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Single for the Holidays?

You don't have to be, if you follow these tips

When my 23-year marriage ended, I didn't want the holidays to turn into some kind of pity party. I knew even the slightest whiff of Christmas music would easily get me misty-eyed. I turn mushy inside when I hear Bing Crosby sing "White Christmas," and I worried that the romanticism of holiday lights would make me feel like the only one in the world who didn't have a honey to hug.

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Naked Truth

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If your single, kick up your heels and do something you love with a group, or on your own.

I knew I needed to do an end run around my own neediness, because even if I'd made the choice to be on my own, various kinds of commercialized holiday "cheer" would still get to me. Perhaps you're finding you have the same need. Memories of happier holiday seasons when you were happily married, living with someone or just plain in love, make it hard not to feel left out and let down.

The endless holiday parties don't help, because when you are alone, everyone around you seems to be coupled. (This is often a myth, but in your state of mind, there is not one person on the street who is not holding hands with a lover.) Maybe you are invulnerable to such mood-manglers, but if you aren't, you've got to protect yourself. You don't have to be sobbing into your beer or finishing off a box of chocolates all by yourself on New Year's Eve.

So, what to do? Here are my top five things to do for holiday happiness — all guaranteed to make single people just as happy as anybody else for the rest of this year. Maybe happier, actually — some of those couples you are watching might enviously wish they could be you.

Throw Yourself a Party With People You Truly Like

There are parties and then there are parties. The great ones are celebratory gatherings that remind you how lucky you are to know the people who come. The bad parties are events when no one really connects and you keep looking at your watch, wondering why you ever bothered to go.

However, when you give the party, you control the guest list. This helps you produce an intimate group that is handpicked to be congenial and interesting. You can do this alone or with a friend — which helps if you want to share expenses, preparations, or have the friend invite a few acquaintances whom you'd like to know better. This way, significant nights such as those of Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year's Eve feel festive, warm and special. Have an adventurous menu — host a potluck, or order something delicious from a restaurant or caterer.

The party maneuver guarantees that you will not be alone those nights, in your jammies, opening a can of tuna fish at 10 p.m., watching It's a Wonderful Life for the 20th time. With just a little planning, your holiday will be joyful instead of depressing.

Next: Use holidays as an opportunity to learn and give back. »

Take an Educational Group Trip

Last-minute bargains are always available. Going on a trip that is structured means that you won't find yourself sitting in a café all alone on Christmas Eve wondering how you've ended up alone in a distant land, in a difficult time zone.

Taking an educational trip (many universities and travel companies offer them) means you will be stretching your mind — learning new things almost always makes people feel good about themselves — and will likely be among lively, interesting people.

If the idea of going on one of these kinds of trips intrigues but intimidates you, ask friends if they'd like to join you. You'd be surprised how many people don't have plans for the holidays, and either a couple or another single person would give you additional companionship on the trip. That said, having friends there might make it less likely that you reach out and  get to know your fellow travelers. Either way, whether you sign up to learn about Mayan culture in Guatemala or desert ecosystems in Arizona, your chances of feeling lonely or unlucky during the holidays would go way down.

Do Something Selfless

You can help in your own community or in a faraway place. You could assist in creating sanitary conditions in rural Honduras, help rebuild housing in New Orleans, or befriend homeless or sick children in your hometown.

Giving of yourself and improving others' lives are surefire salves for the soul. Selfless activities boost our self-esteem. That actually creates endorphins that make us happy, even buoyant! If I do something that changes someone's life for the better, it gives me a high that lasts for days. You can easily accomplish that any day, but giving your time and energy feels particularly good during the holidays.

Visit a Cherished Friend You Rarely See

Almost all of us have someone we care about who lives in an out-of–the-way place we rarely visit. Similarly, almost everyone has a friend or relative who would be surprised and delighted to get a call proposing a get-together over the holidays.

Your friend might want you to stay with him or her, or you could suggest a road trip or meeting at a place you both would enjoy. Plan it around something enticing — a glorious hike, a spa or resort, a museum-rich city, or a sports event. Pick a friend who is easy to be with, and make an effort to be good company. The visit isn't supposed to be a therapy session; it's supposed to remind you that you still have friends you care for — and that they also care about you. Making the connection also shows you that you can have a great time even when you don't have a partner or romantic interest in your life.

Next: Fun holiday activities to do alone or with a friend. »

Do What You Love Most (Have Friends Join You)

The holiday season is crammed with special events, concerts and performances. Temples and churches usually have special parties and ritual music. If you like choral music, this is the season for some outrageously good performances, and there are usually late shows on Christmas Eve and on New Year's Eve.

Quite a few cities have Renaissance fairs or early music recitals, and there is a high likelihood you can find special symphony concerts or visiting artists from many musical genres. It's a great time to go see rock concerts, jazz performances or visiting dance troupes.

During the holidays, gourmet clubs often offer special meals. Everyone wants you to spend that holiday dollar at their place, so entertainment comes at all price points. I recently discovered the world of house concerts, smaller venues by definition, where you get up close and personal with the performers for about 15 bucks.

So why not get tickets? Or simply show up? Music in particular elevates our spirits — and a great performance enhances our mood and even leaves a kind of afterglow. Bring along a friend — who needs a date when the entertainment itself is so engrossing? You can see and hear something that will give you a great holiday memory for years.

Finally, one small, last thought: I am not advocating throwing out the idea of finding a partner. Love is grand, and if you want to get super-motivated and bug your friends to fix you up, or go online looking for a holi-date, you might find someone swell in time to light the candles or hang the wreath.

But I say, it's pretty darn close to the festivities, so why take chances? Pick one of the five options I have offered, and you can know that you'll have a great holiday season. Whatever else comes along will just be icing on the proverbial cake.

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