How to Celebrate the Holidays When You Don’t Have an Extended Family

A new reader recently found this blog by searching for this phrase. It’s a great question, one in which is just as applicable for people who live far away from or haven’t formed a close or healthy relationship with  their extended family.

My family moved several times when I was growing up. For four years we lived on the opposite side of the country as all of our extended family members. When I was a teenager we often ended up attending three or four dinners in order to visit everyone over the holidays.

As an adult I decided to move to another country in order to marry the man that I loved. His parents and siblings don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas so most of time we’re on our own. In other words, I have quite a bit of experience celebrating holidays with and without extended family.

It was a little lonely at first but now I’m perfectly content with our two-person holidays. As much as I love travelling to the U.S. every few years over Christmas there’s something to be said for a quiet day at home on the off years.

The trick is to figure out what makes you happiest. Do you want to be alone over the holidays? Is spending time with one or two other people your sweet spot? Or maybe you want to squeeze as many friends around your dining room table as possible?I can’t answer these questions for you but I can offer up a few concrete ideas as you make plans for the next six weeks:

Go commune with the trees. If the weather is nice go for a long walk. Even in the winter nature is full of surprises and there’s nothing I love more than disappearing into a quiet park, desert or forest for a little while to see what it has to offer me today.

Find people in the same circumstances. Trust me, you are not the only person who will be celebrating alone or only with your nuclear family this year. If you need someone or several someones with whom to spend the day pay attention to what your coworkers, neighbours, fellow volunteers or acquaintances say over the next several weeks.

Photo by Boby Dimitrov.

Start a new tradition. Make your favourite meal. Volunteer somewhere. Pop a fresh bowl of popcorn and rent the least (or most!) holiday-related movie you can imagine. Go see what restaurants are open in your city. Play board games. Stay in bed all day with your significant other – what you two do in there is no one’s business but your own. 😉

Try something new. This tip depends on where you live but here in Toronto there are people from so many different cultures and religions that most holidays are not actually universal. Some areas of the city shut down on Christmas. Others are so heavily populated by groups who don’t consider it holy or special that December 25 is treated just like any other day. Restaurants in these neighbourhoods remain open and provide a wonderful opportunity to try new dishes.


How are you planning to celebrate the holidays this year?


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0 Responses to How to Celebrate the Holidays When You Don’t Have an Extended Family

  1. tammy

    Good post. This year we are having a handful of friends over on thanksgiving afternoon for a pool bbq. I’m making bbq meatballs and angel eggs. My favorite thing to do on Christmas afternoon is go to a movie.

  2. TWF

    I would suggest one other activity, and that is to take a moment to reflect on what you are thankful for. If you can’t be with your family, thinking about the good times and life experiences you’ve had with them can make you feel surrounded by family, if only virtually.

    As you suggest, one of the best Thanksgivings I had was with a group of non-family members who decided to get together for a pot-luck dinner and some games. Bonding with others in the same situation was like having a different kind of family there with you. 🙂

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