My first married Christmas, my new husband and I spent the holidays with my family. The anxiety about spending the following Christmas with my in-laws and away from home for the very first time in my life began December 26, for real.
I love my in-laws and my mother-in-law is a fabulous cook. We'd be traveling to Northern PA which would be snowy and beautiful, promising a picturesque white Christmas. Nonetheless, my eyes started to sting with tears whenever I thought about it. As the holidays approached, if I ever heard the carol "I'll Be Home For Christmas," I would legit start balling. My best friends all return to my hometown for the holidays, both sides of my entire extended family gathers for lively meals, and adjusting to a quiet holiday in the mountains with just the six of us in my husband's family was a big adjustment. But I got through it and of course the holiday was lovely.
Wether you've moved to a new city, your parents have retired to sunnier climes, or like me, you joined a new family and began sharing the holidays, breaking from your traditions can be tough. That's why it's important to bring your traditions with you. When I joined my husband's family, holidays weren't as big a deal to them. They didn't always have a traditional, go-all-out family dinner. But I like to think I helped bring about a new tradition that everyone enjoys. My mother-in-law was gracious enough to include me in the menu planning so some of my annual favorites were on the table. There was a stocking with my name on it. Little things like that made me feel included.
Think of what your favorite holiday traditions are. Love the smell of a real Christmas tree? Get one for your apartment, even if you live alone. Does your grandmother make the best ever latkes? Start practicing her recipe now. Maybe even have her give you a tutorial, it will be a special bonding experience that helps make up for missing Chanukah with your family. Make sure that the things you'll really miss sharing are still part of your celebration.
Make a plan to get in touch with your family at a specific time on the holiday. Phone is good, Skype or Facetime is even better. Yes, you'll cry when all your cousins gather around the laptop in their cozy sweaters and you happen to be across the country in sunny L.A., but you'll feel like you're still part of the gathering, because you will be. My friends and I had attended the same church service on Christmas Eve literally our entire lives, I hadn't missed a year since I was four. So just before the service began, they all called me to say hi and that they missed me, and it really made me feel loved and closer to them even from a state away.
You might think that avoiding all reminders of your holiday at home is the way to keep your emotions in check, and you know yourself best. But in my experience, that's the surest way to have a last-minute breakdown when your Mom calls or you wake up alone on Christmas morning. Try to guard against too much alone time. If Christmas day means movies and Chinese food, get a group of friends together and maybe pack a flask. If you absolutely have to have a homemade turkey on Thanksgiving Day, embark on a culinary adventure with your roommate to cook your very first one. (Maybe have a backup main dish just in case.) Make the holiday special with new traditions and new friends and family, it will help cut the loneliness of missing the festivities at home.