Home alone on Christmas Day


For the first time in years, possibly ever, I’m having Christmas Day alone. Stop — don’t feel sorry for me! No sympathy is required.

Until 6.30pm on Christmas Day, it’ll just be me at home alone, apart from a phone call or two. (Short interruption right now while I receive a text and a photo of daughter and grandson playing on a wild beach — see? I’m not abandoned.)

Maybe I’ll go for a walk or a swim or sing carols in church or go climb a tree. Then in the evening I’ll go to my friend’s bed and breakfast for a buffet meal. This may sound bleak, like a city mission meal for the homeless, but the B&B is a lovely place and dinner will be congenial and delicious.

Habits — love them, fear them

Christmas is a gorgeous time in our family. In recent years I’ve usually been with family in a beautiful spot near Nelson. But who knows — that particular pattern may never re-occur, and that’ll be fine.

I like habits, and I like habits to be disrupted. Otherwise when you’ve made the same choice three times, it’s tempting to see this as not a just a habit but a sacred tradition, a divine right! Then Christmas can become a burden and no fun any more.

The family reunion

By (breakable) tradition our larger family gets together once every seven or five years, so in early January we’ll have three days together at Bridge Valley Camp — about 70 or 80 from four generations having picnics and bike rides and generally hanging about together. There’ll be a concert and a Pechu Kuchu night and judging by previous events, we will love it.

So that’s one reason why I’m Christmassing at home. Why gather for Christmas when a mega-gathering will happen a week later?

Empty Wellington: not post-apocalyptic but a writer’s retreat 

In January, Wellington is a different city. The streets are almost empty, yet I have almost never seen a zombie here in January. On the contrary, strangers say hello (hey, another human being!) and start chatting, as if in a village.

Summer pretends to have arrived. It’s wind-free and sunny (as a rule) and so peaceful that January is the best time for writers in Wellington. I dig in and become a writer in residence in my own apartment or on a park bench or in any cafe that keeps its doors open over the holiday period.

Doris Lessing: The Summer Before the Dark

The moment I realised I’d be alone this Christmas, Doris Lessing’s novel popped into my mind. Through a series of coincidences, the protagonist Kate Brown also finds herself alone for the summer holidays for the first time in decades.

Nobel laureate Doris Lessing’s classic novel of the pivotal summer in one woman’s life is a brilliant excursion into the terrifying gulf between youth and old age.

The Summer Before the Dark  impressed me deeply when I first read it as a mere gal in my 40s. So I read it again to prepare myself for the educational value and the sheer weirdness of spending Christmas week alone.

The novel was no less impressive and provocative on second reading. Thinking about Kate Brown’s alarming summer is an ideal exercise for me as I near the end of my self-inflicted Boot Camp for Old Age. “Be who you are” is proving to be one of my most difficult challenges, more so when I remember that one’s perceived identity can be wiped out in a matter of days..

Happy holidays

So shall I have a Happy Christmas? Of course I shall. I know that good relationships keep us happy, healthy and alive. But there’s much to be said for a home-alone adventure, especially if you’re a writer.

Your holiday — how will it be?



23 thoughts on “Home alone on Christmas Day

  1. toutparmoi says:

    That’s a wonderful photo of the whole family. Is one taken at every get together?

    And I’m with you on the joys of empty Wellington. January is a laid-back delight. The inner city is already emptying out. I dashed into town late this afternoon because I realised I hadn’t bought my 2016 calendar and a notebook diary. And yes, I do use an electronic calendar, but there’s just something about scribbling notes to self on a hard copy…

    Anyway, many of the shops were quiet, Whitcoulls was reminding shoppers they would be closing at 5.00pm, and when I stopped to buy a bag of cherries from a street stall the man looked like he was getting ready to pack up.

    Of course, with the weather so nice today business at the bars and restaurants along the waterfront is probably brisk, but the emptying streets brought back memories of when the shops stayed open on Christmas Eve till 9.00pm or later and the city thronged with last minute shoppers.

    1. Shhh. Let Wellington in summer be our little secret. And I bet you didn’t see a single vampire or zombie either. They all buzz off in Jamuary. See you in an empty street, writing buddy.

      1. And yes! We always have heaps of photos taken. This one amuses me because everyone is looking at the same little character, Grace. I wonder why?

      2. Your secret is out! You two may have to start sharing your little writer’s colony with American bloggers who didn’t get to go to Breadloaf !

      3. Breadloaf?

      4. It should have read Bread Loaf but spell check “fixed it for me”. It’s the oldest writer’s conference in America and also is Bread Loaf School of English near Bread Loaf Mountain in Vermont. It has spread to other sites, too. I wrote about wanting to go there in my “About Me” page.Some of the more famous writer’s colonies are Yaddo in New York, McDowell in New Hampshire among many others. Quiet places to write and learn and many give grants or fellowships.

      5. I’d heard of Yaddo and McDowell but not Bread Loaf — what a great name. Loved my stay at Chateau de Lavigny but since then retreat is DIY.

      6. As I said in my About Me -We make our own Bread Loafs. I believe we all need a quiet place, “A Room of Our Own” and of course, people around us who appreciate us and understand what it is to write. And so, Blogs like yours who promote late starters like me are much appreciated. Thanks again, Rachel

      7. Perfect. True. And you seem to have become an honorary member of yet another virtual Bread Loaf!

      8. I have such a wonderful group of blogger friends and their friends are also wonderful and their friends, too. Who needs a farm in Vermont? I have the best of the entire world at my fingertips. Thanks, Rachel.

  2. Janice Wald says:

    Hi Rachel,
    I love that you and I are writing each other at the same time, although it seems we are world’s apart. My daughter is in New Zealand on a work visa. We are in California.
    I see we both know toutparmoi. I am guessing you found me on her site.
    She and I love history.
    You and I have commonalities also.
    1. Home alone on the holidays. I have almost no family in California. I was relocated here at an early age, and my dad passed decades ago. My mom is in California but many hours away. She moved about two years ago. I have three daughters (including a Rachel) that mean the world to me. Dana is away, and Rachel and Hayley split their time at their dad’s.
    Tonight and tomorrow will be my husband and our two dogs. Cozy for sure. Your attitude beats mine though. You seem to embrace the “it’s just a day” mentality, while I like to celebrate on the day.
    Commonality 2– Rachel
    Commonality 3– I write to fill voids. I started last year when my youngest went to college.
    I appreciate you reaching out to me tonight. I find your attitude refreshing. I will try to be inspired by it.

    1. Hi Janice. Your message is so special! Just as your daughter Dana is bracing herself for a big Christmas dinner (maybe), I’m checking my emails and you’re just settling into Christmas Eve. We do have such a lot in common, it’s true. Even when life is full, we write to fill a void that only reveals itself as we start writing. That’s the adventure. Your blog is really helping many others who are on the same journey, that’s clear.
      This year I began taking my blogs and networking more seriously. Next year I will focus on reviving my true vocation as a writer from way back when, and getting my books known and sold. My writing buddy toutparmoi lives nearby, and we encourage each other. She suggested I take Blogging 101 in January, so I shall! Meantime I hope Santa finds you in California and the four of you have a fun Christmas Day.

      1. Janice Wald says:

        We are watching a movie.

  3. It was so great to read this post because I had just been thinking about holidays may change as my extended family keeps changing. Thanks for giving me great food for thought! It was extremely helpful to me as I process my life. God obviously used you to help me. Thanks!

    1. Thank you, Heather! I should know by now that if something is an issue for me, it’s an issue for others too. We’re all in this together.

  4. Robyn Haynes says:

    I had a break over Christmas so have just discovered this post. I pondered what you said about not forcing traditions lest they become a burden. My family is careful to make sure I’m not alone at Christmas but really the thought doesn’t bother me.

    They now have their own lives and I like the one I have. Christmas can be had at any time really if it’s about being with people you love and not about dates. Your family reunion proves that point. I love the photo of you all. What great memories you must have made.

    Doris Lessing: I haven’t read The Summer Before the Dark but it’s now on my reading list. I loved The Cleft – made for great discussion. I also read some of her short stories. She deserved the accolades.

    1. What a sane reply! I say that because Christmas can become a kind of madness for many people. I think you will enjoy the Doris Lessing novel.

  5. I like Christmas alone. Peaceful. You can do what you want. No work. With all the hoopla before and after it’s an oasis in month of crazy.

    1. I see how this can be a precious haven of peace and privacy.

  6. jameswharris says:

    I spent Thanksgiving alone. It didn’t bother me. But, I guess like me, you feel the need to rationalize to other people that it’s okay. My wife and I never had kids, and as all our nephews and nieces have grown up and married, it’s become obvious that we will be spending our holidays alone. My wife works out of town, and this year it wasn’t practical for her to come home on Thanksgiving. My friends all go spend Thanksgiving with their families. I have one lady friend who spent her Thanksgiving alone too. She didn’t want to get together because it was her one opportunity to be alone. Since I’m retired and spend many days without seeing people, it was no big deal for me. Luckily, I have lots of friends, and I do socialize as much as I need to, but I actually prefer spending most of my time alone.

    1. You’ve put this not-particularly-momentous experience of mine into a realistic context. My children and I are laughing about my tragic Christmas: I aimed for tragedy but achieved only a contented domesticity. I’m an introvert, so it’s rather ridiculous to make a meal of Christmas alone.

  7. My philosophy is similar – One designated day in a year does not a holiday make. Your life seems to be filled with lovely days to be cherished even more so than the Hallmark ones we feel the need to celebrate. (I really do hope you have that longevity gene!)

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