At this time of year, there is an unwritten rule amongst us men: show no weakness. If your partner or children (whatever their age) mention that they ‘can’t wait’ for Christmas, then you are required to respond with phrases like ‘humbug’ and adopt a grumpy, miserable, scrooge-like persona. Over the past week though, I’ve got to admit that my resolve has begun to fade. Outwardly of course I’m still a Grinch, but passing so many decorations on my way to work is taking its toll. This morning, I even caught myself whistling ‘Jingle Bells’ and wondering whether it was time to give in to my wife’s pleas to put the tree up.
Christmas is very much a life-cycle thing. As a child, it was all about getting toys and having grandma to stay. Even now, I can still remember the shape of the box and the colour of the wrapping paper that my ‘talking’ action man came in. When my two were younger, seeing their faces as they opened their presents was the big deal. Now that they have grown up, I look forward to Christmas because it’s about the only time when all the family can get together for more than a few hours. As I get older, I’m also increasingly aware of another side to Christmas...
Look carefully, and you’ll see that the town’s Christmas lights, cheerful as they are, also illuminate ragged, shivering forms in the side entrances to shops. Crisis estimates that as many as 26,000 are currently homeless. These people die younger and are 17 times more likely to have been a victim of violence in the last year. But, at least at Christmas they get a hot meal and a comfortable bed for the night… right? Well, think again. For many rough sleepers, Christmas is such a painful reminder of what they have lost, that they shirk help of this nature. Launchpad, a charity based In my home town of Reading, has found takers for its Christmas dinner drop so much, that they now offer free coffee and mince pies during the festive season instead.
Loneliness is the other ‘biggy’. Despite popular perceptions, it is not something that just affects older people. Just the other week, Sky News reported that almost 1 million people in the UK will be alone this Christmas. In itself this is a worrying statistic – and that’s before you start to consider what this might entail for some people. Imagine you are struggling with a recent bereavement. I know that for many in such circumstances Christmas does nothing more than sharpen the sense of loss and make feelings of despair almost intolerable. Up and down the country local and national charities are doing what they can to help. Just google ‘Christmas loneliness’ and you’ll quickly gain a sense of the range of different things they are offering. Celebrities are doing their bit too. This will be the fifth Christmas that Sarah Millican has hosted her Christmas #joinin on Twitter, providing an online meeting place for people who are alone or lonely to connect and talk and listen.
Ostomates are another group who can need support during the Christmas period. For those unfamiliar with the term, an ostomate is someone who has undergone surgery to divert their bowel or urinary system through an opening formed in their abdomen (called a stoma). This type of surgery is used in the treatment of a range of conditions, including cancer, Crohn’s disease and colitis, as well as following trauma to the abdomen. For new ostomates seemingly mundane concerns, like ‘what can I eat?’ become sources of anxiety at Christmas, particularly if they are staying away from home. And what of the person waiting and preparing for stoma surgery in the new year? Given the taboo that surrounds everything to do with ‘poo’, it’s hardly something that is easy to talk about. Hence, for many in this position, Christmas promises to be a lonely and fearful time. It’s for reasons like this, that throughout the festive period, the phone lines at Colostomy UK will remain open for every single minute of every single day. No matter what time an ostomate or future ostomate calls, they will find an understanding volunteer willing to listen to their worries and keen to give them emotional support if that’s what they want.
So, my message is simple – enjoy Christmas, but at the same time consider those that are suffering and perhaps make a donation to one of the many charities that will be doing their best to help.