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Can you really be “alone” if you have three dogs living with you? And you get an invitation from your good friend and her husband to join them for Christmas dinner? And a date to go to dinner and a movie with the same friend and her hubs a few days before Christmas? Or if you video chat with your kids and exchange texts with them and your sisters and brother before, on, and after Christmas Day? Or if you have phone calls lasting over an hour with one sister and another with your best girlfriend before you head out to the friend’s place? Or if another friend sets you up to meet her cousin and his wife who happen to be spending the holidays in my town? Which means I did not really spend Christmas alone.

Ssince Kevin died, I have had the past five Christmases with at least one of my kids (and usually at least two of them) and their families. Twice I have enjoyed the holidays with a sibling (or all four of them). And I have been able to spend time with friends each and every time. Yet, being away from home has usually meant I spare myself the expected agony of decorating and undecorating, shipping packages, baking for crowds, and being alone – not quite the same as feeling lonely.

This year I decided to stay home. Up went one tree (but not the usual two). Up went a lighted garland over the front door (but not on the railings or the deck). Up went the elves and reindeer (but not the snowmen or the nutcrackers). My bedspread was changed out (but not in the guest rooms), and the dining room table cloth, kitchen towels and apron, couch pillows, bathroom towels, and fireplace mantel were also changed out to more festive attire (but not the shower curtain). I’d show you pictures but it’s December 27, and I took it all down, put it back, and cleaned up today (instead of waiting until New Year’s Day).

I did bake and frost my traditional sugar cookies and Mexican biscochitos. I made the usual flavored pretzels. I drank mulled wine and listened to many of the Christmas CD’s and albums in my collection. I watched holiday movies, too. I did all the things we used to do. And I cried doing much of it. Not oceans of tears, but yeah, it was a long trip down memory lane.

The hardest part, I think, was the anticipation, thinking that decorating by myself would be sad, or that baking would be a drag, or that the reminders would be so hard to bear. In truth, that anxiety exceeded the reality. It turned out to be a bit of fun to do it ALL my way, without the teasing about my need for control. It took me two days to put things out and then change my mind and move them around, and that was just fine. We used to get the decorating all done in a day, and then hustle to get all the baking done, and we would multitask by watching a movie while we were doing something else. This year I was much more relaxed, stopping to do what I wanted when I wanted. I baked one day, frosted cookies the next. I even got a box of Christmas cards sent out, with personalized notes in each one.

When Christmas Day finally arrived, the gift opening took about two minutes – mostly because I wrapped all the dogs’ presents and had to help them open them up. But it was smooth going. No rush, no mess, no chaos, just a fire, good coffee, music in the background. Once the whole Getting Ready For Christmas was done, I found I enjoyed the actual Christmas Day quite a bit.

I realized that while I had been occasionally emotional at times in the weeks prior, it was not a stressful time. It was another little letting-go time for me. When it was most difficult was when I was by myself, so I sometimes reached out and shared stories with my friends or my family. We could laugh together, and they helped me remember other funny or poignant things I had forgotten. Like remembering the year the Copper John’s Dead Nuts fiber-optic 3-pin sight for his bow didn’t arrive on time. I worked to so hard to get exactly the right thing, and then it didn’t happen the way I wanted. So I put a photocopy of the order form in a tiny box, and wrapped it up. I watched him sweat it out, thinking I had gotten him a ring or something. He was so relieved (and extremely happy with the bow sight), but he told me that for future reference, jewelry was NEVER a good idea for him! Or the year he flew the (expensive) remote control helicopter into the wall and busted it up on it’s maiden flight. He spent as much to have it fixed as I paid for it, but he didn’t tell me that until after he got it repaired! And the year he got my sister to help him buy me a pair of “good” tweezers because he couldn’t figure out the difference in what he saw at the store. Or when he surprised me with an electronic keyboard because I once told him that I had wanted to learn to play piano when I was a kid.

There were … ARE … a lot of good memories and fun times that I don’t want to forget. Sometimes it is good to stay home and remember them, without all the distractions, travel hassles, and togetherness. And now that Christmas is put away for another year, while my heart is still wide open (and the weather is good), I am going to finish off the holidays by heading off to visit one of my sisters and celebrate the coming New Year. I am packing up three dogs, clothes for all weather contingencies, the cookies and pretzels I can’t eat more of, and gifts I have collected from some friends to help her in her recovery from the house fire she suffered this past summer.

My son gifted me a book for Christmas, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom. It’s a sequel to The Five People You Meet in Heaven. It’s a great read; I’m already done with it. This part stuck with me:

“We fear loneliness, Annie, but loneliness itself does not exist. It has no form. It is merely a shadow that falls over us. And just as shadows die when light changes, that sad feeling can depart once we see the truth.

“What’s the truth?” Annie asked.

“That the end of loneliness is when someone needs you.” The old woman smiled. “And the world is so full of need.”

This holiday season I have been blessed, again. I was able to recognize and meet my own needs by staying home, remembering, enjoying, crying, healing. Plus, there were those dogs who needed me, too! I wasn’t lonely, even if I was “alone” much of the time. It was a pretty good Christmas after all. I won’t hesitate to do it this way again.

I’d like to hear about your first Christmas alone, or what some of your favorite holiday traditions are. Feel free to comment below. Here’s to hoping for another great year of memory-making in 2020!!