For most, the holidays are all about spending time with extended family and loved ones (though those two aren’t always mutually exclusive). But many people are facing the holidays alone.
According to WalletHub, 45 percent of American adults are single, and some of the cities with the highest percentage of singles are somewhat nearby — Yonkers and South Burlington, Vermont, made the top-10 list.
Maria Immediato of Clifton Park, a board adviser for Singles Outreach, agreed that the holidays can be tough. Many members of Singles Outreach, which is one of the only local not-for-profits dedicated to singles, have lost their significant others to either death or divorce.
Holiday dinners, health and wellness classes, concerts, Tuesday-night discussions and all sorts of events fill members’ calendars. The organization, which is based in Albany and was founded by the late Gregg Millett, focuses on social interaction and on creating a community for singles.
Timothy Hoffman, president of the board, said the holidays are often challenging.
“I don’t have family that I’m close with,” he said. Though he goes to Singles Outreach events, he often spends Thanksgiving or Christmas on his own or at the Capital City Rescue Mission in Albany.
But even for people who have close family members, the holidays aren’t always spent together, especially if they have older children who are starting their own families. There comes a point when children aren’t around for Christmas morning because they’re celebrating with their new families.
In recent years, that has become the case for Immediato. Even though she now has a significant other (whom she met through Singles Outreach), she celebrates "off holiday."
She planned to have one Thanksgiving dinner with the Singles Outreach members, one with friends and then one with family the weekend after Thanksgiving.
“We may celebrate off holiday, but we celebrate,” Immediato said.
It’s a perspective that many mental health specialists espouse.
Ruth Geller, a psychotherapist and life coach from Clifton Park, said perceived notions about the holiday don’t always reflect reality. When it all comes down to it, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays are just days of the year.
“I think there’s an overinflated expectation,” Geller said, adding that advertising and the media add to the heightened expectations.
“Sometimes it’s good to avoid media representation of the holiday. ... Treat it just like any other day,” Geller said.
Sherry Amatenstein, a New York City-based licensed clinical social worker, therapist and author of “How Does That Make You Feel?”, has worked with many clients who dread the "most wonderful time of the year."
“A lot of people have trouble with the holidays. ... It can be a very pressure-filled time of the year,” Amatenstein said.
She recommends planning something to do before the holidays, though all is not lost for those who haven’t planned anything before the season comes around.
“Give yourself three minutes,” Amatenstein said.
That's three minutes to sit on the couch and wallow. But after the time is up, call someone or have a Netflix binge fest and don’t feel guilty about it; just don’t stay in the same place contemplating the situation, which often makes people start comparing themselves to what their neighbors or friends are doing for the holidays.
“[When] people start to compare themselves to other people ... it’s like spiritual or mental junk food,” Amatenstein said.
Other suggestions for those who are single and not loving it include:
Curl up with your TV
Relax and catch up with your favorite shows using your preferred streaming service. If you still want something holiday-ish, watch "Love, Actually" or "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or something. If you’re over it already, move on to "Stranger Things" or whatever suits your fancy.
Treat yo' self
The characters Tom and Donna from the sitcom “Parks and Recreation” were on to something. In fact, people in China have created a similar holiday in November called Singles Day, during which single people treat themselves to whatever they want because they don’t have to worry about saving money for a significant other — and just because. Buy something you’ve been holding off on for a while.
Eat what you want
If there’s a certain holiday food you absolutely love, make it or buy it and don’t feel guilty for having second helpings. No judgmental health-guru-of-a-family-member or significant other is going to know.
Who needs cutesy couple traditions? Or 100-year-old family traditions for that matter? Amatenstein suggests creating your own tradition that you can look forward to year after year, single or not.
Get out there
Maybe you’re still in that three-minute wallowing phase (and it’s stretched into more like a 15-minute stewing session), but a scene change can help. Go look for a local assisted-living facility or a local homeless shelter to volunteer with. There are plenty in the area, including Shelters of Saratoga, Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless and Bethesda House.
For those in relationships, or for those who will be celebrating with large families, there’s something you can do.
“If you noticed someone is alone and they’re having a hard time, reach out to them,” Immediato said.
Invite them to celebrate with you, or let them know about other events they might enjoy, whether it’s a show, a festival or a movie.