“I stopped celebrating Christmas in 2013, the first Christmas that our suicide crisis centre was open. After witnessing our clients experiencing so much pain as 25 December approached, it never felt right to join in the festivities again.” Joy Hibbins writing in The Independant December 2016
For many people, it’s not a ‘Marshmallow World In the Winter’ and ‘December’ won’t ‘Be Magic Again’.
And I’m not talking about the homeless, some of whom will have a greater chance of company at Christmas than the lonely, forgotten grandma or grandad for whom the night will indeed be silent.
On December 1st this year, I was on a stage with 100 plus other singers, happily singing the Kate Bush classic, December Will Be Magic Again.
(Probably important that I say here, the choir does raise money for charity, this year it is for FIND the charity for families in need.)
But did I believe in what I was singing? No. Not for a single second. That lyric is wrong. It needs to be changed to truly reflect the nature of Christmas. It should say:
‘December will be magic again for SOME people but for far too many, it’s the month of a creeping, heightened sense of loneliness that will reach its excruciatingly painful peak on Christmas Day’.
But unfortunately, that lyric has no sugar on it. It’s clumsy. It doesn’t go well with the rest of the lyrics about the white city being so beautiful and old St. Nicholas being up the chimney.
But above all, it does not fit with the big fat Christmas lie that is peddled year in year out by the retail industry.
Old St. Nicholas is not up the chimneys of vast numbers of people who, through circumstance, do not wake up to the scenes of Christmas warmth trotted out by companies such as Coca Cola.
On December 1st, we also sang a beautiful Joni Mitchell song – River – which sums up how so many people feel about Christmas now.
The lyrics get a little closer to the truth. She sings about the coming of Christmas, the putting up of reindeer, the cutting down of trees, and the singing songs of joy and peace.
But don’t let that fool you because she wishes she had a river to skate away from it all on. Why? She made her baby cry apparently and now she’s all alone, facing her selfishness and the fact that she’s hard to handle.
Well done Joni, that’s a bit more like the truth for so many people at Christmas, who don’t so much live in a ‘marshmallow world’ as a harsh shallow world.
Christmas advertising has us believing we all need new sofas and if we order NOW we can have them in time for Christmas.
And then we can all sit on our new sofas, in our beautiful Christmas pyjamas, sipping egg nog as one big happy smiley, jing jing jingling family, opening our presents perfectly wrapped in sparkling paper while a roaring fire crackles in the grate.
Oh and everyone has perfect teeth.
Are you fooled by this bull s***?
Listen up you people who feel empty and sad because you don’t have a glowingly warm Christmas surrounded by loved ones – for many, this scenario only exists in Waitrose/Tesco/Asda/Sainsbury’s glorious Technicolor advertising.
Maybe this idyllic scene will unfold in some households. Maybe you will find yourself cooking a sumptuous Christmas lunch while your loving family members drift in and out of the kitchen, cheeks flushed from wine as they help peel sprouts and reminisce about Christmases past.
But a huge number of people do not have this kind of a day and are left feeling sad, despressed, lonely, unwanted and for some, suicidal.
This is why I dislike Christmas.
As Joy Hibbins says, it doesn’t feel right to celebrate Christmas when there are large numbers of people for whom all the jollity and hype, no matter how false and misleading, can cause such feelings of alienation, despair and loneliness.
I first began to feel this way many years ago when I was at a huge Christmas lunch in a private member’s club (no big deal, anyone could join and be a member.)
I was at a table with my aging parents and the room was filled to capacity.
Each table had groups of friends and family and the tables were laid out very festively with Christmas crackers and treats.
It was all very lovely. Warm and fuzzy – full of Christmas cheer until, that is, I looked up and saw one elderly lady sitting alone at a table on the other side of the room near the door.
The scene hit me like a thump in the guts because as I laid eyes on her, people at tables around her were pulling their Christmas crackers with each other and putting the coloured paper hats on.
This lady picked up her cracker, looked helplessly around her and then she did the saddest thing I have ever seen, she took both ends of the snap inside the cracker and pulled them both herself.
To this day, I deeply regret not leaping over tables and going to ask if she wanted company – I was as guilty as every person in that room for not doing the human thing and letting her into our giagantic party by going over and including her.
I sat at my table feeling very uncomfortable for the rest of the lunch. There was no room at our table for her and I fought with the knowledge that my parents would not understand if I got up and left them to sit with a stranger – so I did nothing except sit there feeling like shit – which was of no help to anyone.
And then when I looked up again at some point, she had gone and I never saw her again.
But that scene has never left my mind, or the shame of being a part of the culture in the room that allowed this to happen.
What Christmas does for so many people is to very painfully accentuate what they successfully hide from for the rest of the year.
So many people are ‘unclaimed’ on Christmas Day – the one day of the year when there is nowhere left to go to mask the fact that they are lonely and maybe being ignored by younger family members.
All the places where the lonely among us can get out and talk to people are closed – shops, libraries, community centres (although thankfully many community centres are open for this very reason now).
It’s almost as if the bustle of life suddenly stops on Christmas Day, a bit like musical chairs, only in this game, when the music stops, if you don’t have a family to be with you are out of the game. It’s just horrible.
As a society, we are no better than I was when I failed to go over and connect with that woman sitting all alone at a Christmas lunch.
Most of us are knowlingly ignoring the fact that a huge number of people will be alone on Christmas Day. We say, ‘well it’s sad but what can I do about it?’
What we can do? Each and every one of us can ASK our own friends and aquaintances, particularly single ones with children living away, what they are doing on Christmas Day.
Would you tell people if you were going to be alone? That would be a hard thing to do for so many reasons. So ASK.
We can share our day with people for whom life circumstances have left them in a lonely place. The death of a husband or wife, divorce, adult children who live away, adult children who, as is becoming more and more common these days, rarely communicate with older family members.
Don’t assume everyone is ‘sorted’ for Christmas day. Ask the question. Be inclusive not selfish.
Lets make this Christmas day better for lonely people who may not have the courage to admit they will be alone.
Don’t let this be a case of Silent Night for those who long to have some company on Christmas Day and while we are at it, perhaps we could keep it going all year.