Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Home Alone for Christmas

I didn’t choose to spend Christmas day alone. Sometimes things happen or other people make decisions that affect our choices. It can be something upsetting, like the end of a relationship or perhaps somebody suddenly gets taken ill, or it could be related to a surprise and somebody else's happiness. Happiness, we are told, means spending Christmas with friends and family. There is a definite taboo around spending Christmas on your own. The little voices inside your head have a whale of a time and get great pleasure from this scenario: ‘Spending Christmas alone? Aint you got no friends? What about your family, don’t they like you either? Loser. Wierdo.’ And many more besides. I feel slightly embarassed spending Christmas day on my own, in fact, I can’t even bring myself to go to the local shop. Why? Because then I’d have to speak to people, wish them ‘Merry Christmas’, and I can’t do it. One, because I have sprained my ankle and can’t walk very far, and two, I don’t feel like being very sociable.

I found a student website where somebody was spending Christmas on their own and was asking for help. Although some responses offered help, others used the pages as a way to either pay back old debts or brush aside the student’s unhappiness: ‘So do you spend most days alone? Are you an introvert? Do you like being with people? If you answered yes, yes, no – there you go then, problem solved.’

In fact, there is all sorts of advice on the Internet for those alone at what is supposed to be, ‘a time for family and friends’. Personally I prefer Grinch’s sentiment, ‘I must find a way to keep Chrsitmas from coming!’

Here are a few ideas:

·         Look for opportunities to spend time with people in your community.

·         Fill your time with productive tasks.

·         Go for a walk. Get some exercise

·         Use it as time to stay home, treat yourself to a beauty treatment, play some music and sing out loud, watch a series on netflix,

·         go to sleep early and think positive

·         Allow yourself to be sad if you need to. You don't have to force yourself to be positive all the time.

·         Go to church.

·         Get drunk.

·         Flee the country!

·         Do good works at a homeless shelter

·         Stock up on food and drink treats, and cook your perfect lunch, whether it's turkey with all the trimmings or an Indian ready-meal. (Provided you can walk to the shopsand get the food!)

·         Buy yourself a lovely present to open - something you've wanted for ages.

Or my favourite, except I don’t have a car:

·    Bundle up, get in the car and take off. When you are out on Christmas Day, people think you are either on your way to or from some family event! People wave at each other more often. People are very friendly on Christmas Day. And then you come home, and appreciate the peace and quiet of your solitary life, with no family to argue with, no dishes to wash....and no one to hog the couch or snore.

There are those who want to be home alone for Christmas. The idea that anyone might actively seek to spend the day on their own can make others feel uncomfortable - even those who freely admit they don't get on with their family and find the day pure hell. But for many people there's a world of difference between solitude and loneliness. For example, one woman at work, told me that she no longer told colleagues she spends Christmas alone. "I can't bear the way they treat me like a tragic victim and offer to have me round for lunch to 'cheer me up'. They fail to grasp that I spend the day alone through choice and I've grown tired of having to explain myself."

Sometimes spending Christmas alone can help alleviate the pressure of living by someone else’s rules, customs and traditions especially if you are not in the right frame of mind to do so. However, doing ths year in year out might not be so enjoyable as it sounds.
There are those who would tell you: I’d love to spend Christmas Day on my own, I would eat a bit, drink a bit, watch a bit of tell and generally try to enjoy myself. I don’t need other people around me at Christmas, and certainly not my family. I hate them.

Because of course families are an important part of Christmas and of course there is all the difficulties that go with having one. I have a family that I created. This year, unfortunately, they thought I already had plans and so made their own. I’m happy with that and I would never put pressure on them just so I could have company on this over-inflated one day of the year, and I’m lucky, we’ll get together for Boxing Day.

The amount of money that is being made out of Christmas, a time that celebrates the birth of God’s son, Jesus, is grotesque. How do those glossy adverts make people feel who spend this day on their own, perhaps not through their own choice? Inadequate? Depressed? Again I’m lucky because I don’t get taken in by the false worlds that are created by the powerful medium of television. However, when I was younger and inexperienced, I did believe that the chintzy people in adverts really did love each other and spent their time partying, from noon until the early hours of the morning.

The Women's Royal Volunteer Service estimates that around a million elderly people will spend this Christmas alone. It's no coincidence that the Samaritans receive more calls over the festive period (one every six seconds) than at any other time of the year. After all, it can be hard to reconcile an empty home with all the chocolate-box portrayals of family togetherness in the media. "There's a huge pressure on people to conform at Christmas, and that can cause heartache for those who don't have a traditional family circle," says social psychologist Arthur Cassidy.

This is not the first Christmas I’ve spent on my own. When I was younger, I did spend a couple of Christmasses with my birth family, but mostly I spent Christmas in care. The last time I was alone on Christmas Day, was in 1974, when I was 16 and had just left the Children’s home where I spent my childhood. In some ways that was much more difficult than today. I was used to being with seven other children, it was noisy, it was bright, there lights and lovely food. Christmas dinner with crackers and silly jokes and hats, my mouth is watering at the thought. Many people like me, still find Christmas difficult, whether alone or with friends and family. This could be because for some kids who have been in care, they will have experienced some of the worst abuses imaginable at this time of year and not necessarily by their families. Christmas can bring out the beast in some people. And the inheritance of our pasts can mean, there is something about the emotion of this particular season that can make togetherness, whether with friends or family, almost unbearable.

The point here is that whether we are with family, friends, or alone, Christmas can be difficult. Some mothers, get themselves into debt. They exhaust themselves through shopping, cleaning and cooking leading up to Christmas and they don’t enjoy the day because often after the initial excitement and enthusiasm, it is mothers that are left to clear up, while others get drunk, argue or play with their new toys. And then there are those who are homeless, they see the glitz and tinsel in shop windows and who knows what memories that triggers for them or how isolated and alone they must feel in their shop doorway homes. And what about those that are in war situations right now, the men, women, mothers and children suffering abominable injuries - surely we are so fortunate in this country whether alone at Christmas or not.

Maybe for some, this is the way to cope? Think of others who are so much worse off than ourselves? I don’t think it is, but helping others is a way to give our lives some meaning. Christmas Day has become a product of our imaginations, the original meaning for millions has now been lost. Many of us are riding in a fast car, grabbing bits of Christmas as we speed through December and ending up on the day, exhausted, disappointed and skint.

Decisions we take affect others, and we often forget to take responsibility for our actions. One year I decided not to have a Christmas tree and went down the woods to get some twigs, that I then decorated with baubles and lights. That was the year that mum went mad, said my children! Our relationship with excess effects others. This year I thought about telling friends and family that I didn’t want any presents, and that I would prefer money donated to Save the Children http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/ or Water Aid http://www.wateraid.org/uk/ because there are still millions of children without water, food and shelter. I did tell some friends and family but I still wanted to have some presents! Next year I will try harder, I don't want to live a life of excess. Perhaps I'll just do more throughtout the year. One friend has suggested Kiva. 

With Kiva, you make a loan. All Kiva loans are made possible by their Field Partners, who vet, administer, and disburse each loan. Throughout the life of the loan, you will see progress updates from Kiva through your email, and if you come back to the site. As the borrower repays the loan, the money becomes available in your account. This is called your Kiva Credit. You can now use it to fund another loan, donate it to Kiva, or withdraw it to spend on something else. Isn't this amazing, the amount you donated can be used over and over again to help not just one person but many.


As this day draws to close I realise that I haven't really been alone. I spent a lot of the time communicating with friends and family, starting in the morning with telephone calls to long-term partner, close friends, children, and other family members. And then on to the Internet where I saw Twitter messages from various friends in the community and finally Facebook where I wished and was wished a very, very happy Christmas.

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