“Alone for the Holidays,” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 16
Every year since high school a group of my friends has gathered during the Christmas holiday to sing carols and enjoy the festivities. This annual tradition provides precious moments to exchange new addresses, meet spouses, bounce new babies, and otherwise catch up on happenings in each other’s lives. My favorite moment comes when we gather around the piano and—in between chasing children and encouraging reluctant spouses—sing songs that celebrate the reason for the season, songs that have also come to symbolize friendships that have lasted through the years.
After more than a decade of this annual celebration, we were gathering again. I hugged loved ones I hadn’t seen since the year before and tried to memorize new faces and names—when suddenly I looked around and realized that I was the only one in the group without a spouse or child in tow. There I sat, surrounded by people who loved me and whom I dearly loved, acutely aware of my singleness. Alone in a crowd.
The feeling persisted in the coming days as I traveled many miles to my parents’ home. The oldest of seven children, I would once again be singularly alone in a crowd of loved ones. My sister had her son, my brothers were married or engaged, and the youngest siblings were awash in high school activities, oblivious to my plight. Sure, I’d felt pangs of loneliness before, and certainly I’d yearned for marriage. But it had never struck me so forcefully before; I had truly never felt so abandoned, left behind, forgotten.
Since then, I’ve learned that the holidays can be a challenging time for anyone. Days brimming with shopping and cooking and working and decorating. Demands on time and emotion and spirit. But for those who are alone—either geographically or emotionally separated from loved ones—Christmastime can be especially difficult.
Recently the Ensign asked readers to tell their experiences of how the gospel has been a strength and support during the holidays. Many people responded, writing touching, inspiring stories of faith and service.
I’ve discovered that there’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re feeling lonely. It doesn’t signify a weakness; it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. “Wanting to be with another person is a divine instinct,” observes Scott Lloyd, a member of the Crescent 11th Ward, Sandy Utah Crescent South Stake. “I can do things to make my life rich and rewarding, but there’s a hole in my heart that won’t be filled until I marry. There’s nothing wrong with that, nothing to be ashamed of.”
Until those feelings of heartache and incompleteness are acknowledged, they cannot begin to be dealt with constructively. Times of loneliness come into every person’s life, whether single or married. These feelings are normal and often will subside as time goes on and our attention is focused elsewhere. However, many people experience bouts of deep, long-lasting loneliness. In these cases, ignoring the feelings won’t make them go away. Rather, recognizing them honestly provides an opportunity for each of us to deal with them, and progress.
Once feelings are recognized, steps can be taken to deal effectively with them. We cannot always change our feelings, but we can certainly change our behavior—which often contributes to and shapes our feelings and emotions.
Some people feel less lonely if they fill up their calendars. “I minimize the time spent alone,” says Claudia Green, a member of the Fremont Hill Ward, Mesa Arizona Salt River Stake. “There’s so much to do. I go out to holiday concerts, symphonies, the ballet. Local high schools have free concerts for the public. Churches often have free nativity scenes or displays. I allow extra time when I attend the temple so I can enjoy the lights and music at the visitors’ center. The Church also provides a variety of opportunities for socializing at ward parties, stake sing-alongs and concerts, homemaking activities, and stake singles gatherings.”
Sister Green also takes great care to decorate her house. She knows that for her, a truly meaningful Christmas that begins with a spiritual focus on the Savior and service can be accentuated by personal touches in the home. “I decorate my home inside and out. I decorate the kitchen and bathrooms too!” she says. “I display Christmas cards in a prominent place to remind me of loved ones thinking of me. Dressing the house in its festive best reminds me it is a special time of year.”
Nearly every person who responded wrote about the importance of serving others. “When I was growing up, our family had the tradition of giving anonymously during the holidays,” remembers Jeff Wright, a member of the Cheyenne Second Ward, Cheyenne Wyoming Stake. “This is a tradition that I have chosen to pursue on my own, and it has resulted in much joy. It is something that I look forward to each year.”
“When my husband and I divorced, we agreed that our son should take turns spending Christmas with each of us,” notes Caroline Wurts, a member of the Greenfield Branch, Springfield Massachusetts Stake. “I knew that Christmases without my son would be difficult. However, that first Christmas was harder than I had anticipated. My limited budget would not permit me to be with my parents or siblings, and I had no desire to spend the day alone in my tiny apartment.
“When the ‘Missionary Meals’ calendar was passed around in Relief Society for the month of December, one sister remarked, ‘Oh, the missionaries have nowhere to go on Christmas!’ I was delighted.
“‘They can come to my house!’ I exclaimed. Looking around, I realized that the whole room had heard me. But I didn’t care, and neither did they. One sister even mentioned another member of the ward who would be alone also. ‘Why, he can come too,’ I said.
“That year the missionaries arrived at 1:30 P.M.; my other guest soon followed. The day was happy as we ate, sang, and expressed gratitude to our Heavenly Father, rejoicing in our fellowship and celebrating the birth of our Savior and his atoning sacrifice that conquers death and makes eternal life possible. I was indeed single again, but I wasn’t alone.”
“One Christmas Eve several years ago, a friend and I found ourselves alone; our children were spending that time with their fathers,” wrote one anonymous reader. “Neither of us wanted to sit home alone, so we decided to go to the local hospital and sing carols to patients who might be alone.
“We didn’t sing one song! The patients were so happy to have visitors that they just wanted to talk. Needless to say, the evening passed quickly, and we soon forgot our own loneliness.”
“Have you noticed you can’t be lonely when making another’s day brighter?” asked Sister Green. “At Christmastime especially, the opportunities to serve are endless. Go caroling or visit a nursing home. Ask the bishop or Relief Society president whose Christmas you can make brighter. It doesn’t take a lot of money to help another; sometimes it’s just a matter of your time and a smile.”
Loneliness during the holidays isn’t just reserved for members who are single. “Last year my husband was transferred,” writes Diane Tringoli of the Tracy Third Ward, Manteca California Stake. “Our family of seven moved to a small town where we knew no one. It was a difficult adjustment, to say the least.”
But instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Tringoli family looked for opportunities to serve. “We found a rest home, and as we visited people there, our emptiness became filled. We made cookies for our neighbors and introduced ourselves to others on our block. We made copies of our favorite Christmas stories and gave them to our neighbors. We chose a family in our neighborhood and, for 12 days during December, delivered a surprise to their door.
“Have I done any good in the world today? was the question we asked ourselves every day. When we lost ourselves in the service of others, we found happiness.”
Whether we are separated from loved ones by vast distances or vastly different circumstances, the holidays offer an opportunity to focus on the Savior and his gift to all of us. The time alone can also be spent drawing closer to a loving Heavenly Father, who is always nearby.
“Maintaining my spirituality is essential,” Claudia Green notes. “At holiday time, I like to include the story of Christ’s birth in my daily scripture study as well as inspiring Christmas stories from the Ensign.”
Jeff Wright sets a goal of reading a specific book of scripture between 1 December and 1 January. “Scripture reading has led me closer to my Heavenly Father and fostered a strong yuletide feeling better than anything else,” he says.
“The main blessing that came to me as a result of my loneliness is that I have drawn closer to the Lord through constant prayer,” Diane Tringoli adds. “Having only him to turn to has opened my eyes to his hand continually in my life. It is the Lord who dried my tears of loneliness with his soothing spirit time and time again.”
“It has been my experience that the holidays can lift your spirits if the focus is not on comparing your situation with those around you, but instead focusing on our mission here on earth and Jesus Christ’s Atonement for us,” says Larry D. Kump, a member of the Martinsburg Ward, Winchester Virginia Stake.
“Always I can find someone who needs something, and it cheers me considerably to anonymously give a gift or do a service for that person. Checking on my assigned home teaching families strengthens me as I attempt to follow our Savior’s example of unselfish service. Attending the temple works hand in glove with reviewing my family history and continuing to do more work. Diligent and sincere entries in my own personal journal also are a part of my own family history that I try not to neglect, especially during the holidays. I more frequently reread my patriarchal blessing and write and telephone my children.
“All of these activities, along with scripture study, church attendance, and living the law of the fast with generous fast offerings, never fail to put things in perspective, reminding me of the great gift of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I become even more determined to do my best to be a better example so that others may be more likely to receive the same gift in their lives.”
“It’s a matter of attitude,” observes Kristi Ricks, a member of the Westcliff Ward, Las Vegas Nevada Redrock Stake. “Loneliness is going to happen to everybody; what’s really important is our attitude about it. One of the first things I do when I feel lonely, during the holidays or any other time of year, is to start counting my blessings, focusing on the things I have rather than the things I don’t have. Gratitude is a marvelous way to chase loneliness away. And then you add service and prayer to that!”
Jeff Wright knows that attitude is important too. “It’s important for me to remember that during the holidays and all year round I always have family and loved ones nearby. My family is on the phone, in my ward, at my work, in the temple, in the form of others honoring God and of individuals whom I can serve. My family lives in the scriptures and in the faces and hearts of the people all around me. When you think of it that way, even when you’re feeling lonely, you don’t have to be alone.”