Good food, good wine, presents, festive cheer, togetherness, warm fires and plenty of re-runs on tv – that’s what Christmas means to so many. Oh and I’m sure Jesus features quite high in many people’s minds too.
I know it’s tough to believe but not everyone loves that oh so festive time of year. For many it’s tainted with bad memories and a very real pressure, that you should be surrounded by a warm loving family and having lots of fun. There are many people who don’t have homes, or families and yeah don’t get me wrong that’s not unique to a week in December, but it can emphasise what you haven’t got.
The reality for many is that domestic violence increases, alcoholism and drug addiction seem to bite that little bit harder, the elderly who aren’t lucky enough to have family or family who care are often alone. Those that suffer with depression or have not been blessed with children after years of trying often feel like there’s a gaping hole in their lives at a time where EVERYONE else is happy.
Every year I think about going into hibernation, running away, amazing trips abroad, I’ve never done any of those. But one year I got off my arse and decided to give christmas some purpose and worked for a homeless charity – sourcing food, cooking and serving Christmas dinner to a group of people who really had it tough. It was humbling but and all of those things but more than anything I felt part of something. It gave me a sense of what Christmas should be – a time where people pull together to support each other and make things a little more bearable. I loved meeting new people, who had fascinating stories and didn’t dwell on what their day should be like.
Trouble is it doesn’t seem to be that easy to work for a homeless charity at Christmas. Many charities have religious foundations and they’re not too keen on letting people in who aren’t religious and just want to help out. I did this and only managed to get in through recommendations from friends but it wasn’t easy. Other charities won’t let you help just at Christmas, they want you to commit to a set number of hours a week all year round. Now I get that and it goes back to my earlier argument of those that suffer in one way or another don’t just do so for one week of the year. But…. it’s not always possible to make that commitment – I could reel of the excuses but working makes that impossible for many. However, Christmas equals plenty of free-time where there are more hours to give to others and often at a time of year they need it most. So I guess this has turned into a message to homeless charities – let people help when they have the time to do so. I guess it may well be more hassle then it’s worth, letting volunteers in for such a short spell but surely the demand for help is greater. I could be wrong but the extra resource must be useful, you’re also helping the helpers by giving them a sense of purpose and community and if any are like me I’m sure when they have more time they will happily commit to all year round support.
I’m off to try my luck with Crisis, a charity which does accept seasonal help. This will mean travelling to London – no big deal but surely it’s not just the homeless in London that need extra support at Christmas.