Cre­at­ing a day of seren­ity by cel­e­brat­ing hol­i­days solo

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - By Beth J. Harpaz

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 popup 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, gift­giv­ing 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 leadup 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, Cal­i­for­nia, 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.”

TOM THURSTON VIA AP

This un­dated photo shows Dagny McKin­ley and her dog Alma May at Man­dall Creek in Colorado. McKin­ley, an au­thor, blog­ger and pho­tog­ra­pher, is one of a num­ber of Amer­i­cans who has some­times cho­sen to spend ma­jor hol­i­days alone, as a way of de­com­press­ing from busy lives, re­lax­ing and re­flect­ing. Her rou­tine on a birth­day, Christ­mas or Thanks­giv­ing spent solo of­ten in­cludes a hike with her dog.

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