TORONTO - The holidays are widely seen as a time of togetherness to gather for dinners, cocktail parties, gift exchanges and outdoor activities, yet whether by choice or circumstance, some find solace in moments of solitude during the festive season.
Laura Brown lives alone for half the year while her mother is in Florida. While most years she spends Christmas Day enjoying breakfast with her brother, his wife and in-laws, Brown also savours solo activities, like checking out the festive light displays in her hometown of Barrie, Ont.
"It's a good balance for me because at the holidays, you have a little more freedom," said the writer, who is divorced. "You can kind of slack a bit there, so you can do a little more for yourself.
"If you feel like being around people, you can go to the mall and get bumped around and stuff until you come home and go: 'Oh, now I remember why I was alone — this is good,'" she added, laughing.
Brown's birthday falls the week before Christmas. To mark her milestone 50th this year, she planned on spending several days in Toronto flying solo, with hopes of visiting the Royal Ontario Museum and CN Tower, scouting out light displays and festive store windows and taking snapshots of old buildings dotted throughout the city. But she's typically content to celebrate in even more low-key fashion.
"You get so busy with the holidays, some years, it's just nice to do nothing at all," said Brown. "For me, I like to just stay home, make up some hot chocolate and whatever you want for your dinner — just simple."
In a 2013 post on her website thatgrrl.ca, Brown outlined several tips on how to make the best of being alone during the holidays, like planning an event for each day, being of service to others as a volunteer, enjoying a spa day at home or using the time to catch up on reading, movies or home repair projects.
In the past, Brown has taken on festive-themed arts and crafts projects, like fashioning gingerbread men and snowmen out of felt to adorn the tree.
"I think for people who are alone, you have to decide what it is you want — if you want quiet or if you want people or if you want more holiday stuff — because everyone's going to be different."
Emily White, author of the national bestseller "Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude," said there are often lofty expectations surrounding the idea of togetherness during festive gatherings, such as Thanksgiving and New Year's celebrations.
"I don't know that people are any lonelier on Christmas Day than they are, say, on March 19," said White, whose new book "Count Me In" (McClelland & Stewart) is due out on Jan. 6.
"There have been studies done that show that loneliness increases in keeping with societal norms and expectations. So if you have a day where the expectations for sociability are very, very high — as they are on Christmas Day — people will feel lonelier as a result. And it's not because of the day — it's because of the expectations attached to the day."
While some may share in those expectations in the sense of not wanting to be alone, others may feel quite fine being solo, she noted.
The Toronto-based author comes from a big family and isn't alone on Christmas; but nonetheless, she still relishes the opportunities she has to enjoy a bit of quiet time.
"Christmas is one of the days where there's very, very little traffic. So, one of the things I do on my own is kind of celebrate the fact that there's no one on the road, And if it's snowy, you can go for long walks."
White encouraged individuals who are alone to mark the occasion in whichever way they find meaningful.
"This is sort of a day off from everything. It's a day where you can do whatever you want," she said. "And if that's staying home and reading a good book or calling a friend who you haven't seen in a long time who lives somewhere far away or, in my case, going for a walk in the snow ... there's all sorts of ways to be happy on that day."
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