‘It’s Christmastime. There’s no need to be afraid.
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade…’
Those immortal lyrics from the original, 1984, release of Do They Know It’s Christmas is the opening of a song that reminds us all to spare a thought for those around the world less fortunate than us over the holiday season.
The song's message primarily concerns itself with those in developing nations but, with Christmas only a few days away, perhaps it rings true for many people in our local neighbourhood.
Whilst for most Christmas is a time of presents, lights, trees, over indulgence, Bucks Fizz and rubbish TV, for others it can be a challenging and lonely time of year.
This sense of isolation can come from an individual’s personal circumstances making it difficult for them to join in with the traditional Christmas activities.
Financial restraints can make individuals feel inadequate because they are unable to be as generous as others. This makes them susceptible to financial abuse from loan sharks or short term loan companies, some of whom charge in excess of 1000% interest (no, that’s not a typo).
Isolation from loved ones, particularly for those in a residential setting, is a real problem that can cause depression, low self-esteem and in extreme cases thoughts of being better off dead.
Christmas is not necessarily the most wonderful time of the year.
So what can you do either as someone facing challenges or as a part of their support circle to make sure they’re simply having a wonderful Christmas time?
More people get into debt during the Christmas period than at any other time of the year. The commercialisation of Christmas has meant that generosity and a giving spirit means ‘stuff’. And lots of it. Throw in retailers going into Christmas sales earlier and earlier and we are all encouraged to spend to almost orgiastic levels.
Don’t give in. Work out how much you can spend and divide that up amongst the people you want to buy gifts for. It’s advisable to start saving before the big day but we also appreciate that’s not always possible.
Be pragmatic. If you and a friend have a tradition of spending £10 on each other just agree not to bother. That £10 can be better spent elsewhere and you can guarantee they could do with the money too.
If you can’t afford presents be honest about it. Your family and friends won’t thank you for getting into debt for them. Pennies to pounds say they would happily return the gifts and get you your money back. Christmas is about more than presents.
Budgeting also goes for food too. The sheer array of treats, snacks, sweets, desserts and nibbles that floods the supermarkets this time of year tests even the most nutrition conscious individuals. Focus on needs over wants and remember the supermarkets are not closed for ever!
As Alexander Pope once wrote: unchosen solitude is the most lethal kind.
Admittedly avoiding isolation is easier said than done but making sure you’re not alone for Christmas Day is, for many people, incredibly important.
For people who are alone, many believe that they’ll be imposing themselves on family or friends but that isn’t the case. Remember, not asking a question is robbing someone of the chance to say yes.
If you have the space (or even if you don’t) invite friends and family to your home for Christmas. It may be cramped but it’ll be fun filled and unforgettable (hopefully for the right reasons!)
Look out for events that are going on in your local community, for example many coastal towns have a Christmas Day swim across the local harbour. We’re not suggesting everyone dives into the sea in an attempt to embrace the festive spirit but it does present an opportunity to be around other people who are enjoying the spectacle, this can be very uplifting.
If you are on your own…
If you aren’t able to spend your day with family or friends, make your day as fun as possible:
Decorate! As much as you are able, make your home a winter wonderland.
If you can afford it, book a table at a pub or restaurant for Christmas dinner. Admittedly a table for one isn’t always ideal but you’ll be amongst people and the staff will be willing to chat.
Volunteer at a drop in centre or homeless shelter. An extra pair of hands is always appreciated and chances are you will meet some nice people, which may even lead to other opportunities in the months to come and open up a whole new network!
Go for a Christmas Day walk. Whilst most places are closed on Christmas day, nature is not and a festive stroll can do you the world of good.
Pamper yourself! Have a lie in. Have a long relaxing bath. Read a book with the fire on and music playing in the background.
Phone/FaceTime/Skype those who matter most to you.
The most important thing to remember about Christmas, whether you are a practicing Christian or not, alone or not is it’s a day of hope. Keep focused on that simple message and make your Christmas, whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, a hope filled one.