COLUMN: Unwrapping the gift of solitude

The Christmas I spent alone, around a decade ago, is something I’ll always remember.

The Christmas I spent alone, around a decade ago, is something I’ll always remember.

I had been widowed a few years at that point and most of the time, I didn’t think too much about the fact that I was now alone. Life had changed.

But Christmas is different. It’s a huge family time, with gift exchanges and a special meal.

For me, the celebration was also a harsh reminder that I was alone.

My immediate family is in Saskatchewan, and while I have sometimes been there for Christmas in past years, travelling there for the December holidays is chaotic, expensive and frantic at the best of times.

In past years, I have spent some Christmases with some close friends people who are almost family to me here in Summerland. That year, those friends were out of town.

On Christmas Eve, I was in Kelowna, with my uncle, aunt and cousins.

The next morning, on Christmas Day, I was alone and I noticed it. The day was mild and overcast. I spent the morning in silence and quiet contemplation, sipping a cup of tea.

In the afternoon, I hiked up Giant’s Head Mountain. The view from the summit was stunning.

My Christmas dinner consisted of ham and all the trimmings.

I spent the evening watching one or two classic holiday movies on my computer and enjoying a sense of peacefulness.

The day felt good. I had made it a celebration that worked for me, on my own.

But now, looking back, I realize it didn’t have to be this way.

I didn’t have to be alone and I could have enjoyed a traditional Christmas dinner that year. One of the restaurants in Summerland offered a meal to anyone who was going to be alone for the day.

The gesture was nice, but going out on that evening would have emphasized my single state, and I didn’t want that reminder.

That’s why I chose to spend a quiet Christmas that year.

The Christmas season is a time for giving, and each year people help with food and toy drives and charitable fundraisers. In larger cities, some will volunteer at soup kitchens and other facilities, serving a Christmas dinner to those who are homeless.

These are touching gestures, impressive shows of generosity.

Here in Summerland, for the last few years, NeighbourLink has worked to match people who are alone on Christmas Day with families who would like to include others in their holiday celebrations.

A number of families are eager to open their homes on this day, but few have put their name on that list as guests.

Showing generosity is easy; receiving generosity is not. Putting one’s name on the NeighbourLink list means admitting one is alone. It means acknowledging loneliness. That’s a humbling admission.

That Christmas spent in solitude wasn’t a bad experience and I have some pleasant memories from the day.

But after it was over, I realized I never wanted to spend another Christmas like that one.

The gift of solitude is best enjoyed in small doses.

This year, it’s going to be different.

I’m looking forward to celebrating Christmas with my girlfriend and her family. I’m looking forward to exchanging gifts, sharing a meal and enjoying time together with people who hold a special place in my heart.

If you know someone who’s going to be alone this Christmas, offer to include them in your celebrations. And if you’re on your own, it’s okay to reach out to friends to share this special time together.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.