It’s hard to know when to give up the fight.

Some things you want will just never be right.


You know those dumb softball questions everyone asks you when you first meet them in an effort to have a passing knowledge of who you are as a person so they can go, “Oh, nice,” and you can say, “Yeah,” because we’re still doing this shit for some reason? These questions are meant to be super easy, no pressure, slide into home base while walking with the casual pace of a tourist in Times Square. But for me, I’d rather you just asked me a more direct punch-to-the-face personal question.

And unfortunately for me, every year around November, these questions reach a fever pitch worthy of severe fluids and bed rest and possibly a quarantine. This is the season of “What are you doing for the holidays?” with the implied answer of “something heartwarming that makes sense to the person who asked the question. Because anything less is just too dark to even touch and you’ll bum everyone out. Just keep it light or lie altogether.” And I’d rather not do either option, but what else is there?

Glad you asked, me! What else is “orphan Thanksgiving” and “orphan Christmas” Facebook invites. If you’re not familiar with this embodiment of an eye roll, every year around the holidays—Thanksgiving in particular—my Facebook lights up like a tacky Thanksgiving tree with the words orphan Thanksgiving in a bizarre number of posts, status updates, and events. For example, “OMG we’re having an orphan Thanksgiving at my place for everyone who couldn’t make it home for the holidays!!!” While I want to first state that I totally get that orphan Thanksgiving is meant to mean “We’re not with our loving, wonderful families, so I guess we can be together,” I would also love it if everyone could kindly stop calling it orphan Thanksgiving if the people in attendance still have a family. Especially if those families are loving as fuck.

If you have a caring, safe, living family during the holidays, I am happy to report that you have won the damn lottery and you should embrace this if you haven’t already. People who have this make me super happy on some level, because it seems so rare to me and it’s truly beautiful to behold, even if it also sends me reeling with personal grief that I’ll never have that, I just won’t, and man, wouldn’t that be cool, even for a weekend.

In my experience, the people who use the term orphan Thanksgiving or even orphan Christmas seem to be blissfully unaware that it’s even possible to have abusive relatives, or to have lost your parents, or to have been abandoned by your parents, or to have been kicked out of your home by your parents, or to have had to make the difficult choice to run away from or stop speaking to your family because they were unsafe, which, yes, is a thing. I know, I wish it weren’t too. So who here likes drinking, am I right? (And other seamless transitions I’ll attempt to make when I feel like I’ve gotten way too real for Gina from HR.)

To those people who live in that enviable bubble, the holidays just mean presents and twinkle lights and love and support and connection while also eating so much food. What’s not to love about that? To those people, I totally get why it bums you out that you couldn’t fly home for the holidays, either because you couldn’t get the time off from work or because you couldn’t afford the ticket. I know both of those possibilities are probably devastating to someone with a wonderful family they can’t be with on the holidays, and I can’t even imagine (seriously, not even a little) how much that must suck. That said, pricey flights do not an orphan make.

The word orphan most commonly means “someone who has lost one or both of their parents,” which is typically thought to occur only when someone dies. I’m assuming the limited definition is due primarily to the fact that when the word was created, it wasn’t considered socially acceptable (or at least common) to part ways with your family for any other reason. It just wasn’t done, or if it was, it wasn’t talked about enough to have its own nomenclature. However, I’ve been using that term to describe myself since I was a little kid, and later on would make these jokes about being a tree spawn as my way of being, like, “Things are not okay at home, but it’s okay because I made it a joke!!!!!!! Seriously though, intervene at any time, guys, LOL. I’M NOT OKAY!”

As someone who has spent nearly every Thanksgiving by myself since I can remember, it just seems bizarre to me to use that term to describe “the thing that’s not what you’d ideally be doing but is also super fun and no one is crying!” To define your experience as “gathering with your group of friends who all have totally wonderful, supportive, loving people they usually get to see on the holiday every single year, and this particular year they can’t do that so that makes them orphans” sounds fucking tacky and breaks my goddamn heart.

When I attended my first “orphan” holiday gathering, it took everything I had to even leave the house to try. The party was thrown by this wonderful human I barely knew at the time and have a much greater fondness for now, Sadie, and I figured it would be great because she was great and hey, it’s New York City! I’m sure if someone here is throwing an orphan holiday party, it’s full of people just like me! This city is big enough and broken enough for that to be possible! It is! I paced the room, speaking to Sadie for the Appropriate Amount of Time to Speak to the Person Hosting Even Though They’re the Only One You Know at the Party and You Would Literally Attach to Their Skin Like a Garfield Suction Cup on a Car Window If You Could. During this process, I found out Sadie is Jewish, so she doesn’t care about Christmas: doesn’t love it, doesn’t hate it, it’s just there. (Hello, new life goal.) The rest of the attendees, whether they knew it or not, all operated under the idea that none of us wanted to be here, we all wanted to be With Our Families, the ones we all have and love so much, am I right, guys? And I kept merging into new groups of people hoping one of them would give me a wink and a nod that said, “Psst, we’re sad over here, come hang.” No one did. I left early and went home and cried. There wasn’t anyone like me in the world, just like I thought. Cool. Love it.

After that, if I attended any similar functions (although I no longer do, because fuuuuck that), I always attended with a heavy heart, knowing that I was being welcomed by people who probably weren’t about to burst into tears at any moment. It just wasn’t a heavy holiday for them as it was for me. Similar to that first night, I’d end up spending most of the night answering why I “wasn’t home this year.” And like before, I’d foolishly assume at least like fifty to seventy-five percent of people there shared my story, but then I’d quickly realize that nope, it was just a lot of people explaining to me, “Yeah, flights are just so expensive on Thanksgiving, I figured I’ll chill here and fly home for Christmas.” And then I’d try to figure out how I could excuse myself as soon as possible from the party, so I could cry in the street and remind myself this is why I isolate myself as much as possible around the holidays.

Sure, I guess I could’ve stayed at the party and relayed the truth. “Well, I never go home for the holidays. Also, what is a home? Is that actually a thing? Oh, it is? And everyone else has one but me? Great. Is this onion dip?” But since that response is going to heavily bum people out, I guess I’ll just say, “Yep, me too,” and then leave immediately because “something came up” (even if that something was, “I’m gonna go cry for six hours while I think about how I’m not like everyone else”).

Look, if you still need a snappy name for your friends-gathered-at-a-holiday party, Friendsgiving is a thing, and you can call it that. You know, if you wanted to spare people who have already had hilariously painful home lives any further pain. Up to you.

Plus, it sounds way cuter and less like you’re the underage cast of Annie gathering by a fireplace and warming your hands, wishing you could eat turkey and stuffing like children with families (though TBH both of those are gross IMO, and cranberry sauce is the only Thanksgiving food worthy of coveting, even if it looks like something Nickelodeon invented, but that’s not the point).

I don’t think people who use the term orphan mean anything malicious. I truly don’t. It just goes back to that unacknowledged privilege that comes with having a loving, supportive family who makes you feel safe. It’s so hard to tell people, “Yeah, the holidays kind of bum me out because my best friend as a kid was a caterpillar I kept in a muffin-tin liner in my room.” You end up feeling like you don’t have a place in the world because your genuine, deeply felt, and often beyond-painful feelings about your nontraditional family situation get swept under the rug in favor of easier, more “normal” frustrations with otherwise good families. And it’s even worse because you’re already in pain anyway, the pain of knowing you’re other, and so to have to publicly hide that just reinforces what you already knew: You don’t fit anywhere and you’re bumming everyone out.

If you’re reading this and you’re, like, “BUT I LOVE CHRISTMAS!!!!” know that I am so happy for you and genuinely aspire to be you one day, instead of a caricature of Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, hiding behind a backpack and glaring at you and your frankly very lovely decorations while I funnel Pixy Stix into my mouth.

The holidays also start so much fucking earlier when you don’t have a typical family. Around the time that we get the freaking GIFT that is Halloween (aka my favorite and insanely beloved “why can’t it be year-round?!” holiday, because you don’t have to have anyone on earth who loves you to celebrate it, you just need to love pumpkins and goth stuff, all of which describes me), the entire world starts talking about nothing but the freaking holidays.

Commercials, movies, special TV episodes, reruns of special TV episodes, social media, advertisements, incessant emails from my bank reminding me to buy a card for people who, um, aren’t great. All of it. Because everyone has a family on the holidays! The holidays are a time to spend with your family! And since everyone (EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!!!) has a perfect family they spend regular time with, everyone loves the holidays! And if you don’t love the holidays, you must be a coldhearted psychopath who hates America!!! And it is just this I Love Lucy chocolate-factory assembly line of reminders that I don’t fit, and I don’t have enough pockets for all these feelings.

I spent most of my childhood doing what I’ve heard a lot of kids from abusive or neglectful homes do: thinking this is secretly what everyone else had too and that we were all just trying to make it to eighteen in one technically alive piece. And most of my life I’ve “joked” (see also: masked with humor because I’m a comedian and hence I am a pro at this) that I wish I could fall asleep on November 1 and wake up sometime around April, when all of the holidays have come and gone. (Easter depresses me too—I don’t know, man, it just does.) Because hoo boy, it’s a good stretch of time right there, and if you spend the holidays alone, no matter how many times you’ve done it, it can seem like a never-ending reminder that you don’t fit (which you already knew). Every year, I swear to God, I see it coming up and I think, “Lane, you got this. It’s just a day. It’s just a day like any other day where you’ll wake up and you’ll do what you always do and you’ll be fine.”

I did that this year too, essentially berating myself for being a fucking baby who can’t get through a few simple days. Buck up, shithead. This isn’t new. But it is new. Every year the holidays roll around, I think, no matter who you are, it’s brand-fucking-new to you. You bring with you whatever happened that year. If that was the year your brother died, or the year your mom told you she was ashamed of you, or the year you finally realized your dad was abusive, that’s new information—or rather it’s old information, but it’s finally registering. So, really, there’s no way of putting the holidays in their place and categorizing them as being “like all the others.”

If every day we’re alive, we’re a ton of molecules, constantly changing and progressing, facial features and bodily organs slowly morphing as time passes, then it’s literally never the same. So now, the day after Christmas, which is when I’m writing this, because why not write it when that pain is fresh as hell, I’m realizing, “Oh, I don’t think I’m a weak piece of shit for not being able to handle the holidays, after a lifetime of not being able to handle the holidays.” For one, I would never speak to someone that way, and two, this year was insaaaaane! I had a ton of loss and betrayal (I know this word sounds so soap-opera-y but man, sometimes people straight-up do betray you like on fucking As the World Turns and you’re like what the hell, Diana?!) and so guess what? All that shit also followed me into the holidays. Because I’m a human being.

Anyway, if I could talk to myself and make myself hear it or wait, wait! I’ve got it: If a super-maternal figure could tell me the following things while brushing my hair, this would be so healing. Okay, let’s do this.

Hi me,

First of all, I love you! How great are you? So great! Anyway, there are some things I want you to know if and when you’re fighting through that long, cold stretch of time that seems to last as long as literally any airplane ride with a screaming baby on it:

1. No, you don’t deserve this.

You’re not alone during the holidays because you deserve to be—everyone deserves a great family who loves them and makes them feel safe. The fact that you never had that is not the result of your being unlovable or because something is wrong with you. I know (because I am you) that you’re, like, “Duh, I know that,” but seriously, around this time of year it’s so easy to subconsciously think otherwise. But I know you deserve every bit as much love and normalcy as everyone else. Never doubt this. Though I know you do. Again, because I am literally you.

2. No, you’re not a monster because you hate this time of year.

I hate, more than I can tell you, how much our world neglects people who have a hard time around the holidays. Do you remember [insert devastating family traumas]? Yeah, so, uh, of course you might not want to deck the halls (also you live in New York City, so you have like one hall and it’s covered in weird black marks from ghosts, or rats with markers) or hear even the opening bars of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” while paying for your groceries (a true torment, though the song is pretty, yeah, yeah, I know). That’s normal, and it’s not because you’re joyless and cold, but because you’re in pain. It makes sense you’d want to avoid things that cause you more pain—that’s just coping.

3. Yes, you’re allowed to celebrate or not celebrate the holidays however you want.

So if you’re currently prepping for the holidays via a combination of “not acknowledging the holidays at all,” “turning my phone off and watching movies while eating snacks,” with a possible side dish of “crying, so much crying,” I support that manner of “choose your own adventure, but whatever you choose, just stay alive.” Oh, also, you have every right to be spending the holidays alone or with people, crying or not crying. It doesn’t make you weak or a bummer or antisocial. Most people will not understand how you have chosen to survive—and they don’t need to. Fuck anyone who tells you your plans are “sad” or pressures you to be around them even though they don’t feel safe or fun or you just feel like a misfit toy in the corner with one eye missing. You understand your choices and they’re helping you get through it and that’s enough.

4. You are marvelously strong.

I want to acknowledge all of the people reading this who have been brave enough to see their parents as harmful, because it is not an easy task. We are raised with maxims like “Blood is thicker than water” and “Respect your elders” in a culture where family, no matter how harmful, truly is everything. From an early age, a deification process begins with our parents, and even if they are flawed or harmful, they are the sun and the moon and can often remain that way. It takes, in no uncertain terms, bravery to admit to yourself, but especially out loud to other people, that your family is not safe, did not do enough, and are not people you want in your life. It flies in the face of everything our culture tells us.

In many ways, we tell people that our family members are allowed to do anything they want to us because we are theirs and they are ours forever. Self-help books often tell us “they did the best they could,” and to forgive them and let it go. That if you’re still hurt or if you dare to speak the truth of what happened, you’re blaming someone else for your problems. Be an adult, move on, grow up. It is not true.

I read a book called Toxic Parents while writing this, and some of the lines that stood out to me were these: “Children have basic inalienable rights. . . . [Their parents] must provide for their children’s physical needs . . . protect their children from physical harm . . . emotional harm . . . provide for their children’s needs, for love, attention, and affection.” Holy shit. Really? Because most people I know didn’t get that and I truly didn’t know parents were required to do that. So I wanted to include it in case you, like me, sometimes think, “Well, they put a roof over my head and fed me; it wasn’t their job to love me or show me affection,” or, worse still, “Well, they let me live at all. It’s silly I expected food and love and protection from physical and emotional harm. They were doing the best they could.”

It is so important to know we can hold our relatives, especially our parents, accountable. That regardless of “the best they could do,” if you were not fed or protected or held or shown affection and love and attention, if you did not feel safe, then their best was not good enough. It just wasn’t. And you are then free to do what you want with that information. Maybe that means you don’t talk to them anymore, or you talk to them like you would a coworker who used to steal your lunch from the fridge—with distance and hesitance, but you are allowed to choose your own safety and well-being over the comfort level of someone who did not properly parent you.

5. Yes, it’s totally normal if you get depressed even before the holidays start.

I usually get depressed like four days before pretty much every holiday (except Halloweeeeeeeeen!!!) and I always feel like, “WTF? Why am I sad?!” and then I quickly realize, “Ohhh. This holiday is coming up and that is a hard day for me and my body knows and is trying to prepare. Thanks, body, I guess.”

More than anything, though, I want you to know I care about you because I know you. Not despite the fact that I know you, but because I know you. Like, I know that you sometimes lie to people and tell them you have huge plans, when your plans are to try to not get overwhelmed with the burden of your sadness in the reflection of everyone else’s socially normal happiness. And I forgive you for that lie because I know why you told it—so forgive yourself for it too.

Finally, you know when people say, “Take care,” and you’re, like, “What the fuck do you even mean?” Well, take care. Take care of the part of you that wishes you had a “normal” family so badly it kills you. Take care of the part of you that will never understand why your family was the way they were, or is the way they are, or is no longer around at all. Take care of the part of you that feels “other” throughout the holiday season. And more than anything, feel proud of yourself, because you didn’t let being other kill you. You’re still here, and one day maybe you’ll have a family of your own and you’ll love the holidays. Or maybe you’ll never like this time of year. Either way, you’ll still be here, living. Sometimes that’s the bravest thing of all. And if you don’t believe me, it’s a line in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and as I and I both know, that show is everything.

If you’re spending the holidays alone, for whatever reason, and you need tips, I can tell you what I do for the holidays and you can pick and choose which ones sound smart and cool and which ones sound deeply sad.

First thing you need to know is the hours of every single grocery store you might need to go to, just in case. In my experience, most places just close early on Thanksgiving, so you usually have until, like, five p.m. to get what you need, but go at like ten a.m. It’s usually not that crowded then and just gets crowded later in the day when people realize, “Oh, shit, I forgot to buy free-range butter. Also, what is free-range butter? Man, my aunt Christine is a LOT.” At Christmas, stores usually close early on Christmas Eve and stay closed all day on Christmas, so, bitch, you need to stock up. And some stores will also be closed the day after Christmas too, so just yeah, buy more than you think you need. Especially because if you’re sad, you should absolutely not also be hungry.

In most of the years I’ve lived in New York City, I’ve spent the holidays several different ways. For many of them, this included going to the children’s playground near my house and swinging on the swings alone and singing along to my headphones super loud, which I love. That said, in the last year I’ve started pointing out that park to my friends when we walk by it and saying, “Look!!! That’s where I used to spend Christmas and Thanksgiving every year! Oh, shit, that’s unbearably sad. I hear it now.” It just never occurred to me. To me, I was doing something I loved in a place that was all my own. But it is real sad.

Now I just use the holidays as an opportunity to do whatever the hell I want. Sleep, watch movies, not move, skip the gym, go to the gym, eat literally whatever I want, damn the cost, sky’s the limit, you earned it, this day is tough. It becomes a massive treat-yourself day for me, and I’m sure in the future I’ll work in massage or a treatment in which I get covered in gemstones by kittens or something.

I also greatly recommend staying the hell off social media. You’ll tell yourself it’s no big deal, it’s fine, but the winter holidays, along with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, are hell for people without traditional families. It’s just a sea of people posting about how much they love their families and photos of them doing normal family things. It’s totally possible their families are as complex and painful as yours, but this will not occur to you while you’re sifting through photos of them playing Monopoly with a bunch of elderly people you’ll never meet.

And if you never had proper parents, or they weren’t great to you, even if you see posts about someone saying they miss so-and-so relative who died last year, it’s so easy to go to that place of, “COOL, WELL, I NEVER EVEN GOT AN AWESOME DAD, AT LEAST YOU GOT ONE,” an anger you don’t mean at someone you probably love, but this day is just too much of a powder keg of emotions for you to have that kind of distance from your emotions.

In the end, Thanksgiving is one day and Christmas is like 1.5. My whole life it felt like years getting through those days, but once I realized, “Hey, darlin,’ we just have to get through this one day and then done, back to normal. It’s just one day in your life, so let’s really enjoy it. Now what do we want to do?” I realized it’s so get-through-able.

So put your phone away (unless talking to someone makes you feel better), because social media is not your friend right now (ugh, even one tweet about “remember your family is everything” or “call your grandparents, guys,” can seem lethal) and do something you truly love. If you wanna play music all day and dance, do it! If you wanna go to a dog park and watch dogs, do it! If you wanna watch a movie or TV show that doesn’t have strong familial themes in it (because that’s a whole other thing), do it! If you wanna be unprecedentedly lazy when you’d normally lose your shit over that kind of decadence, now’s the time.

Just be even gentler with yourself than you’d think you’d need to be. You already survived everything you survived, so give yourself a day where you allow yourself to stay present (or numb off entirely) in this one day of your life. You can truly make this day whatever you want it to be. If nothing else, do it as a gift to yourself—someone who deserves it more than you will ever know.


Which book you would like to read next? Comment Below.

Don't forget to share this post!



Popular posts from this blog

Wealth is What You Don't See

The art of staying young while growing old

‘Making People Glad To Do What You Want'