What are your most treasured Christmas Day memories? Whether they’re from childhood or just last year, they’re likely to include time spent with loved ones. That’s because Christmas is traditionally a time for family, for friends, and for sharing food and conversation. Sadly, for many older people up and down the country, memories are all they have left, as over half a million* say that Christmas is the loneliest time of the year.
Charities Community Christmas and Friends of the Elderly are on a mission to change this. By supporting people to organise activities in their community on Christmas Day, they’re helping to make new Christmas memories for older people who would normally spend the day alone.
Tony Smith, 61, from Nottingham, doesn’t have any family and usually spends Christmas Day on his own, watching TV. But last year, thanks to the initiative, he enjoyed a Christmas lunch and an afternoon of entertainment and games. He said: “It was the first time Christmas actually meant something to me; it was the best Christmas I’ve ever had.
‘Never been involved with Christmas’
“The Christmas dinner was a complete shock to the system. I’ve never really been involved with Christmas, never sent Christmas cards or presents, pulled crackers or had a Christmas dinner. It was like being part of one big family.”
Lesley, 64, and Jim Roberts, 67, have attended a community Christmas Day meal run by the University of Salford, Manchester for the last two years. Lesley said: “Although there are two of us on Christmas Day, we do still get lonely. Jim is my full-time carer and I wanted Christmas to be a day we both enjoyed, instead of him having to do all the cooking, cleaning and looking after me.”
And it’s not just those who attend the activities that have a special day – the amazing individuals who give up their own Christmas’ to support others have a wonderful time too.
Fliss Middleton, who’s 64 and lives in Leicester, organised a meal on Christmas Day for local older people who didn’t want to spend the day on their own. Fliss said: “I’ve always wanted to organise a community Christmas Day activity, and so last year I decided to go for it! It was a great day. We even had a lady celebrating her 90th Birthday with us – wouldn’t it have been awful if she had not only spent Christmas Day by herself, but her milestone birthday too?”
It may only be early November, but plans are already underway in many parts of the country, from Dumfries in Scotland, to Brecon Beacons in Wales, to the south coast in Sussex. If all older people who are looking for company on Christmas Day are to be reached, then the kindness of thousands more volunteers is needed.
Get people together
Tony, Lesley and Jim thoroughly enjoyed their Christmas Day lunches, but the charities stress that it’s not just about putting on a full turkey dinner. Organisers could get people together to watch a Christmas film, share a glass of sherry and a mince pie, or enjoy a Christmas Day walk.
Local business owners are encouraged to get involved too. Pub landlords and restaurant owners could operate a ‘book alone but don’t dine alone’ system, call centres could open their staff canteens for festive treats, and local taxi firms could operate a lift scheme to and from Christmas Day activities.
Whatever people decide to do in their community, they will be providing friendship on Christmas Day to those who need it the most. And isn’t that the best gift of all?
For more information, visit www.fote.org.uk/christmas or call Community Christmas on 0800 063 9285.
*Royal Voluntary Service 2015