Some single adults might react to this topic with wistful resignation, but an equal number of over-stressed members will see that title and think, “I wish!” I have some ideas for both groups.
Just as the First Presidency pointed out in their annual Christmas message this month, too many of us overdo the spending, decorating, eating, and socializing. For many, December doesn’t bring a spiritual celebration of Christ’s birth, but a flurry of guests, gifts, and grief. For those caught in this holiday hamster-wheel, being alone sounds delicious—Imagine being able to curl up with a book and actually have some peace and quiet! But guess what? These whirlwind Mormons are as lonely as the newly divorced, widowed, or just plain single. Both groups are at risk for missing the moment, and letting another Christmas slip by without meaning or inspiration.
Those for whom chaos is the December byword, need to take back control and simplify. For me, a calendar helps. Cross out entire days when you will do NOTHING. Or at least you’ll schedule nothing. We all know life intrudes and you’ll still have to pick up children, cook meals, etc. But you will not wrap, decorate, or add one more “extra” to your day. Instead, this day will be spent reflecting on Christ’s birth and mission here on earth. Whole chunks of time will be spent sharing your testimony of Christ with your family. Read and ponder the story of the Savior’s birth in the Book of Luke. Nothing bearing glitter or glue will intrude upon these days.
Enjoy the most meaningful family traditions, and scrap the ones that only elicit quarreling or inordinate effort (having the most lights on your house, for example, or making a gingerbread house the size of a tool shed).
Reach out to someone lonely. This sounds like adding yet one more item to your list, but it reduces holiday stress. Involve the family in a “Sub for Santa” experience, or take blankets to the homeless, or include a widower from the ward in dinner and a holiday movie. This is far more fulfilling than a host of activities that inhale our time and give nothing back
Before you paint scenery for the school play, make your own wreath from gathered pine cones, or volunteer to make 10 French buche de noel cakes for the ward dinner, pause and ask yourself if you really have time this year. And if you do, and if it will bring you closer to Christ, then by all means do it. But if it will only make you wish you’d said no (and cause your husband to roll his eyes in frustration at your frustration), take a break. Pick one to do next year. One.
What if you’re in the group that is both alone and lonely? What if all these bright lights and carols feel like reminders that you no longer have—or never had—loved ones to share them with? What if you dread December’s celebrating when you find little to justify a party? Here are ten ideas that can make your holiday warm again, enjoyable, and even exhilarating.
1- Who Else is Alone? Just as it is a balm for the too-busy members, this is an antidote for self pity and loneliness. Reach out to others: The bachelor you’ve always meant to befriend, your local missionaries, the childless couple with no relatives nearby, even the homeless—the “poor and needy” who are mentioned in prayers but rarely included at our tables. In fact, being alone might make it easier to gather such people together. They won’t feel they’re imposing upon another couple, and they might get a lift from filling someone else’s need: yours.
2- Launch a new business. Everyone else capitalizes on the season, why not you? Set up a gift wrapping service. Advertise in the paper for custom tree or yard decorating. Shop for others too busy to do it. Cater a holiday party. Charge a family to video or photograph their Christmas morning with the kids. That way, everyone gets in the shots! A side benefit: You’ll participate in a child’s Christmas, as well. Hire yourself out as a Santa or an elf, and pay special visits to families. You’ll definitely be too busy too brood through the holidays.
3- Get Away. For some, it’s too painful to stay in familiar surroundings. Don’t force yourself. Check out seasonal discounts on cruise lines and travel packages. Try something nobody else has done, so you’ll have plenty to talk about when you get back. How about a tour of pyramids, a rancher’s ride into Grand Canyon, a skiing trip in Europe? If you can afford it, visit a remote village, attend an opera festival, or check out a desert spa. You’ll come back rejuvenated.
4- Enjoy the Quiet. Not everyone wants to join clubs, take classes, or begin new hobbies. For some, the chance to meditate and reflect is the answer. Less noise and confusion can help you center your priorities and grow spiritually. Sometimes confronting loss and working it through can speed up the process more than diving into a flurry of activity. See these slices of serenity as a gift, a chance to work through issues, summon forgiveness, appreciate Christ’s atonement, and recommit to the Savior.
5- Speak Up. Instead of waiting for sympathetic friends to call (who may be floundering without a clue as to what to say to you), call them first. Tell them you know it’s probably awkward and that you have the solution. This will most likely be met with gladness and relief. Then tell them you need some company. Or a favor. Ask them to dinner. If they usually give you a gift, ask if they could watch the kids instead, while you shop? Or simply go with you to that funky diner you love. The point is to connect.
6- Volunteer. Self esteem comes from serving, and what a great gift to give yourself. Get busy at the library, the hospital, or a local charity. Could you prepare a festive, yet diet-approved treat for folks in a local rest home? How about a tray of goodies for a local firemen? Help out on a hotline. Babysit for busy families. Arrange for carolers to brighten the lives of mental patients. Tutor kids during their school break. Teach English to immigrants, or reading to the illiterate.
7- Start New Traditions. Write a seasonal poem. Plant a tree. Leave anonymous goodies on the doorsteps of neighbors. Attend a holiday performance or concert. Make a holiday craft. Wrap up toys for the poor. Bake a dish from your nationality. Play triumphant music. Give yourself a pet. Learn something new. Call someone who lives far away.
8- Travel Vicariously. Books and movies are a perfectly acceptable escape! Enjoy ones you’ve had on your “bucket list,” and learn about other cultures.
9- Treat Yourself. Give yourself an entire day of indulgence. Lavish in a bubble bath, stroll through a museum. Buy something frivolous, order a big slab of pie. Pamper yourself and remember how wonderful and deserving of life’s joys you really are.
10- Focus on the Savior. Finally—a holiday stripped of the tinsel and wrappings, the stress and anxiety! You can really have a full celebration, study Christ’s ministry, go to a Nativity event, and make this truly about your relationship with the Lord. Try for a year where every gift, every decoration, is Christ-centered. It could be your best Christmas ever!
In short, take control. Instead of letting the season happen to you, be deliberate in your choices. Say no to the things that distract you from the Lord, and say yes to the ones that bring you closer. It’s a simple formula, really. And it works for both the overly-busy and the overly-lonely.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas. Now.
Cruise with Joni and her husband, Bob, to Spain, Italy, and France May 12-19, 2012. Double occupancy starting at only $659.00 per person! See jonihilton.com for more information
Joni Hilton has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. Her latest book, “Funeral Potatoes– The Novel,” has just been scheduled for publication this February, by Covenant Communications. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music & The Spoken Word,” many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California.