This blog entry was perhaps as inevitable as Christmas itself. Love it or loathe it, you certainly can’t avoid it! I confess right here and now to being a Christmas lover. It was always made into a special celebration at home, and even now, with my parents in their late 70’s and 80’s , they still go to town. My dad is like a big kid, and his enthusiasm is infectious! I like a lot of the Christmas traditions, and especially those of a foodie nature.
I am not a proponent of the more commercial aspects of Christmas – we spend billions each year on presents and consumables, much of which ends up in the bin or on the scrap heap- but I am sane enough to acknowledge that the money spending/making machine is unstoppable, especially when some retailers make 30% of their sales at this time of year. There is no ‘getting back to’ some half-imagined fairytale of ‘how it used to be’. I do believe there are alternatives however, to the credit card debt and misery that is Christmas for many families. It is possible to take control and make choices that temper the lunacy and make the season a touch better for everyone.
Working in mental health, I am perhaps more aware than most how stressful and isolating this time of year can be for many people. A large proportion of people with mental health issues struggle to cope. People who manage admirably most of the year can become ground down and deluged by the relentless pressure to buy, socialise and generally conform. If you find engaging socially difficult, then Christmas can be exceptionally hard. If you don’t have a family, or one you get on with, or a good social network, you can feel more isolated at this time of year, and a lot of people succumb to depression or relapse at a time when there are few services available.
The Samaritans charity expects to receive over 190,000 calls this Christmas, and there are many who are lonely or not coping who are unlikely to pick up the phone. For the elderly and those struggling with addiction Christmas can be equally difficult, and many people will simply batten down the hatches and ride out the storm until after new year.
With many families buying more food than they need, and then throwing it away, one big way of making a difference would be to invite someone who is on their own around for Christmas dinner. There is bound to be someone in your community if you look. If your not accustomed to entertaining ‘strangers’ it can seem a bit daunting, but in my experience it can be rewarding. As a youngster at home I always remember a proliferation of waifs and strays from friends who had no families, elderly people on their own, and even the local park keeper. My parents would draw the line at the local ‘vagrant’ community, but I do remember my mum taking parcels and meals to an odd collection of those on their own. It added another dimension to Christmas, especially as we were a small family and as children we had no grandparents. Older people can be very interesting to talk to.
If you don’t feel you can invite someone into you home for a few hours to share a meal, then sparing an hour or two to visit someone or take a Christmas lunch around could still be the highlight of someone’s day. There are also organised lunch events in some communities, run by voluntary organisations, where you can offer to help out. These events are hard work, but also a lot of fun. They bring a bit of belonging, as well as a hot meal, to people who would otherwise be on their own. A little bit of thought can bring a lot of happiness.
I love Christmas, I can’t help it! I like the cold and, where I live, the probability of snow. I like the short days for a while. Into this cold dark season Christmas is a pinpoint of light and hope, whatever your beliefs or lack of. The mid-winter festival that the Christian feast was tacked onto was something for people to look forward to to brighten the dark drear days of winter and point to the lighter brighter days to come. With a slight adjustment of focus: less concentration on the material aspects of Christmas, and more investment in the ‘soul’ of the season, we might uncover a healthier happier kind of Christmas with less debt, less waste, and a tiny bit more joy for a few more people.