A Pop Culture Guide to Surviving the Holidays Alone

Savannah Walsh
·8 min read
Photo credit: Silver Screen Collection - Getty Images
Photo credit: Silver Screen Collection - Getty Images

From ELLE

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" takes on a whole new meaning in 2020. Millions are decorating their trees and hanging stockings for one, reckoning with how to spend the season in ways that won’t leave our hearts feeling two sizes too small. If you can’t be near family this year, you can recreate the experience through the pop culture you’re consuming.

Time that would’ve been spent packed in an airport, then your childhood bedroom, and before a dinner table inquisition about why you don’t come home more often is now all yours. Brush up against the friendly fire of fighting about politics from the safety of a podcast in your headphones. In lieu of defending your Hinge profile to an aunt who knows one (1) single guy your age, read a Sally Rooney novel. Or maybe, just indulge in some entertainment as far removed from traditional festivities as possible.

In the wake of socially distanced holidays and snow days spent solo, ELLE.com offers the movies, books, music, TV shows, and podcasts for your specific brand of blues. As the song says, “Someday soon we all will be together / If the fates allow.” Until then, a few suggestions for muddling through somehow.

If you miss familial sparring about politics...

Perhaps you're one of those strange birds who feels closer to family after battling it out over the electoral college. Maybe you planned to lecture your relatives on the importance of the Georgia Senate runoffs? If you're craving some combative conversations—or, at least, the chaotic energy that comes with them—look no further.

Movie: Love, Actually

Hear us out…debating this rom-com's problematic plot points has the same energy as discussing socialism with your grandfather. Plus, Hugh Grant's Prime Minister deserves real analysis each and every Christmas.

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Podcast: Still Processing

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham dissect pop culture through a political framework in this New York Times podcast. Their lively discussions offer valid counterarguments without dipping into anything close to all-out warfare.

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TV Show: The Comey Rule

Photo credit: Showtime
Photo credit: Showtime

This Showtime limited series, adapted from former FBI director James Comey's book A Higher Loyalty, was designed for discourse. Whether you view Comey (played by Jeff Daniels) as a hero or villain, there's one thing we can all agree on: Brendan Gleeson makes for a terrifying Trump.

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Book: Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

One figure sure to get blood pressures rising at the dinner table is Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sittenfeld leans into HRH's controversial nature by imagining what her life would've looked like if she never met Bill.

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Music: The Chicks' Gaslighter

Listening to the revelatory album from The Chicks is always a good idea—this year, you won't have to hear your drunk uncle going on about the band's name change or political views.

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If you miss invasive questions about your love life...

Of course, this is the year all romantic inquiries could be answered with a simple, "We're in a pandemic, Aunt Maureen." There's also a very no photos please energy that comes with disclosing just enough regarding your love life to keep them wanting more. Luckily, there's plenty of pop culture to delve into that deals with messy relationship dynamics.

Movie: The Family Stone

Those used to defending their relationship status will find fellowship with Diane Keaton's matriarch in this holiday film. And if you've ever been embarrassed by a romantic misstep—it doesn't get much messier than this movie's sibling relationship swap.

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Podcast: Modern Love

Play judge and jury for other people's love lives via this New York Times podcast. After hearing some of these first-person essays, you'll be asking as many questions as your nosiest cousin.

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TV Show: Insecure

Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

We've all given our Mirror Bitch selves a pep talk à la Issa in HBO's Insecure. Commiserate with our favorite unlucky-in-love heroine until it's safe to wade back into the dating pool.

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Book: Any Sally Rooney novel

Think your romantic entanglements are complicated? Live inside the worlds of Conversations With Friends and Normal PeopleRooney's first two novels—and report back to us.

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Music: Joni Mitchell's Blue

This quintessential heartbreak album offers all of the melancholy associated with sitting at the singles' table. Mitchell's decades-long dodging of who inspired songs like "A Case of You" and "River" will also feel familiar.

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If you miss home-cooked meals...

Ordering enough Chinese takeout to warrant three sets of chopsticks for your meal for one has some thrills. But many long for the warm and fuzzy feelings that accompany an actual Christmas dinner. Allow the culinary stylings of Ina Garten, Jessie Ware, and a rat named Remy to soothe you into an emotional food coma.

Movie: Ratatouille

There's a reason TikTok users have commissioned an actual musical from this Pixar film about food. It manages to make animated meals, cooked by a cartoon rat, look and feel like delicacies.

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Podcast: Table Manners with Jessie Ware

Jessie Ware and her mother Lennie host this soulful podcast about food, family, and culture. Listening to an episode feels exactly like drinking too much wine after burning Christmas cookies and arguing about who gets to lick the spoon with your siblings.

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TV Show: Barefoot Contessa

If you can't cook with your actual mom this holiday season, allow a cocktail-mixing Ina to stand-in. To many, Garten has long felt like family—her warm kitchen akin to a second home.

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Book: Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Basically, this is a book about a woman who eats her feelings, sharing recipes for mashed potatoes, Lillian Hellman’s pot roast, and a variety of pies alongside anecdotes from a crushing breakup. In feeding us recipes from her post-split spiral, our heroine also finds a way to satisfy her own cravings.

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Music: Ella & Louis Christmas

Finding the right soundtrack while cooking or sharing a meal is essential. When it comes to cozy vibes, nothing beats Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong's festive output.

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If you miss forced festive merriment...

Isolation does strange things to the mind, including tricking us into believing we miss ugly Christmas sweaters and eating figgy pudding. Never has an elf on a shelf or stilted office Secret Santa felt more desirable. Lean into the season with these jolly picks.

Movie: Christmas Vacation

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is everyone's overeager father from Black Friday through New Year's. If you can't be with your real family this Christmas, spend some time with the overbearing cinematic equivalent.

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Podcast: Deck the Hallmark

Watching Hallmark Christmas movies is a lifestyle all its own. Hosts Bran, Panda, and Dan approach all 40 (?!) festive films with decidedly different perspectives on what the formulaic romances mean for the world.

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TV Show: Dash & Lily

Photo credit: ALISON COHEN ROSA/NETFLIX
Photo credit: ALISON COHEN ROSA/NETFLIX

A New York-set Christmas series hits different in 2020. The titular couple (played by Austin Abrams and Midori Francis) write each other love letters and leave them around landmarks—the Strand Bookstore, Two Boots Pizza, McSorley's—beautifully packed with bystanders.

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Book: Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

If the unhappily ever after of The Crown's fourth season left you craving royal romance, this is the book for you. It tells the story of an inter-palace romance that has enough Meghan Markle parallels to keep readers intrigued for 300+ pages.

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Music: Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas

“I do live from Christmas to Christmas; it’s the only thing I look forward to every year. Well, it’s not the only thing…but it’s truly the best time of year for me,” Carey told ELLE.com earlier this year. You heard the Queen of Holiday Cheer. Press play.

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If you're actually embracing spending the holidays solo...

Avoiding large groups during the holidays is a welcome change of pace in an exhausting year. Use a few weeks snowed-in solo or with roommates to catch up on the year's best entertainment, from folklore to I May Destroy You. These recs will have you feeling relaxed and recharged for 2021.

Movie: The Holiday

Who hasn't dreamed of rolling up to an idyllic Christmas cottage and falling in love with Jude Law? Indulge in this fantasy properly by rewatching the Nancy Meyers classic for the 27th time—no judgment.

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Podcast: How Did This Get Made?

Feel guilty about binge-watching "bad" movies no longer. The hilarious trio of comic actors Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas unpack a baffling movie each episode, delivering guaranteed laughing fits every time.

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TV Show: I May Destroy You

This challenging series from Michaela Coel is best watched solo and with ample time to pause and process. It's one of the year's best series and offers an ending that's hopeful in a way that will resonate during the long winter of 2020.

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Book: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This novel, about a pair of twins who go their separate ways, is one of those books you should make ample time to get lost in. Read this while spending a cozy night in; you'll have nothing to answer for except getting to the next beautifully written page.

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Music: Everyone's folkmore playlists

As evidence of all the time we have, people are combining Taylor Swift's two 2020 albums—folklore and evermore—to create their perfect folkmore track lists. Dive into the moody experiment by listening to a few playlists or crafting your own.

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