Whatever the rules around lockdowns and bubbles by December, this Christmas looks set to be lonelier than ever for many people of all ages.
But it doesn't have to be.
As we launch Community Christmas 2020, our online events directory, we ask Caroline Billington, the initiative's founder (pictured), why she believes we have a unique opportunity to do something really special this year.
'I used to volunteer as a local handybus driver and one year was asked if I’d drive a group of older women to a lunch on Christmas Day. I jumped at the chance.
To be fair, I’m not a fan of Christmas, so anything that helps me avoid all the consumerism and over consumption is a good thing!
Despite my misgivings, though, there’s no denying that Christmas Day is a different day in our culture. Rather than trying to ignore it, I’ve realised that enabling other people to enjoy the day is actually what makes it more enjoyable for me.
Driving those ladies home after their Christmas lunch, a couple of things struck me – firstly, what a fantastic day they’d had and, secondly, how I wished I could have been part of it.
The following year I volunteered at the local lunch for the whole of Christmas Day and then I became one of the organisers. I could see how important it was for people to be able to spend the day with others and soon felt I wanted to do more.
Community Christmas was born in 2011, with a mission that no older person in the UK should be alone on Christmas Day unless they choose to be. Christmas Day is just the start – the chance to create connections for the longer term.
We started by publicising two local events on a website and it just grew from there. By 2018, we were listing well over 650 events taking place on Christmas Day across the country and receiving support from hugely well-known organisations.
Then, after working in partnership in 2018, Re-engage took over the charity the following year and now hosts the UK-wide Community Christmas events directory on its website.
This Christmas it’s likely that, even if there is some movement around who we can socialise with, many families won’t be getting together as normal. This means more people of all ages will be at home alone, in need of company.
I say, this winter might be grim, but let’s do something to make Christmas Day a bright light in the gloom.
Think about VE Day this year. On my street, we had a bit of a party – everyone put their glasses down the middle of the road and I topped them up with Pimm’s. Why not do the same on Christmas Day with mulled wine and mince pies?
Or what about carol singing? Everyone could stand outside their houses and sing together. Then there’s things like delivering meals to people, perhaps cooked by a local pub with extra capacity, or going for a gentle walk.
You could even do a walking conga – picking up your neighbours as you walk by their house!
As we all experienced when we were clapping for our carers, once we’re out on our doorsteps we tend to get chatting. We often share information and tell each other about services we’ve come across and other helpful things. Whether this information is shared in the village hall at a more traditional community Christmas gathering or in the street is kind of irrelevant really.
The important thing is to connect with our neighbours for now and the longer term.
My ultimate vision for Community Christmas is that it’s no longer needed but, as long as it is, I’d love for the initiative to continue growing so that it becomes part of our national psyche.
You can help make this happen.
Why not have a think about what you can do on Christmas Day in your community this year, or what you know others are doing, and then add it to the Community Christmas events directory?
We have a potentially exciting opportunity ahead. Let’s really make this Christmas one to remember.'
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