I had my sister to watch out for me. But, with our age gap (six years), we were in different life stages then, which, in my mind, meant I was all alone.
In Vietnam, my home country, the most important holiday is the lunar New Year, also called “Tet”, which usually takes place in late January or early February. For the last nine years, I haven’t been home for Tet, Christmas, or New Year. Since my sister got married, she would spend the holidays with her in-law, so I would either visit my friends or be on my own.
Soon, being on my own became my default state. I had no expectation to be with people either during the holidays or in my daily life. I know what loneliness or aloneness means. I cried about it, made stupid decisions because of it, and hated myself for it in the past. But, guess what, life goes on. It’s never a good idea to get stuck in self-pity.
I realise the reason why I’m feeling relatively positive this year despite all the depressing news is that I’ve never taken togetherness or anything that I have for granted. I’ve also mastered the art of being on my own to the point that being with someone is always an extra, never an expectation.
That’s the beautiful thing about adversity. When you start out in hardship, life can only get better. Here’s how I went through many holidays alone and ended up happier for it.
1. Get on with it
Last year, I spent the day before Christmas with my boyfriend (now fiancé). However, on the 25th, he visited his family while I was alone in a tiny rented room in East London. In 2018, I was also alone during both Christmas and New Year, weighed down by a broken heart and plenty of emotional hang-ups. A few years earlier, I hung out with some friends, but I felt so lonely that I pretended to be asleep and cried silently into a pillow.
Don’t feel bad for me — I’m okay. My point is, life goes on. When I felt sad, I let it out — I wrote about it. I reminded myself that next year things could be different. I lived for another day. And another day did come. This year, things aren’t normal, but I’m happily engaged and feeling so loved. Regardless, I always have myself.
2. Do something personal
Speaking of “having myself,” don’t disregard the one person who is always by your side — you.
If you can’t spend Christmas or New Year with other people, let yourself be sad for a little while, then accept the reality — it’s fine. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, you can turn these holidays into “me” days and do something for yourself. Schedule self-care activities. Write love notes to yourself and other people.
Other examples of things to do:
Cook yourself a delicious meal.
Pick up a project you never had the time for.
Light up the candles and take a long bath.
Read a book.
Create a vision board.
Gift shopping online.
Make a long gratitude list for the year (at least 12 bullet points for 12 months.)
3. Don’t assign a negative value to “being alone during the holidays”
Many people are not afraid of being alone as much as what being alone means about them as a person. They’re worried that people will feel sorry for them or they will be single and alone forever. Suddenly, the future seems daunting. But, in reality, holidays are just… days. Nothing really changes.
When I was alone during the holidays, I kept my mind occupied with forward-looking thoughts such as gratitude and goal lists. I never thought next year would be the same as this year mostly because I always made so many significant changes in my life and “normal” no longer existed for me since I moved half the world away from home. And I knew there were many people out there just like me.
So don’t think negatively of yourself for spending the holidays alone. This year, you’re definitely not the only one in your situation — Covid has united us all. It is what it is. It is not permanent. After all, being alone is better than being with shitty people you don’t like.
4. Schedule virtual time with family and friends if possible
If you have family and friends you can connect with, make time to video call them. Throw a Zoom party. Put on your favourite outfit.
Write to an old friend. Check in with people who you think might be alone during the holidays too. Share on social media about your days and encourage others to open up about theirs too. Try to help remove the stigma about being alone and single during the holidays.
5. Take time to reflect
Christmas and New Year is the perfect time to look back on the past year and reflect on all your life changes and lessons learned.
Ask yourself what you want your next holidays to look like and who you will be then, and work backward to where you are now. For example, if next year, you want to live alone instead of sharing flats with strangers, then make a financial goal. If you want to be in a relationship, then make a dating goal.
It might not work out 100% as planned and it might not happen next Christmas, but you will be closer to the life you want for yourself and you will have everything you want this year on some Christmas day.
Personally, this time every year, I write a long email to myself, summarising everything I’ve done in the past year and giving my future self a solid prep talk. It helps me build a strong relationship with myself and makes the experience of life so much more meaningful.
It’s the ninth holiday I’m not with my parents or any immediate family member. It’s the sacrifice my family and I have made to give me a chance at a better life. And I’m pleased to say that I’m indeed living a much better life than I was at 17 — or any age after that.
The journey that got me here has built me a great deal of resilience and perseverance, which helps me cope with being alone and instills in me a deep sense of gratitude for the loved ones I have in my life right now, whether I’m with them physically or not.
Even though the pandemic has led to many restrictions, this year, I’ve gained so much, compared to all other years when I wasn’t only alone but also lonely. I’m no longer feeling lonely — I’m building my own family with my partner. I feel so loved and cared for that my heart could explode into a confetti of happiness.
See, good things will come, so hang in there.
Here’s a recap of how I thrive during the holidays away from home:
Get on with it.
Do something for yourself.
Don’t think negatively of yourself for being alone during the holidays.
Schedule virtual time with loved ones if possible.
Take time to reflect.
Remember that the glass is half full.