Christmas can be a time of great joy and of deep sadness. One of my earliest memories is of going for a walk with my father and older sister and seeing our neighborhood transformed by Christmas lights. The phrase “winter wonderland” doesn’t even begin to express the wonder that I felt. It was as if the Christmas trees and colored lights—yes, even Santa and Rudolph—were simply visual manifestations of unspeakable joy, echoes of an ancient, eternal promise. It was my first intimation of heaven and it made me feel happy, sad, hopeful, despairing, and awestruck all at the same time. I wanted to dance; I wanted to cry. Perhaps this was how Isaiah felt when he saw the throne of God, an experience that made him both a prophet and a poet.

“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.”
(Isa. 6:5, NKJV)

I’ve looked forward to Christmas with the same joyful anticipation ever since. But I also know what it’s like to feel sad during the holidays and to spend one or all of them alone. If anything, the intense happiness that I experienced as a child makes the nostalgia that I now feel all the more bittersweet. Sometimes, our enemies aren’t strangers but member of our own families. Sometimes, the only way to experience “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” is to withdraw from those who don’t have our best interests at heart (Phil. 4:7, NKJV).

This can be a bitter pill for many of us to swallow but it’s comforting to know that we’re not alone. No matter how isolated we feel, it’s statistically impossible for us to be the only ones who’ve ever experienced what we’re going through. And while it might not be possible, or even advisable, to try to recapture the Christmas magic that some of us experienced as children, we can still find ways to “let our hearts be light.”

Christmas Crafting and Decorating

Decorating for the holidays isn’t always as fun. If you’re on your own, decorating for one can seem pointless. If you’re busy or depressed, it can feel like a chore—just one more thing to check off your “Perfect Christmas” list. And if you’re having trouble making ends meet, it might even be impossible.

Perhaps you and your friends could take turns decorating each other’s homes or choose one person to host a party every year and then pitch in for the decorations, etc. This would not only reduce any financial strain but also give you a family of friends to celebrate with.

If you don’t have the time, money, or energy for a medium-to-large tree, you could always buy a small one. You could even buy several tiny trees (twees®) and decorate each one differently. Commit to hanging at least one ornament a day between now and Christmas. Whatever you decide, there’s no point in “fun” that isn’t fun, unless you’ll regret doing nothing even more. If it doesn’t make you happy, skip it. That’s the joy of living alone.

Christmas Lights

Not to be confused with Christmas tree lighting (below), there are entire neighborhoods that decorate every year. My family always went to the Eagle Hills neighborhood in Brea, California. Parking nearby can be difficult but you can also drive—like a pub crawl for Christmas lights. Pretty sure that Long Beach does a whole Christmas boat show and the Queen Mary probably has some fun events as well.

Christmas Tree Lighting

It depends on where you live, but searching “Christmas tree lighting” is always a good place to start. I can personally vouch for the one at BIOLA University in La Mirada, California. Happening tomorrow at 7:00 p.m., this year’s lighting will feature free admission, Christmas booths, a message from President Dr. Barry Corey, snow, and a livestream for those who can’t attend in person.

Christmas Eve Service

Again, it depends on where you live, but many churches have a Christmas Eve service that includes carols, scriptures, spoken words, and/or reenactments of the nativity, often in beautifully decorated sanctuaries that are delightful on their own. You might need to reserve your tickets in advance but the service itself is usually free.

Handel’s Messiah

George Frideric Handel composed this masterpiece in twenty-four days between August 22–September 14, 1741. It premiered in Dublin on April 13, 1742, assumably for Easter rather than for Christmas, and was performed in London a year later. Featuring the famous “Hallelujah” and “Amen” choruses, Messiah is to opera what The Nutcracker is to ballet (though it’s technically an oratorio, which is essentially an opera with no theatrics). Many national and international chorales perform this work at Christmastime, so if you live near major city, there’s a good chance that one of them will be in town.

The Nutcracker

A Christmas staple of ballet companies everywhere, I’d skip the productions with children and find a professional, classical company with an all-adult cast. As with Olympic figure skating and gymnastics, I find Russian technique to be the most graceful, but any world-renowned company like the Bolshoi Ballet (Moscow), the Mariinsky Ballet (Saint Petersburg), the Royal Ballet (London), or American Ballet Theatre (New York) will be stellar.

Movie Night

Alternately, you could dress up (or down) and watch either of the above at home. You could “go to dinner and a show” with your significant other (like the date version of a staycation), or host a fancy dress/ugly Christmas sweater party and vote on your favorite costume. The prize for Best or Worst Dressed could be something nice like a gift basket or something silly like a white elephant. You could even make the film the theme of the party.

My favorite Nutcracker is the 1977 ABT production. Praised on Amazon as “the most romantic version ever,” it stars Mikhail Baryshnikov as the Nutcracker, Gelsey Kirkland as Clara, and Alexander Minz as a tall, distinguished Drosselmeyer. The final pas de deux is particularly heartrending.

Other Christmas classics include The Shop Around the Corner (1940, i.e. the original You’ve Got Mail), Holiday Inn (1942), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Christmas in Connecticut (1945), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), and White Christmas (1950). Overall, a great decade for film as well as for fashion. I love seeing the one while I’m watching the other.

None of these recommendations are paid endorsements.

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