Lonely at Christmas
Those of you who keep an eagle eye on ALTERnativity’s work, will know that we have been dipping a toe into a new strategic area these last few months. With the support of the Scottish Government and advice from Joseph Rowntree Fund, we have been trying to understand what it means to feel lonely at Christmas.
For nearly twenty years, ALTERnativity has been listening to how people locally and globally celebrate Christmas. On the back of these stories, they have created a vast library of festive resources that deal with both the celebrations and the anxieties that the season can bring. There are workshops for dealing debt management and the stress and there are screeds of ideas for celebrating Christmas simply and thoughtfully within and outside of church.
Underpinning all of these stories of celebration and anxiety runs a deep vein of loneliness. Whether that’s the family who long for a father or husband to come home from prison; or the family who are frightened of the stigmatising isolation that their return might bring. Or the women who once told us:
“Christmas isn’t for the likes of me. Christmas is for rich families with two kids; for our family it is hell – my brother died at Christmas when he was four, so my Mum drinks her way through Christmas, my father stays away and I get torn between looking after them both.”
Lonely at Christmas?
The telling of the first story of Christmas is riddled with people who found themselves alone against their wishes. Zechariah is silenced by his own doubt and later ridiculed for his conviction about his son’s name. Mary and Joseph are isolated by the unusual nature of their son’s conception, are reduced to giving birth in a stranger’s outhouse and are forced into exile by a despot with anger management issues. We briefly meet two characters defined by their loneliness: Anna, who had been widowed for 60 years; and Simeon, who had, in the face of certain scoffing, believed that he would meet the child-Saviour.
Maggie Lunan, co-chair of ALTERnativity says, “It is so easy to overlook the very basic need of belonging, especially at Christmas, when we gild that loneliness with looking busy. And yet the nativity is full of individuals who find themselves on the edge of life. ALTERnativity is committed to ignoring them no longer.”
The two key
things that we have learned so far in this process are that loneliness at
Christmas is complex and that we have no magic
wands. (Next year we will add “magic
wand” to our Christmas list.)
But we can, and will, offer two things.
Firstly, we will collect and share honest stories about Christmases to challenge the myth of the 'perfect' Christmas. Alternative Christmas is not just about 'doing things differently', but also showing ways in which Christmas *is *different, because you have no money, or your partner is in prison, or you're not from here, or you're single, or you can't have children...
Secondly, we will create resources for individuals and groups to use at Christmas. These will be resources that offer space for reflection, conversation, worship (where appropriate) and action, and that people can 'pick n mix' depending what would work best in their context.
We probably won’t manage to get all of it done this Christmas. But we’ll keep going, even after the tinsel has been shoved back in the box and the unwanted presents have been re-gifted to the charity shop.
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