While the rest of us are tucking into our turkey, guzzling advocaat and sharing the world’s worst cracker jokes, some people will be rolling up their sleeves. We talked to a few of them.
The first time I volunteered on Christmas Day was around 13 years ago in a local village hall, making Christmas dinner for around 60 guests.
I was the carrot person (in that I purchased and peeled them) and I wrapped up all their gifts.
Now I’m part of a very small group of Quakers which hosts a Christmas Day lunch, an annual ‘winter warmer’. With the help of a great bunch of volunteers, we offer transport and food, fantastic washing up skills and friendly familiar faces to those seeking sanctuary in Huddersfield.
That first year was a quiet affair. There were around 25 or 30 people. There were some beautiful and powerful hymns sung and I can remember still the young Kenyan woman slowly standing and singing Amazing Grace. It was such a memorable moment. There was also quite a lot of dancing that year.
The problem is that over the Christmas period many voluntary groups, agencies, schools and libraries can be closed for extended periods of time. This can leave people feeling really isolated and lonely. Offering a place to gather for Christmas Day just seemed to be a natural response to this situation.
We have fantastic gatherings each month of up to 90 people of all ages and nationalities. And on 25 December it’s usually bigger and busier than ever, with lots of giddy children of all ages. We have many languages spoken, cultures shared. We’ll eat food, have a sing, play some games, chat with friends. And there’s gifts for everyone too.
I’ll be doing it again this year. My two oldest children will be with their father on Christmas Day but I’ll have my three-year-old with me. He’s got many friends there though. They’re like his extended family.
The children are very supportive of the whole thing. They value what is offered and understand how important it is to me. For the little one it is a very usual part of his life. He knows most people there and they all keep an eye out for him. It’s a place with a lot of love.
For me there is so much to be gained from communal action; coming together with others and sharing good times and sad news, offering a listening ear, having a laugh. Eating food from each other’s cultures, learning new words. It’s all a great way to celebrate our diversity and helps to get to know ourselves better too. It’s so important to share our common humanity.
There is a huge demand for people who are willing to give up their time on Christmas Day to help others. And, despite what you might think, Christmas shifts are not always a chore.
Last Christmas, Anne-Marie Rowan worked on Christmas Day at Kingston House, a Home Group service for people with learning disabilities. Anne has worked on the big day several times over the last eight years, but it wasn’t something that was forced upon her.
Rowan says: “I kind of like the idea of spending Christmas Day with residents as it gives me a sort of family atmosphere that I miss, as my own family live so far away. However, it’s usually not a big social affair, as often there are only one or two clients with nowhere to go, so it can be fairly quiet.
“You can really sense the isolation that some clients feel and it’s not nice to see how a lack of family affects people – especially young people.”
With Rowan’s family and her partner living so far away, she sometimes finds it awkward over the Christmas season, so volunteering to work on the day offers a great benefit to her, as well as the clients she spends her time with.
“We all celebrate Christmas Day on Boxing Day instead. I have very small grandchildren who are at an age where they do not fully understand, so I am lucky in that I get to enjoy two Christmas Days!”
The role of a support worker is to help vulnerable people who have care needs, be it through mental health issues, or learning disabilities or homelessness.
Kate Taylor is another Home Group colleague who also works over Christmas, supporting residents of Home View, a mental health service in Blackpool.
“I’ve been working Christmas Day for the past four years,” she says. “My children are grown up so I felt that I could offer to cover for colleagues with smaller children.”
Taylor says she prefers to work the full day so that residents feel that you are there because you want to be, rather than counting down the seconds until the end of your shift and rushing off elsewhere.
“Many of our clients have been discharged from hospital and are still making a recovery. Some may be on their own because they have no family or because their family live so far away.”
The service Taylor works at is a partnership between Lancashire Care NHS Trust and Home Group – a social enterprise and charity. It’s a kind of stepping stone back to independence, giving the residents the opportunity, for example, to do their own cooking if they prefer, or to cook socially for others who are staying there.
She says: “On Christmas Day, the residents all get involved in preparing the meal, laying the table, serving refreshments and some put on their own entertainment.
“We have a former client, Colin, who is coming back to spend Christmas with us this year. He’s a brilliant magician so keeps everyone entertained after dinner.”
What’s heart-warming about services like Home View and Kingston House is that individuals are often referred in because they cannot live independently without first accessing that support. They need to be there. But after time, they find new friends and become part of a different kind of family.
Taylor says: “I am fortunate that my own family are very understanding about my role and we all celebrate Christmas Day on Boxing Day instead. I have very small grandchildren who are at an age where they do not fully understand, so I am lucky in that I get to enjoy two Christmas Days!
“Christmas Day at Home View is very relaxing, lots of fun and everyone mucks in. For me, it’s a real joy to be able to be a part of that.”4718 Views