Christmas isn’t just about family

We need to think about others this Christmas, not just those closest to us

Art by Sinaoife Andrews

Four years ago, on the night before Christmas Eve I posted on facebook that I didn’t think my family could go for another two hours without someone bursting into tears (as a joke). Roughly five minutes later, my then eleven year old sister (accidently) got kicked in the shins by my then 13 year old brother, and the first tears of christmas were spilled. It was not the last.

Christmas, as well as being filled with joy, is also filled with tension. Traditionally, people spend large blocks of time with family members or close friends, something that does not happen on quite as big a scale at other times of the year.

Christmas is a wonderful time to be alive. I am the person who watches Arthur Christmas from October onwards. I think the reindeer antlers and nose sets you put on cars are funny. I am the reason they make large, novelty Christmas hats that sing. Most of my calories from Halloween onwards go towards festive drinks, and you don’t even want to know how many festive candles I have stockpiled.

However, I am the first to admit that Christmas can be a very stressful time. The loneliness that can come with Christmas is unbearable, with the merriment and joy that spills out of everywhere almost taunting at times.

Christmas is a time when many people become so busy and stressed trying to create a perfect holiday season, they don’t even notice a lot of people who get left out of the festivities. All it takes to be reminded of this is a brief scroll through the comment section of Mud’s ‘Lonely This Christmas” music video on Youtube.

Some people cannot afford to go home for the holidays, some people do not feel welcome and some people do not have a home or a family to go to. Spending time with family, especially when you no longer live in your family home, can be immensely stressful. You have become an adult who is used to living in their own space, and when staying under your parents’ roof again it can be easy to revert to being an angsty teenager once more.

As we grow up, we live through different experiences and change, not always in a compatible way with family members who have not had the same experiences or been exposed to the same ideas. Having beliefs that clash with your family’s makes for emotionally charged arguments or feeling really left out and misunderstood on a day when there is a pressure be feeling the joy of a thousand burning suns. The needs of people who do not have a family or a similar network to rely on are often forgotten as people spend more time with their relatives.

It is estimated by the UK aging charity Alone that there are 5 million older people in the UK suffering from chronic loneliness. We have only begun to see the effect emigration in the last ten years will have on older people, as, from the age of 55 onwards, those whose children have emigrated begin to feel more isolated.

Chronic loneliness has the same effect on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. As it gets darker earlier and the weather gets colder it can become harder for the elderly and those with mental or physical illness to leave the house.

Little interactions, like saying hello to a passerby, or making small talk with a shopkeeper can have the largest impact on someone who otherwise does not have anyone to whom to say hello.

Working in a department store last Christmas, I noticed how grateful some people were when I took the effort to talk to them. Many were in the store to buy presents to send to children and grandchildren all around the world who were not making it home for christmas. One lady in particular told me how much it meant to her that I had taken time to have a chat while wrapping up a coat she bought for her daughter living in Canada.

She said that being in such a crowded place reminded her of how that since her husband had died, the only person with whom she could really ‘use her voice’ lived on the other side of the world. She confessed that before calling her daughter on a Sunday evening (their ritual) she would talk out loud to herself, to stop her voice sounding rusty and hoarse from lack of use.

It’s ok to spend Christmas Day in your pyjamas. It is not a failing and not a ‘waste of Christmas’ if that is as much energy as you can put into the day. It is also not unfestive to find christmas lights and music a little too much. While tackling loneliness is something society needs to do as a whole, taking a split second out of your day to smile at a passerby certainly won’t make you feel any worse and might bring a glimmer of human interaction into their day.

As well as being caught up in the commercial mania of Michael Bublé on repeat and attempting to transform yourself into Nigella Lawson, or alternatively being a 21st century scrooge and not so much as turning the thermostat up a degree to show a miserly amount of Christmas cheer, let’s make Christmas a little bit friendlier this year.

Listen to your friends and hear what they are saying. Instead of Christmas lights making some people feel like they are on the outside looking in, let’s make sure they fill everyone with a little bit of warmth this year. Nobody should feel lonely at Christmas, even if they are alone.