My first Thanksgiving away from my family could have been a better experience. My boyfriend and I broke up a few days before the holiday and I was completely heartbroken. I really wanted to go home and cry to my mom while she made her always-amazing Thanksgiving dinner. I knew that would be the trick to cheering me up.
Unfortunately, a 1,500-mile trip and my status as the standard “poor college student” made the trip home impossible. But an aunt lived nearby and invited my older brother and me to her house for Thanksgiving dinner, so the meal wasn’t totally lost. After socializing and eating, my brother took me home so he could do his engineering homework. Alone in my apartment with no roommates or friends, homesickness crept in and set up camp. Needless to say, I didn’t have the greatest holiday.
Many single adults, whether at school, on a mission, or working away from home, experience similar lonely feelings during the holiday season. The holidays can also be a very stressful time for students, especially because these weeks often go hand-in-hand with final exams and hectic work schedules.
I realize now that there are things I could have done to make the holiday a more positive and uplifting experience. I chose to wallow in self-pity the whole weekend while I could have reached out to others and, in the process, helped myself.
Seek Out Others
Find out which ward members or others in your apartment complex will be around for the holiday. Plan to have a dinner together and then plan an activity for the day. Serve at a soup kitchen together, visit hospital patients, or invite the neighborhood kids and play a game of football.
Hold a Canned Food Drive
Organize a drive in your ward or community a week or two before the Thanksgiving holiday. I know food, especially canned food items, are worth their weight in gold in the world of a single adult, but if you can find just one thing to part with, the smiles it brings will be well worth it.
Write Thank-you Notes
Your bishopric, leaders, family, friends, and many other people do more for you than you’ll ever know. Writing thank you notes lets them know how much you appreciate their love, service, and friendship. Last Thanksgiving I got a cute homemade card from my ten-year-old niece that said, “I’m grateful to have an aunt like you.” It was so cute it almost made me cry.
Write a List
That’s right, a thankful list. Every Thanksgiving I try to take time to write down a list of my blessings. It helps me to realize how blessed I really am helps me be more grateful for the things I have, instead of wishing for things I don’t have.
Sing Christmas Songs!
Once you’ve eaten the last bit of turkey, I think it’s completely kosher to start singing Christmas songs. After dessert one year at my cousin’s house, my sister and I started singing Christmas hymns. My cousin’s family joined in and we moved right from a general Thanksgiving spirit to being grateful for the most important gift of all, the Savior.
Build Relationships with Extended Family
You may not have time or the resources to go home for Thanksgiving, but you may have some extended family or distant relatives close by. I’ve spent several Thanksgivings with aunts, uncles, and cousins who I didn’t know well, but with whom I became better friends after spending Thanksgiving with them.
Don’t Forget Home or Visiting Teaching!
Make sure those you home or visit teach have a place to go for the holidays. If not, talk to your bishopric or invite them over to your place.
Find out about your ward activities for the holiday season. Offer to help and invite others to participate.
Make Your Favorite Holiday Comfort Dish
Food is huge in my family. When my family and I get together, the first question is “What are we going to eat?” To keep those traditions alive, collect your favorite holiday recipes from your mom or members of your family. One Thanksgiving away from home, my little sister and I made a wassail drink Mom always makes around the holidays. It gave us some comfort to have something from home and it was fun making the drink and reliving precious memories. Call your mom and ask for pointers and practice making your favorite dish for a future get-together. You’ll be prepared to help out your mom at the next gathering, and you’ll get to enjoy a treat right now!
Use the Phone
Let your family know how much you love them and how grateful you are for them.
Serve Your Roommates
Try extra hard to keep the apartment clean. Make their beds and wash any dishes (yes, even if they’re not yours). If you’re the only one home for a few weeks, make sure everything is ship-shape when they get back.
Stay On Schedule
You need balance in your life to be happy and healthy. Get some exercise and some sleep. Your body will thank you.
Enjoy Your Community
Universities, high schools, middle schools, and local churches usually put on different Christmas programs and musical concerts. Check your local newspaper and schools for listings of times and events. Whenever I hear Christmas music it helps me feel the true spirit of Christmas.
Go to the Temple
You will have to check the temple nearest you for closing times, because they usually have a different schedule during the holiday season, but visiting the temple is a great way to serve, worship, and remember covenants and things to be grateful for. It helps me keep my focus and remember why we have Christmas. And it always helps me get through another finals week.
Go to a Nursing Home
Spread some cheer by visiting with the residents, singing carols, and cracking jokes. We did this in one of my singles’ wards and it turned out to be a great experience. The residents loved our singing, but more than that, they loved having our company. It helped them and really brightened my day.
Sing in the Ward Choir
Almost every ward puts on a Christmas program. If singing isn’t your strong point, maybe writing or public speaking is. Volunteer to participate in or write the Christmas program for your ward.
Take a Break from Studying
You’re less effective brain-dead. To avoid burn-out, forget about your homework, tests, or job for a minute and build a snowman, make some sugar cookies, or drink some hot chocolate with your friends.
Enjoy the Classics
Don’t forget the Christmas movies White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Krueger’s Christmas, A Christmas Story, A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, and How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Make some popcorn balls or caramel corn and enjoy!
Focus Your Gospel Studies
This season is all about coming to Christ and knowing Him. What better way than to study His life and teachings. One Christmas I read all of the Gospels during the month of December. It helped me to gain a stronger testimony of Jesus Christ and His mission and Atonement.
Make stockings with your roommates and get some cheap decorations at a party store. My freshman year of college my roommates and I put up Christmas lights in our window and decorated our small apartment. It’s inviting and helps keep the Christmas spirit. Don’t have money for a tree? Have everyone in your apartment trace and cut out handprints out of green construction paper and stack the hands (fingers down like pine needles) in a triangle shape on a wall.
The Twelve Days of Finals
Choose someone you know to give “the twelve days of finals” to. Lift her spirits and put her in a better studying mood by making sure she knows someone is thinking of her.
Carol the people in your residence hall, your neighborhood, or in your ward. This is a great missionary opportunity as well. My family and I always carol our neighbors each year and give them copies of the Book of Mormon, a Joy to the World video, or a picture of Christ.
Organize a Nativity Play
Don’t worry if you don’t have Primary kids to act out the parts of Joseph and Mary. This can be a great experience to help you remember the Christmas story.
Do Your Part
Find a toy drive you want to support and contribute what you can.
Look at the Christmas Lights
I don’t care how old you are, Christmas lights still bring a smile! It works as a really cheap date as well.
Get Over Yourself and Your Mounds of Schoolwork!
There is no way to better extinguish the Christmas spirit than by complaining about how busy you are and all the homework (or job work) you have. Talk about something different with your friends instead of how many finals you have to pass. Help others with their homework or help them study for upcoming tests.
While the holidays can be a lonely time away from family and home, they can also be a great time to strengthen friendships, give service, and develop testimonies. I’ve had a few Thanksgivings away from home since my freshman year and each one gets better than the last.
Really, the key to keeping the holiday season is finding ways to serve others and forgetting about yourself.
Christmastime in the Mission Field
Send some of these festive ideas along to your missionary friends. It’s hard to stay homesick when you have the true spirit of Christmas, and these activities will surely help to bring it.
- Carol to investigators, less-active members, or recent converts with another group of missionaries. You could also sing carols in a town square or open area.
- Go to the temple if approved by your mission president.
- Bake and decorate cookies for your investigators.
- Organize a ward family home evening with a Christmas theme. The Primary kids could put on a nativity play or the ward choir could sing. This would be a great opportunity to bring investigators and have them socialize with members of the ward.
- On a preparation day, decorate your apartment. If you are serving a state-side mission, find a dollar store with cheap decorations. If serving elsewhere, decorate your apartment with what you can find, even if it is as simple as a paper chain.
- Keep the call home positive and upbeat. Talk about the progression of the work and the good things that are going on in your area. Your good attitude will strengthen your family.