Although the popularly held belief that suicide rates increase at Christmas time is a myth, it can be a very difficult time for those of us alone at this family time of the year.

With the increasing divorce rate, blended families, non traditional families and family members spread all over the globe, the idea of mom and dad and the kids waking up Christmas morning to see what Santa brought is also becoming a myth. Most holiday movies show the wonders of being in what was a traditional family and the joys of being all together at Christmas. This is not the reality for millions of people.

Divorced Mums and Dads struggle over who gets the kids when, often one for Christmas Eve and one for Christmas Day, or Christmas Day is split between having the kids in the morning and the Christmas dinner. It would be great if Mom and Dad could put their differences on hold for just one day of the year and spend it as a family, but this is just too awkward (who gets presents for who?) and may well create a false hope in the children that Mom and Dad are getting back together.

With the divorce rate in Canada fifty-four percent that means that over half the population faces a Christmas season changed drastically from that they had as a family. This can turn what was the most joyous time of the year into the most stressful and depressing time. Traditions are gone. The family unit has been ripped apart. Friends don’t know who to side with and usually opt for no one. Kids are shuttled around between parents. Who gets the better gifts for the kids? Who comes to dinner?? Even the weather can become a factor if there is long distance travel involved.

Personally, Christmas was one of my favorite times of the year for so many reasons. It started with the tree. In twenty-three years of marriage we always had a real tree. For me this wasn’t an option. Although lots of fun, I started a tradition that became very expensive over the years. Not only did we have to have the biggest most gorgeous tree, but every year I decorated it with a different theme. I was never a fan of the traditional red and green lights and a mishmash of ornaments. Our tree had to be special. Our house was always the gathering place for friends and family and they looked forward to seeing what I had done this year. The problem, of course, was that, unlike most people who drag out the decorations from storage, I had to go out and buy all new everything once I decided on a theme. And, of course, no one would ever let me get away with repeating my themes. Some years it was just a complete change in colour and I rarely mixed them unless they were complimentary. Then there were tress like an Angel tree, a Charlie Brown tree (my favorite), all birds and many, many more.

Christmas Eve was always a hoot. Although my parents, brother and sister had moved west right after we got married, we always had my much opinionated Aunt Ann and the in-laws. It was never officially Christmas Eve until my aunt and my darling father-in-law got into a heated argument over something. It never amounted to any animosity and I think they looked forward to the challenge of a good debate. In later years the kids got to open one gift on Christmas Eve. After everyone was gone Santa got to work assembling whatever gifts he brought.

Christmas morning, which always came far too early, had many traditions as well. The kids knew they weren’t allowed downstairs until Mum and Dad were up, so waking us was the first job. Then we would all rush downstairs and the kids would be squealing with delight when they saw their gift from Santa. I’d get the coffee and Bailey’s, another Christmas tradition, for Mum and I and we would then open our gifts, one at a time. Chris was originally in charge of handing them out so that we each took turns and the mantle was then passed to Heather when she was older. We were careful to note who the gifts came from so that the kids could thank them.

As the kids played with whatever they got and the wrapping paper was gathered up so that no one would step on anything and break it, I cooked a huge Christmas breakfast which included the traditional Malt toast. Usually another coffee and Bailey’s, then the turkey went in the oven and the clean-up started, getting ready for dinner. I cooked most of the Christmas dinners, but I do remember going to the in-laws a couple of times over the years.

For several years we also had a Boxing Day tradition of going to our friends, Zak and Joyce, where they always had a good crowd of people, most of whom we didn’t know. My two favorite Boxing Days were the year we had got Chris the football player who kicked field goals. I’m not sure the kids ever got near it because all the fathers loved it. The other was the year Zak got new cross-country skis and told me to go ahead and try them. What he forgot to tell me was about the river at the bottom of the hill. In the pitch dark I went zooming down the hill only to become airborne as I launched off the river bank and ended up lodged in the snow on the other side and then heard the horrible crack as the skis snapped under my weight. Walking back to the house and presenting him with the pieces of his new skis was not a great experience. I did offer to replace them but I can’t remember now if I ever did.

Christmas changed drastically after we separated, but, in a good way I had moved west so everything was going to be much different anyway. I don’t think I could have handled being alone that first Christmas if I had still been in Brampton. I had new traditions with my own family and that helped. My parents still went south for the winter so I never got to have Christmas with them but going up to Revelstoke to go snowmobiling at Christmas became a new tradition. I still missed my kids terribly and Christmas Day was always a depressing time for me no matter where I was.

Christmas, 2007 was spent on a bus to Vancouver and then planes to Boquete, Panama. Arriving in Panama on Boxing Day I was very surprised to see just how many Christmas lights and decorations there were everywhere. It was something I had certainly not expected. That year and the following year though, Christmas without snow is just not Christmas.

Since my return to Canada Christmas has not been great. Last year and this year in particular I spent it totally alone. I did put some dollar-store decorations on my door and railings, but I have nothing in my apartment. No tree. Nothing to say it’s Christmas. Why would I? No one is going to see them other than me. It’s mostly seniors in my building so they’re all going to be with their families for Christmas. Not me. Knowing that I have a son and daughter and five grandchildren who I’ve never met. not that far from me here, makes Christmas all the more difficult. My children seem to have forgotten all the wonderful traditions we had for twenty-three years and they deny me the same joy.

If you know someone who is alone this Christmas, give them a call just to say hi or maybe even invite them to your Christmas dinner. They will really appreciate it. I know I would.

Merry Christmas!