‘Taking time for yourself is the most important thing you can do’, says 27-year-old PhD researcher and teacher Vaughn Joy.
Many people might agree with Vaughn in the day-to-day, acknowledging that taking the time to reflect on your day, step away from the social scene and focus on yourself is a positive thing to do. When it comes to Christmas, however, many of us can’t fathom the thought of being alone.
The festive season is typically characterised by get-togethers and big family meals – some of you might even be in the midst of a gathering while reading this – and in recent years Vaughn has experienced a whole range of Christmases.
As an American living abroad, she has spent the holiday with housemates, volunteering for those experiencing homelessness, with a partner and with her flatmate’s family, but this year she decided to step away from social obligations and spend the day by herself.
Speaking to UNILAD, Vaughn explained this isn’t her first time spending Christmas alone after having previously been forced to do so in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Though Vaughn admitted it was ‘jarring and a bit sad at first’, she decided to make the most of the situation and ’embrace the quiet’.
I had spent most of the year with only my flatmate and I felt pressure all year to be positive and productive and project a sense of optimism that I wasn’t really feeling in an attempt to make the lockdowns bearable.
When I was finally alone, I could embrace some of the more human emotions I was feeling and take a warranted break from performative positivity and extreme over-productivity with my work.
After having spent previous years surrounded by others, Vaughn said it was ‘quite a strange feeling spending Christmas alone’, and while it would be ‘wonderful to spend it with loved ones’, she noted that Christmas is ‘also about the feelings of goodwill and joy, happiness and generosity, love, compassion, and prosperity.’
Vaughn explained: ‘I can’t think of a more beautiful expression of the Christmas spirit than offering yourself some goodwill and compassion to take a beat, rest for a day or a week, and re-energise so you can bring all of those positive qualities rooted in Christmas cheer into the rest of the year.’
This year, Vaughn decided ‘not to leave that wonderful experience up to chance’ by choosing to spend Christmas by herself and using the festive season as an opportunity to ‘really slow down for a couple weeks, to get closer to myself and embrace the moments that make the memories we carry.’
Like so many of us, Vaughn spends a lot of the year ‘working and rushing between various projects’ which can become overwhelming when combined with the pressure to keep up your personal and social life. Instead of spending Christmas ‘placating others’, then, Vaughn will spend it doing ‘what she truly wants to do’.
While the rest of us take part in pulling crackers and sharing bad jokes, Vaughn will be turning her phone on silent, binging some TV shows and reading a book that she started in June, but hasn’t yet got around to finishing.
The thought of getting away from all responsibilities for a couple of days does undoubtedly sound tempting, though many people likely wouldn’t want to give up Christmas in order to do so.
The thought of going without the festivities that typically accompany December 25 is made easier for Vaughn, however, as she spends much of her time studying the history of Christmas, and specifically that of Christmas films, for her PhD.
As a result, she spends months on end with the holiday in a work environment, so she finds that it’s nice to be able to escape that world and understand what Christmas means to her as a person, rather than a scholar.
Sitting with myself, having a glass of port while reading a book for leisure is an act of love for myself that only I can give to myself and it’s in moments like that that you really get closer to yourself.
There’s no performing, no obligation to make sure the food is cooked perfectly or to recount your year in small talk with distant relatives, no pressure to give everyone else a good day, no need for anything but you doing what you want to do when you want to do it. That is a gift that is really underrated in my book.
Spending Christmas alone is not an option available to everyone – especially for those with young children looking forward to their presents – but whether December or July, Vaughn stressed the importance of taking time for yourself and reminding yourself that ‘no matter what, you have your back’.
You are always going to be there to fill silences or empty spaces in your life, offering yourself an opportunity to engage lovingly with your thoughts and to cherish your own company, you can’t beat it.
Vaughn acknowledged that ‘we’ve all had a lot of time to ourselves over the last two years’ as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but rather than savouring this time, ‘a lot of it was spent anxious and concerned’, with Vaughn noting that she found herself ‘grieving for the life [she] had before the pandemic.’
By choosing to spend this Christmas alone, she is ‘reclaiming that anxious alone time and reframing it as quality time’ that she is ‘lucky enough’ to spend with herself.
Not everyone may feel the same way, and when asked whether she would recommend spending Christmas alone, Vaughn instead advised to ‘do whatever makes you happiest’.
She added: ‘My only suggestion would be to really ask yourself why you are spending Christmas the way you are and make sure that it is the right decision for you. Christmas is a time for love and togetherness, and, sometimes, you are all the togetherness and love you need.’
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