Some of us don't have the family, the tradition, the time, or the impetus to do the traditional holiday "things" this year: the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations and dinners with family members, the presents, the slow groaning and digestion-naps and arguments over Boggle. Whether you can't afford to get home for Christmas, just can't be bothered, or come from a background that doesn't really "do" the holidays at the moment, it can still be an odd time of year to find alternative things to do over the holidays when everybody else is concerned with their own familial celebrations.
The notion of an "orphan's Christmas" is usually the first go-to for people who can't be near their families and loved ones for Christmas: gathering up other similar strays and doing the whole shebang together. It's a great idea; but there are other ways to spend the holidays beyond going home or wishing you'd gone home. Many worthy programs and organizations need extra help over the festive period, and there's nothing stopping you from making up your own holiday out of cultural adventures, gift-making for others, volunteering, and other things that differ distinctly from the traditional model.
And that's assuming that you don't just want to go lie on a beach somewhere and ignore the entire concept of festive cheer entirely. It's your holiday: what do you want to make out of it?
Take Advantage Of Museum Programs
Cruising around without much to do in your city while everyone's out of town? Get yourself involved in the holiday programs of your local museums, because they're likely to be pretty rad. The Metropolitan Museum in New York, for instance, has a sugar Christmas sculpture, their annual ridiculous Christmas tree display, and free pop-up performances of Byzantine carols, while the Natural History Museum is running a full plate of IMAX films throughout the holidays, and the Museum Of Science And Industry in Chicago is running a Christmas Around The World exhibition fabled around the country. Some museums have extended holiday hours; if you're not that intrigued most of the year because of crowds, now may be the time to do it.
Craft For Those In Need
Want to sit at home instead of out on the streets with the rest of humanity? You can do good while you're snuggling. The Preemie Project donates knitted hats and booties to NICUs around the country in which prematurely born babies are being kept for observation and medical help, which can be a particularly traumatic time for parents over the holidays. There may also be local chapters affiliated to hospitals in your area with their own patterns and requirements; and if you're not a knitter you can still contribute, by making Christmas decorations, cards, and other things to brighten up the wards of vulnerable children over the holidays.
Work In A Soup Kitchen On The Days Around Christmas
Most shelters and soup kitchens are actually inundated with requests to help out on the day and on Christmas Eve, which is wonderful, but does mean that they tend to be swamped for a brief period and without help for the remainder of the winter months, and the year in general.
Devoting some time in the lead-up and aftermath of Christmas to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter is a good way to spread the help around and give them much-needed assistance away from peak times of giving. This tends to apply to other charitable concerns, too, from dog shelters to donation drives: ask what they might need and when their staffers might enjoy some extra time off, and see what you can do.
Visit A Nursing Home
Lost all your elderly relatives? Well, luckily enough there are an abundance to go around. Get yourself some more honorary Omas and Opas for the festive season by becoming a visiting volunteer at a senior citizen's home. The Create The Good site has an excellent guide to how to get involved with seniors in your area, from assisting with meal delivery to sitting with them and asking about their memories. The Friend to Friend America organization is also a good place to start, matching up young people with the elderly and seeing what happens. The holidays are particularly lonely for a lot of people whose younger family don't necessarily see them all that often; it's a good chance to do some good and learn some wicked chess skills.
Do Some Urban Farming
If you're feeling stifled by all the Christmas cheer and want to be roaming around in the wilderness somewhere, go do that; but if you can't, getting yourself involved with an urban farm over the holidays can be a good way to use your excess energy and your green thumb. Find a local urban farm that wants somebody to do some heavy lifting (be clear on what you can and cannot do), and get prepared to get down and dirty in the cold; they don't often get a lot of attention in the winter months beyond the pumpkin patch, so it's a good chance to pitch in (or rake in, as the case may be). Different farms have different requirements for volunteering, from making food available for kitchens to teaching school kids.
Spend Time With Other Faiths
The massive bulk of Christmas throughout the country is centered, intentionally or not, on Christian tradition (as you can tell from the "war on Christmas" nonsense that comes out every year via FOX News). If that's not entirely your bag, or you just want to experience something different, why not get involved with the space of other faiths over the holiday period? The Museum on Eldridge St in Chinatown, NYC offers frequent synagogue tours on Christmas Day, for instance.
Have A Movie Marathon
Not feeling like going out and building a snowman? Christmas movie marathons can still be a way to get into the spirit without needing to fork out for a cable license or stick around with your bum on the couch. There are Christmas pop-up screenings all over London, New York has a free open-air screening of Nightmare Before Christmas, and the Music Box Theater in Chicago runs a famous set of old school Christmas movies throughout the holidays, from It's A Wonderful Life to Die Hard. Yippie ki-yay.