Feel close to your family come holiday time, even when you're living far apart.
Say you live in Japan—far away from most of your family back in Canada—and you can't make it home for the holidays. In Tokyo, you'd never have to celebrate alone. For a reasonable 40,000 yen (or about C$470), you could hire a couple for four hours to substitute as parents and come over for Christmas; they could help with dinner prep, open presents and sing a few carols—and, if you were feeling really homesick, you could get your rent-a-mom to make comments about your brother's single status and your (albeit small) weight gain.
It's not that strange an idea, considering that the latest census survey—published in 2016—shows there are more Canadians who live by themselves than ever before, and about three million Canucks live abroad. But even if you aren't alone in your home province, you may not have extended family (or immediate kin) living close enough to share the holidays with. The thing is, being separated by too many kilometres when the festive season rolls around can really take its toll on some of us. (Bah, humbug, indeed.) And whether you're missing mom's turkey stuffing or tales of your sister's ongoing relationship drama, or if it's the first year you won't be lighting the menorah candles with your kids, there are ways you can close the gap and feel near to dear ones. Here's how.
1. Give your time to those in need.
One surefire way to feel less alone is to give back. Over and over again, studies show that volunteering begets happiness, so this is the perfect solution for anyone who is sad to be far from their relatives. Serve dinner at a soup kitchen, sort cans at a food bank, answer letters to Santa, deliver stockings of toiletries to women's shelters, fulfill wish lists of kids in need or spend time at a retirement home. Because if you can't have your ideal holiday, you can surely help someone else achieve theirs—it's the best gift you can give yourself.
2. Make new traditions with your "chosen family."
You may long for that family Christmas feeling, but you shouldn't be lost without it, and spending time with friends who feel as close as family can help keep your yearning for home at bay. Start traditions with those individuals. Whether it's a Hallmark movie marathon, an ugly sweater party, a decadent cookie exchange or a night of ice skating, scheduling festive activities with friends gives you something to look forward to—and still counts as spending the holidays with your nearest and dearest.
3. Skype in for holiday dinner.
Celebrate virtually. No doubt you watch for social media updates and photos from family members, but if you haven't already, consider starting a private Facebook group where your family can share pictures, chat in real time or post messages for one another and show off the decorated tree, the kids' snowman or all that gift unwrapping. And don't forget to phone (or, even better, Skype or FaceTime); go ahead and interrupt the party or dinner you're missing out on! Schedule the call with the host and get partygoers to pass the phone from person to person, with each spending a few minutes celebrating with you—bonus points if you make yourself a plate of something they're serving and post it to the group.
4. Hang ornaments from loved ones.
Surround yourself with notions of home. When decking your halls, put the items that remind you of your loved ones front and centre (even if it's your nana's kitschy crocheted Santa tissue cozy). Ask everyone you miss to send you an ornament that represents them to hang prominently on your tree (they may not match, but they'll be meaningful).
5. Share experiences from afar.
Finding, buying and wrapping the perfect gift is another opportunity to feel connected—it's a way to keep your loved ones top of mind when you're out and about this season. Take it a step further and source an experience you can share or live vicariously through. Find something you recently did (and loved) or want to do in your city that's being replicated where your loved one lives, like a play, a choir performance or an art-night event. Send your parents to dinner at a restaurant you've been dying to try in their town. Give your brother a gift card for the movies, then watch the same flicks so you can compare reviews. Or pay for your sister to take some Zumba or burlesque workouts (hey, don't knock it till you try it) and dish on the phone after classes.
6. Bake your grandma's famous gingerbread cookies.
Hold on to holiday traditions. Having—and practising—rituals has been shown to bring families closer, offer a sense of belonging and lessen feelings of loneliness, whether you're celebrating in the same room, virtually or solo. There's comfort in knowing that, however far apart you are, you and your siblings are doing the same stuff, such as baking Grandma's famous cookies, listening (and singing along) to Boney M.'s Christmas album, sipping extra-strong eggnog and wearing a brand-new set of holiday-themed jammies.