Few can better understand the challenge of self-love better than the orphaned and disowned. I belong to that club. My mother and father both abandoned me in my teens. As an only child, with no family in the United States, I endured the first of many solo Christmases my senior year of high school.
When you are forced to spend a holiday by yourself, the first inclination is often to ignore the holiday entirely. For years, I employed this strategy. I didn’t leave my home, because I didn’t want to see lights and decorations. Instead, I worked through the holidays and maybe watched some DVDs (no festive commercials to endure). But I always eventually learned: The more you try to push the festivities away, the more they’ll haunt you, like mischievous specters, until eventually you find yourself at 2 a.m. listening to Death Cab’s “Someday You Will be Loved.”
My first succssful holiday was an Easter. I went with the Sunday paper to a sushi buffet, and sat reading and munching on unagi for the entire afternoon. It felt ridiculous and self-indulgent, and that grandiosity was just big enough to shake off my grief over lost childhood traditions. Maybe, I thought, if I embraced the holidays but twisted them into something inventive and entirely my own, I could enjoy them on my own terms.
One Christmas Eve, I went to a fancy restaurant in my neighborhood that I couldn’t really afford but had always wanted to try. I ordered osso buco and ate it slowly, relishing it. The owner dropped by my table and asked why I was eating alone. I told him I didn’t have anyone to celebrate with, so he poured me a glass of wine and sat down. He said he didn’t have anyone to celebrate with, either. He’d been persecuted as an Alevi Kurd living in Turkey, so he fled to the United States, where he learned to cook Italian food and eventually opened his own restaurant. We swapped stories