How to Reach Out to People Who May Be Alone for the Holidays
A few days before Christmas, while getting my hair cut, I couldn’t help but overhear a female client ask her hair stylist, in a very loud voice, what his plans were for the holidays. The stylist, an artsy looking guy who appeared to be in his forties, responded that his kids would be away for Christmas and that he was looking forward to some time alone.
To this the female client exclaimed, in an even louder voice and in a very astonished manner, “What are you going to DO all day?”
I cringed at the woman’s insensitivity as she shrieked out the question. It wasn’t so much the actual inquiry that bothered me, but the tone in which she said it.
It then occurred to me that the client probably had no idea how heartless her words sounded. She had likely never spent the holidays alone in her life.
I have to give the guy credit. He smiled and went on to say that he enjoyed his solitude and was planning to listen to some Bob Marley tunes and spend time with his dogs.
Yet I couldn’t help but sense the pain.
Have you ever been alone during the holidays?
As somebody who has spent many holidays alone, I'm well accustomed to the range of emotions that come during the Christmas season when most people you know are spending time with their loved ones and you, for various reasons, aren’t.
Why do people spend the holidays alone?
People spend the holidays alone for a variety of reasons.
In my case, my family lived overseas and I often couldn’t afford to travel for Christmas. This is the case with many people, especially college students.
Other people may have no surviving close relatives or are new in town and have no close friends nearby. Some have been hurt so many times, they’ve given up on personal relationships altogether.
Yet others have made mistakes they lived to regret and lost their families and close friends as a result.
For many people, it’s a combination of reasons.
Isn't it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for ‒ I don’t know what exactly, but it’s something that you don’t mind so much not having at other times.— Kate L. Bosher
If you're among those fortunate enough to spend the holiday season with those you love, consider yourself very blessed. But please think about others who aren't as fortunate.
And above all, don’t judge them, just as you wouldn't want to be judged if you were in their place. You don’t know the circumstances in their lives that led them to where they are today.
Here are some ways to reach out to people you know or suspect will spend the holidays alone:
- Ask them if they have plans for the holidays.
This is better than asking them if they’ll be alone for the holidays.
Most people who will spend the Christmas season alone don’t want to acknowledge this to others. It’s rather embarrassing, for one thing. They’re afraid others will judge them or misunderstand why they’ll be alone.
They also don’t want or need others’ pity. Nobody wants to be felt sorry for when they’re alone for the holidays.
Simply ask them if they have plans for the holidays.
- Invite them to your home during the holiday season.
It doesn’t have to be on Christmas day. It can be the day before or the day after. This might actually be more comfortable for them, as they’re less likely to feel awkward or like they’re intruding on your personal family time.
When offering invitations to join you or your family, take their personality into account. If they're outgoing, they may enjoy a Christmas party or other large gathering. If they're on the quiet side, an invite for coffee or a smaller gathering may be more welcome.
Even if they refuse your offer, please know it was appreciated. They'll know you cared enough to ask.
- Invite them to a special church service or other event with your family.
Churches often have Christmas plays, musicals or other special services during the holiday season. Invite them to join you for one of these events. Or ask them to join you for a holiday movie or another family outing.
It's nice to be part of a community during the holiday season, particularly because you know most people around you are spending time with family and loved ones. Nobody likes to feel left out.
For all you know, your invitation might be the one thing they have to look forward to during Christmas time.
- Call them on Christmas Day or during the holidays to let them know you are thinking of them.
Even if they refused a previous offer to get together, offer another invitation to do something else, such as join you for a walk downtown to see the light displays.
Again, if they don’t accept your offer, please know that you likely warmed their heart by merely extending the invitation.
- Send them a Christmas card so they have it on Christmas day.
It may seem so trivial to you, but I can’t tell you the times I have felt encouraged while alone on Christmas day by just looking at the cards I had received, which I would usually display in a visible location. They reminded me that I had not been forgotten during the holiday season.
- Bake them homemade cookies.
Send them through the regular mail or deliver them in person. Involving your children in making the cookies is a powerful way to teach them to think of others during Christmas time.
- Send a special and thoughtful gift.
I remember one Christmas many years ago when dear friends who knew I’d be alone for the holidays sent me a gift card to Starbucks. They knew I loved coffee and sweets, and those peppermint lattes and double chocolate brownies really warmed my heart during those lonely days.
Perhaps you know somebody spending the holidays alone who loves to read or to listen to music. Send an amazon gift card so they can purchase a book or i-tunes online. They will feel valued knowing you took the time to send a gift unique to their personal likes.
Most people don’t want to be alone for the holidays. When you reach out to them, it is usually appreciated, though they may not verbalize it. Be genuine and thoughtful in your approach, taking into account their unique tastes and personality. You will likely bless them beyond words if you reach out to them in this manner.
Above all, be sensitive in how you speak to them. People often have no clue how much their careless remarks can hurt, particularly if they have never been in the other person’s shoes. It's hard enough being alone during the Christmas season. To have to respond to unfeeling questions from people who will be surrounded by their loved ones during the holidays makes the experience even more painful.
© 2016 Geri McClymont