Home alone?

Being alone or far from home during the holidays doesn’t automatically mean that you are going to be depressed during this time.

Many associate the winter holidays with commercialization, family, gifts, togetherness. Some people choose to see these things in a positive light, while others are more privy to some of the more negative aspects. Maybe you’re not looking forward to Uncle Bill’s rant about how college kids have it too easy these days. On the other hand, maybe you look forward to the empty casinos on Christmas Day or lighting the menorah for the first night of Hanukkah.

This is my third consecutive holiday away from my home state, including my birthday. However, I’ve probably spent half of the actual holidays with my family in the last four years. Once you reach a certain age, your parents and siblings quit buying you excessive presents. The meals aren’t as much fun since you no longer sit at the kid’s table. If you’re in a relationship, you have to choose which family you’re going to visit. So how do you survive?

I have several tidbits of advice for anyone who might be far from home during the holidays. First things first: add a touch of home to your individual celebration. One of the big traditional items in New Mexico are the farolitos, which are basically luminaria or small paper bags with sand at the bottom and a tea light candle inside. New Mexicans line the farolitos along their roofs or driveways. I had to nix the idea of lining my apartment with them to bring back a taste of home, though, because of the fire hazard. Instead, I am hanging pictures in my apartment reminiscent of the tradition. Safety comes first, even if you have to say no to the fun of fire.

Prepare early for the city being closed on Christmas Day. Dec. 25 is the one day during the year when virtually every store closes. I learned this the hard way in 2002, when I was snowed in at my apartment and forgot to buy a feast for my first holiday alone with my ex-boyfriend. Instead of cooking a ham or festive meal, we ate gas station burritos and cereal.

If you choose to celebrate a religious holiday, realize that there are many people who do not, or who celebrate a different one than you. Simply saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" shows cultural sensitivity and prevents a politically incorrect faux pas.

The winter holiday season is usually known as the time for family and togetherness, but people who are alone during the holidays are more likely to suffer from depression during this time. If you are depressed or considering taking your own life, help is available. Contact the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE.

Volunteering is a great way to fulfill the true meaning of Christmas. There are many local, nonprofit organizations you can contact. Helping those who are less fortunate, whether by circumstance or choice, can be a gratifying way to spend your time if you are alone during the holidays. Contact Loaves & Fishes at 503-736-6325. If cooking for peace is your cup of tea, contact Food Not Bombs at 503-473-2137.

Spending a holiday alone is not the end of the world. It can provide new opportunities to truly give to others, and to reflect on your future goals.

I leave you with these words of wisdom for the long break: eat well and drive safely.