In recent years, the British public have been fervent worshippers at the altar of the Big Budget Christmas Advert. The past decade has seen the format climb to dizzying heights, led by BBCA titan John Lewis and their nauseatingly twee creations and accompanying breathy cover songs. This year has seen people fighting (no, seriously) in the aisles of Aldi over cuddly toy versions of Kevin, the anthropomorphised carrot who has starred in their Christmas ads since 2016. I myself have raged over this year’s Sainsbury’s advert – sorry, but I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough to buy the idea that not only did a primary school decide to hoist a small child in a large star costume to the top of a stage, but upon seeing her child wobbling precariously on a dodgy-looking pulley system, her mother’s only reaction is teary-eyed wonderment. Not even my most festive self can believe that no permission forms were sent home in book bags for that stunt.
My own petty grievances aside, the BBCA does invariably present a vision of Christmas that is alien to many of us. They feature laughing, loving, well-off families who never seem to argue and all have magical Christmases – so far, so realistic, right? The reality is that for many people, Christmas is a time of loneliness and pain, rather than wonder and joy. To be fair to the BBCA, in 2015 John Lewis partnered up with Age UK for their 2015 offering, which featured an isolated elderly man observing Christmas alone from the moon, and aimed to highlight the loneliness experienced by many elderly people at Christmas. Despite the uneasy alliance between commercialism and altruism, the department store does have a point – we often forget how many people are alone on Christmas day.
The figures given vary, but charities have estimated that between 230-450,000 over-65 year olds spend Christmas alone. Last year Age UK stated that 928,000 older people feel lonelier at Christmas than they do at any other time of year. But surprisingly, research by the charity Mind showed that millennials are in fact twice as likely to spend Christmas alone as older people, with 1 in 10 people aged 25-34 saying they would be spending Christmas alone, compared with 1 in 20 over-65s. Evidently, the issue of loneliness over the Christmas period is not restricted to one particular age group, but it seems as though different factors affect age groups differently. For older people, their isolation may come from the loss of their husband or wife and social circle through old age, but for young people it may be exacerbated by social media and the contrast between a disappointing reality and the idyllic Christmas scenes others portray online.
Christmas is a hard time for so many of us, when we’re juggling family politics and the immense pressure to spend-spend-spend, as well as the expectation of festive perfection. Although being alone at Christmas may mean these pressures are absent (and I’m sure many of us choose to be alone for this reason), it can be painful to be isolated during a time so closely associated with celebration and family. But there are many of us who are able to help those who are involuntarily alone at Christmas, and through the blur of Christmas jumpers, parties and presents we can all surely find the time to show someone else we care.
If you would like to offer someone company over the Christmas period in Brighton, you can get involved via the charities below:
Equally, if you’re spending Christmas alone and think you might find it difficult, these charities are here to help. Mind advises taking care of yourself and focusing on things you enjoy, whilst preparing yourself for the fact that it might a difficult and sad time. Remember too, that loneliness often comes and goes, and feeling or being alone now does not mean you will be alone forever.
Even small gestures can go a long way during the often overwhelming Christmas period – just offering a slice of Christmas cake to a neighbour could mean a lot, and often our time and attention can be more valuable than our money. Despite the bombastic Christmases splashed on our TV screens in the endless reel of BBCAs, a small gesture can mean just as much as lavish gifts. Lastly, I think it’s also important to note that, whilst volunteering at Christmas is great, loneliness isn’t exclusive to the festive period. Charities and the people they assist are in need of help all year round, so remember (and I hope your festive goodwill extends to the incoming cheesiness) - volunteering is for life, not just for Christmas!