I haven't been home for Thanksgiving since I packed my tiny Mitsubishi Eclipse and waved goodbye to that Georgia skyline in my rearview window. That was almost seven years ago.
In those seven years, I've been home for Christmas maybe three times? Maybe less? I'm honestly not quite certain.
I miss my family dearly. I miss seeing my niece and nephew open their gifts from Santa. I miss seeing my maw maw cooking up all kinds of goodies in the kitchen. I miss my childhood bedroom. I miss drinking coffee in the morning with my mom and dad.
Sound sad? At first when I moved away and I couldn't get home, I was saddened by missing the holidays with my family. Sometimes, even now, I still I get a twinge of homesickness when I see the lights shining in the city, knowing so many people I love are miles and miles away.
However, in the seven years I've been away, I've managed to have some extremely wonderful holidays on my own. I've made my own memories and traditions that I'm lucky enough to add to the ones I've known all my life.
If you're having holiday blues about missing out on the family fun, here's what I've learned from my ho ho holidays solo.
Sounds pretty easy, right? Not always.
Often you get caught up with life and the fact you may feel like you are the only person not venturing home.
But I guarantee you are not the only holiday orphan! My favorite Thanksgiving was the first Friendsgiving I was invited to about two years ago.
I asked some friends from work if they by chance had any Turkey day plans and in fact they decided to host a Friendsgiving.
It was set. I was bringing a kale salad and sausage balls (from a recipe my dear Aunt Nikki once made).
As fate would allow, that day was exactly what I needed. We were a dozen of New York City orphans celebrating love and thanks in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn with good bourbon and wine. We were family.
Make something grandma (or mom) would.
Last Christmas was a yet again a solo Christmas in the Big Apple for this Georgia peach.
My roommate and boyfriend at the time were both away, and instead of throwing the pity party I wanted to give myself, I decided to keep my family's Christmas Eve tradition.
With the help of my roommate's thoughtfulness, she left me all the makings for snickerdoodle cookies, which is what I make with my maw maw when I'm home on Christmas Eve. We've done so ever since I could remember.
Another year, having spent Thanksgiving away and in Los Angeles, I opted to bring my dad's baked mac and cheese to my west coast Christmakah celebration.
Neither of these made me miss my family less, but they helped me remember all the good memories I'd already made with them.
Make new traditions.
Another Christmas in New York, I found myself without any big plans, although a few of my co-workers were staying local.
We decided to be very New York-like and went to one of the upscale restaurants that was open for dinner.
After several bottles of wine, we made out way to a club, made friends with a promoter and there we were, drinking free champagne in the VIP section on Christmas Eve.
This was not the Christmas I was used to. This was nothing close to a Cole family tradition, but it suddenly was a tradition I could get behind regardless!
So now, any holiday where it involves not having to work, I find some girl friends and we go in search of champagne and dancing.
FaceTime your friend.
Easy as that.
Technology is a wonderful thing (for the most part).
You can literally be at the dinner table with your family from 3,000 miles away. It's amazing.
Also, I love to see my maw maw use an iPhone. Adorable.
The holidays can be an emotional rollercoaster of feelings, even if you get to be close to your family, much less having to be away from those you love.
I've found staying busy is the best distraction. Whether it be work, the gym, some other hobby or a combination of all of these things, I find ways to make myself busy even if all I want to do is stay in my bed all day.
The winter blues are a real thing, and if you don't keep moving, they can suck all the life out of you.
Get up, keep your head up and find some holiday cheer that makes you smile.
Do something kind for someone else
I mean you should be kind to people year-round, but the holidays are especially tough for a lot people, emotionally and financially.
Do your research: Find a shelter where you can volunteer, find an animal hospital where you can go play with puppies (it's true, they exist!) or simply clean out your closet and donate your clothes.
If you can't give money, give your time and help someone else who may be having a harder time than you.
I'm sure I'm going to always miss my family, but I know that just because I cannot see them every holiday doesn't diminish the holiday itself.
It means that I've made a life for myself, and sometimes that means not being around for the party. They know I care and I know I'll always have a place at the table, even if I'm not there.