Last week I wrote about how to not be alone at Christmas. But I also understand that sometimes you can’t help but be alone, and sometimes, even when you’re with other people you can feel lonely. For anyone who is alone or lonely this Christmas, you can reach out to me.
This has been a tradition of mine since I started this website. Now, for the 4th year running, I will be opening up my firstname.lastname@example.org email account for anyone who wants to send a message to me on Christmas day. On Christmas day, whether you are by yourself, with others, if you’re feeling lonely you can email me and I’ll wish you happy holidays.
Last year we got over 200 emails, and some people didn’t get a response until Boxing day, but I really do try and read and respond to everyone. It’s not much, but I think it’s nice to know that there’s at least one person out there that is thinking about you and hoping you’re having a good day.
It’s ok to be lonely
I know loneliness is a hard topic to talk about. I know this because I often feel lonely without knowing how to deal with it. There’s been a lot of emails sent to me over the years at Christmas, and it’s astonishing to see how many people are lonely in the holidays.
It’s even crazier to read how they feel about it. Shameful, weak, angry, upset, sad. I’ve felt those ways too. Loneliness can affect anyone. Sometimes there’s a good reason, sometimes there isn’t. But no one should ever feel ashamed or weak because of it.
If you’ve ever been in that situation, you’ll know the advice people tell you. Go out, see friends, talk to a therapist. All good advice, although not always the answer. What I do on Christmas, it isn’t about giving advice. It’s not about feeling sympathy or any of those things. I simply want to let you know you’re not completely alone.
And if we’re being honest, it also helps me know I’m not alone as well.
Christmas in the Yorkshire Dales
For me, Christmas is one of the hardest times of the year to face. Every year it feels a little bit harder. A little bit lonelier. I have often wondered if that feeling is simply part of growing up and adulthood.
When I was younger, and I’ve spoken about this before, my family spent Christmas together. My mum, stepdad, grandma, sister and myself in a cosy house in the Yorkshire Dales.
I’ve always been a city girl but spending a week in a small village, population <300, was fantastic. The TV only had 4 channels because the signal was so bad. The only games we had were Scrabble and cards, until Christmas morning of course when my sister or I would unbox a new game. Christmas Eve was great though because my mum, stepdad, grandma and I would play doubles Canasta, a card game I haven’t played in years now.
Then my grandma got older and eventually became so ill she couldn’t live at home anymore. Her dementia came on pretty quickly. We never got to celebrate another Christmas together, and I’ve never played doubles Canasta since.
Christmas ever after
Not long after, and really not that long ago now, my stepdad also passed away. The first Christmas without him came as a shock to me. I don’t think I really processed it. We had always been close, and even though I refer to him as my stepdad, he was the one that brought me up.
At Christmas, I remember him and each year I seem to miss him more. I saw a photo of us celebrating Christmas when I was 13, and looking at the photo recently, I realised I had forgotten what his face really looked like. That really hit me, that every year we’re going to have another Christmas, and that time just keeps moving on.
For me, life has gotten so busy. This year alone, I have met so many new people. Accomplished so many things I never thought I would do. I’ve been filled with motivation, support and I think myself extremely lucky.
But when you’re so busy, you don’t get time to slow down. You’re focused on the here and now. Then, at least for me, Christmas hits. Work slows down, I make plans to see my family and return home.
Suddenly my feelings, such as missing my grandma and stepdad, missing my family in Vietnam, missing my sister in England, they all come back to me. It’s like being hit by a tsunami.
Living up to nostalgia
I enjoy Christmas. I really do. My mum, myself and my sister, we all put a lot of effort in to make sure we’re all together and we’re all having as much fun as we can.
Mum cooks all the dishes we’ve grown up with. My sister continues to hand make the cards she gives us, a tradition she started when she was 4 years old. I try and make sure I always take time off to come home.
Yet there will always be those spaces at the table that feel avoidably empty. I know we all put on a brave face. That we try and be happy because we want each other to be happy. And we are happy. But we’re also sad, and I think we’re all a little lonely.
There’s a part of me that thinks we’re all trying so hard to make sure things are as good as they used to be. We’re desperately trying to recreate the feelings of past Christmases, trying to convince ourselves that nothing’s changed, or if it has, it won’t mean we can enjoy ourselves.
The art of articulation
For the longest time, I never knew how to talk about this stuff. It’s such a big, emotional time of year for me, and I never knew how to articulate myself.
When I first did the open email Christmas thing 4 years ago, I didn’t have any expectations. The fact is, on Christmas day itself I do very little. I wake up, open presents, eat lunch and watch Christmas TV. Opening and responding to some emails sounded really easy.
But the emails I got were so much more than I was expecting. I found out that out there, there are so many people who were going through the same thing I was. That is, the had these feelings that they couldn’t let out or articulate properly.
Some emails were what I expected. There are always going to be people who don’t have time, resources or people to spend Christmas with. Others had logistical problems, whether it was distance or work-related.
There were more than a few that admitted that they did have family and friends to spend time with, but they still felt lonely for some reason. I felt like we were sharing some ultra top secret confession.
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, letting them know that, although our situations are different, I could relate to it. That it’s ok to feel lonely. That no matter what, well, at least we can wish each other seasons greetings. Well, it continues to be one of the highlights of my year.
So if you’re alone, lonely, or just bored this Christmas, send me an email at email@example.com – I only open this up at Christmas, I never check it any other time.