Ram Dass said it best, “If you think you are truly enlightened, go spend a weekend with your parents.”
Many people might extend this sentiment to the holidays. While some see it as a time to gather and celebrate with community and family, others might find the frenzy of family holidays unbearable, and instead feel a desire to catch up on much-needed downtime and just be alone.
Yes, the decision to spend the holidays solo can be controversial. You may have relatives that are looking forward to seeing you. You may feel pressure to spend time with your partner’s family.
But statistics from Booking.com show that solo trips are on the rise. Between 2019 and 2021 the number almost doubled from 14 percent to 23 percent solo travelers.
Whatever the reason, spending the holidays alone does not have to be lonely. Perhaps there is another place—other than the family dining table—where you feel more belonging.
Holiday retreats, online retreats, and even silent mindfulness getaways abound in the Hudson Valley and around the world, where you can discover the beauty of nature and perhaps connect with strangers who become friends. A laid-back, low-stress "Friendsgiving" has grown in popularity since the 90s when the first season of the famed sitcom's Thanksgiving episode aired.
Author and meditation teacher Sebene Selassie explores the truth of belonging precisely because, for most of her life, she felt she did not belong anywhere. She was a toddler when her family emigrated from Ethiopia in the early 70s, and she felt out of place in an American culture that was a lot less diverse than it is today.
In her book You Belong, Sebene says, "We don’t need to feel belonging to belong. Belonging is truth and it is the fundamental nature of reality right here and now, whether we feel it or not."
Matt Dominianni, a professional game designer, recalls one Christmas he spent partly by himself was among his most enjoyable. He spent the whole day playing video games. For dinner that night, he had Chinese food with some Jewish friends.
For years he spent the holidays with his partner’s family, but says he never really fit in. He considers himself more of an introvert and never enjoyed the consumer aspects of gifts.
“I now put a reminder in my calendar to spend the holidays alone,” he said. “It is so much better to be home and happy, than with a bunch of relatives not really enjoying myself.”
Ultimately, it's all about making the choice that is best for you. Perhaps every cell in your body wants to escape the traditional feasting, the football, or the chaos of traditional family-oriented time: For you it might be the best option to go on retreat or just relax and enjoy a few days off.
"We fill each day with too much activity, too much stuff, too much media, and too many responsibilities pulling on us in too many directions," Omega cofounder Elizabeth Lesser writes. "We go to bed at night and wonder where the heck the day went. We wake up and do it again. And now at the holidays we’re supposed to add more excess to the excess. More food, more socializing, more presents that require more money. I think it’s a revolutionary act to resist the more, more, more culture, and instead to simplify."