Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a womans life look in single life and in marriage. This week, were considering the experience of celebrating holiday traditions as single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each others experience.

I stood in the crisp air, snow falling on the Leyland cypress trees, warm mug in hand, my parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews all under one roof in my magical childhood home. A Dickensian Christmas scene. But I needed this minute outside alone. Why, on my favorite day of the year, with the people dearest to my heart, mantels dressed with garlands and candles lit in every corner, did I feel a deep sadness and the gnawing feeling that something, someone, was missing?

I have always been a traditionalist, in many senses of the word, the holidays stand as the high point of my year. I revel in the full splendor of it all, switching out the decor over and over—first for Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then New Years Eve.

Looking back, this love of celebration and making moments special is probably what led me to my now decade-long career in the event industry. So much of what I do professionally was born out of a love for tradition, making holidays stand in time, memorializing them with pomp and circumstance. But my reverence for tradition and celebration is also perhaps what makes being single during the holiday season so particularly difficult.

Dreams unfulfilled

I’ve long dreamt of my first Christmas engaged. My first Christmas married. My first Christmas as a mother. Each of these milestones especially cherished during the holiday season. Being able to share my love of celebration with my very own family unit seemed like the culmination of so much of what makes me, me. This dream has been difficult to surrender. Of course I don’t believe marriage and a family is out of the question. I maintain hope for the future, but I also try to live in the present moment, accepting my current reality as gracefully as possible.

My friends and family can attest to the fact that I am an overeager holidayer. I’m the first to hang a wreath on the front door and add a garland to the staircase railing. I pull out twinkly lights and put on Frank and Bing’s Christmas record (is there really any other Christmas record??) a little too early.

I make sure the traditions my parents created for our family like having an Advent wreath lit every Sunday, stromboli every Christmas Eve, and designing homemade swags from our family’s pine trees, occur every year: Or Christmas. Won't. Happen. But sometimes these traditions feel a bit silly when it’s just little old me I’m arranging them for, you know?

As a Catholic, Christmas Eve Mass is the most important event of the season. Acknowledging why I am celebrating this holiday, and taking time for reflection and meditation, is integral for unifying my faith with the season’s traditions that revolve around lifestyle.

In years past, my whole family attended Christmas Eve Mass together. We actually did the music as a family at our local parish (cue extreme embarrassment in the middle school years when I had a bad haircut, some slightly off-tempo harmonies to contribute, and my childhood crush sitting in the pews). Being single in my thirties means that, once in a while, schedules don’t quite line up, and I attend Christmas Eve Mass alone. This has perhaps been among the more painful moments of the holiday season for me. Seeing the familiar faces I grew up with now having families of their own, while I’m still “Parks, party of one” isn’t exactly yuletide bliss. I wish I could share these poignant and meaningful moments with a spouse.

Shifting focus from what holiday cheer I lack to what I can give

Whilst the holidays can trigger some pain and sadness, I also hold a deep gratitude for the benefits of being single around this time of year. Since I don’t have a spouse or children, I have the opportunity to spend every Christmas in my childhood home with my loved ones—no contest with a significant other for whose family to spend the holidays with or expensive flights to split time between both. I’ve been able to spend quality time with my nieces and nephews—teaching them holiday crafts and bringing over the fixings to make a gingerbread house so their mom can get a break from this messy and tedious task (who here has conquered the Trader Joe’s pre-packaged set? I salute you!).

Not having the responsibility of arranging an entire Christmas season for my own family, I have the freedom to spend time on the fun parts of the holidays, like looking up a craft cocktail recipe I think my brothers would enjoy, or taking extra care with wrapping Christmas presents, adding fun and unexpected flourishes to the packaging.

Time off work during the holidays is truly my own. I can read a book, sit by the fire, watch a holiday movie, or plan a beautiful tablescape for New Years Eve. I’ve recently started a new holiday habit: planning moments of self care throughout the season. I book a facial or haircut at my favorite hometown salon and enjoy some time alone to recharge and feel pampered.

Amongst all of these small rituals that bring joy, I’ve found the greatest antidote to the single blues is to shift my focus to others: finding ways to bring joy and beauty into their lives, through sharing the traditions I hold so dear, in the time of year I treasure the most. Rather than lament who I’m not sharing my holiday traditions with (applications for tall, dark, and handsome single men are still being accepted), I try to shift the focus to whom I can share them with. If I am feeling this way, how many others must be experiencing a lack of something during this season as well? 

The way I know how to share love is through making seasons bright, so maybe seeing the wreath go up on my door a tad early will be the inspiration my neighbor needs to add some cheer to his own home. Or bringing cookies and cider to an elderly friend could be just the thing they needed to feel like it was finally Christmas. And I can’t think of anything more heartwarming during the holiday season than the ripple effect of light, love, and good cheer bouncing from you, to your neighbor, and beyond. 

Do you have reflections on celebrating holiday traditions that you'd like to share? Tell us here, and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.