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There’s No Place Like Your Own Home for the Holidays

The case for spending the holidays solo.

Photo illustration of self-gift suggestions by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
Photo illustration by Slate.

Enjoy Slate’s Holiday Advice From the Experts series from our beloved advice columnists. Keep your sanity intact this holiday season with Jamilah Lemieux’s self-care tips. Pet columnist Nick Greene offers the best pet gifts. Nicole Cliffe recommends classic gifts for children of all ages. Rich Juzwiak from How to Do It gives the rundown on unconventional gifts to spice up your relationship.

There are plenty of excellent reasons to spend “the Holidays” alone with oneself, even if you don’t have an especially difficult family of origin. You might even have a delightful family of origin, absolutely chockablock with boundaries and shared respect and mutual joy, and still look forward to tucking yourself away for the season, just for the sheer pleasure of your own company. Congratulations! There will be another “the Holidays” next year (and the year after, and so on), and you will have plenty of time to meet your social obligations and set aside time for pleasing others then. No one will die if you take a year off. The concept of “the Holidays” will remain safe and inviolate even without your usual level of participation.

You might even find that you’d like to make a habit of it, if only because there is a charm in the novelty of holiday solitude, like how having breakfast for dinner can sometimes feel like the most deeply disorienting and passionately independent joy available to humanity. And if you do have a difficult family of origin, and you’ve never allowed yourself to take a year off, I hope this marks the beginning of a lovely tradition.

Whisk yourself away on a road trip; turn off your phone, bolt the front door, and hibernate for a full week; invite your friends over for a potluck dinner; take yourself out to see as many movies in a row as you possibly can—you don’t have to go it alone, if you prefer company, as long as you’re setting the schedule yourself.

So even if you only ever embark upon a single solo holiday season as a freak experiment, never to be repeated, I think it’s worth doing—especially if you’re the sort who says “Yes” to too much and need to practice cultivating solitude. I’ve put together a list of items that can help make your time more meaningful. If you find yourself starved for company, by all means ignore this gift guide and hurl yourself into the nearest holiday—any holiday—gathering, and have a wonderful time with my blessing. Really, all of these gifts are applicable to almost any solo situation. If you find yourself wanting to mark a particularly special Thursday, they’ll do just fine.

If you’re looking to experience a bit of vicarious family drama, I recommend The Magnificent Ambersons, both the Orson Welles movie and the book by Booth Tarkington (“In that town, in those days, all the women who wore silk or velvet knew all the other women who wore silk or velvet.”)

If you prefer your family drama nonfiction, I suggest Sean Wilsey and his mother Pat Montandon’s dueling San Francisco memoirs, Oh the Glory of It All and Oh the Hell of It All, respectively.

If you need a little assistance allowing the iron to enter your soul, why not try Marjorie Hillis’ 1936 classic Live Alone and Like It? It’s just dated enough to be pleasantly baffling (“Mrs. C never serves ice-cream at her parties, and she has the only hostess gown nearer than Rockford… .” Was it wrong to serve ice cream at parties in the 1930s? Does Rockford’s possession of a hostess gown make it a provincial backwater, or a glamorous nightspot?), but with plenty of bracing, timely, throw-yourself-in-the-Atlantic-and-swim-determinedly-toward-your-future-type advice.

And if you find yourself longing for a hostess gown at the end of it, try this One Hundred Stars Atlas Evening Coat. Be advised, though, that it’s 50 percent viscose. I once bought myself the loveliest viscose dressing gown, which promptly caught fire the very first time I tried pulling the teakettle off the stove in it. If you’re clumsy, you might try this Rowen & Wren gray number. I have no idea how flammable linen is, and make no guarantees—just be careful around the stove.

If you want to get out of town, Amtrak is offering deals in the Pacific Northwest and Colorado, and you can even go one-way to Florida by train, and road trip home. One of the last times I was on a train, the conductor made a formal announcement to tell everyone, “From now on, the only WWW any of you will need is the Wide World outside your Window.” Also, an old man turned to me in the observation car and said, “You know what we’re passing through right now? That’s America’s backyard.” Hand to God, both of those things really happened. Sure, people say weird stuff, and the delays can be maddening, but you never have to get patted down by TSA agents and the view is unbeatable. (And bring Strangers on a Train with you! Everyone should read more Patricia Highsmith, and you have no excuse not to read Highsmith if you’re on a train.)

Strangers on a Train

By Patricia Highsmith. W.W. Norton and Company.

If staying at home alone isn’t alone enough for you, book a monastery retreat; there’s a ton to choose from, all from a wide variety of spiritual traditions. The food’s usually Redwall-good, it’s almost always cheaper than a hotel, and you can get as involved as you’d like in the life of the community, whether that means peering into a meditation room once and then going on a hike by yourself, or joining a bunch of monks for vespers every night.

Should that sound a bit ambitious, why not try instead a simple at-home baking project? Few things feel as immediately satisfying as being able to turn out a decent loaf of bread. If you want to get a little fancy with it, you can pick up Einkorn flour from the Grist & Toll Mill, a semi-terrifying (but verified!) “140-year-old” San Francisco sourdough starter from—oddly enough—San Diego on eBay, and either Josey Baker Bread or The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. Also, you can just get Red Star Yeast if the commitment of a starter freaks you out. It will still be bread; it will still be delicious.

Finally, this might sound strange, but get yourself socks. Nice socks, with interesting patterns and attractive colors, with reinforced heels, that look good with whatever outfit you pair them. You always need socks, and if no one else is going to get you any this year, buy them yourself. Fluevog makes great, splurge-y socks that are sufficiently festive, but not so festive that people see you and think that all of your personality is hiding in your socks. Consider them a symbol for how far you’ve come as you settle into what may be a wonderful new tradition.