For those of us lucky enough to have family and friends around us, Christmas is a magical time of year; a time when work is forgotten, food is lovingly prepared and gifts of appreciation are given. It’s also a time when the weather outside doesn’t matter one bit, because everyone’s wrapped up warm and cosy beside the fire, nursing a mulled wine or glass of fizz as Christmas tunes play in the background.
But every year at precisely this time I can’t help but think of the thousands of people for whom Christmas is a miserable experience; those who have no one to care for them, no roof over their head and no food to eat. Being homeless is a dreadful thing at any time of year, but at Christmas in particular it must exacerbate the feelings of loneliness and sadness that come with being in such a terrible situation.
And it’s not just the homeless for whom Christmas is a testing time. Each year there are also thousands of people who are forced to endure the festive season after losing a loved one, or who are elderly, housebound and alone. There are thousands more still who are penniless, clinging onto the roof above their heads but unable to heat their homes or feed their children, let alone buy them expensive presents from Santa.
My purpose in mentioning all of the above is not to make those who are fortunate this Christmas feel guilty or sad, but rather to encourage them (myself included) to be grateful for what they have; to realise what a blessing it is to be healthy, happy and loved, and to spare a thought (or maybe more) for those who have comparatively little.
After all the logistical challenges I faced in organising it, I’m delighted to report that yesterday’s festive lunch was an outright success – so much so, in fact, that I’d go so far as to say I’d consider doing it all over again next year. There was festive cheer in abundance (assisted in no small part by an impromptu appearance from Santa Claus and his talking Christmas tree assistant), the pub itself proved to be the perfect Christmassy venue and, despite the lack of turkey, the meal was nothing short of stupendous. All in all a fantastic way to kick start the festive season.
What I loved most of all about yesterday was looking around the room and seeing friends making new connections with people they hadn’t previously met, who I had deliberately sat them with because I had a feeling they would hit it off. It was lovely knowing I had played a part in bringing people together, and the smiles on everyone’s faces from the moment they arrived right up to the moment they left will stay with me for a long time to come.
I was also pleased with the reactions to the presents I selected for “Santa” to hand out – an assortment of retro toys I knew most people would remember from their childhoods, including whoopee cushions, rubix cubes, scented bubbles and slinky springs. One friend who works as a therapist with children was particularly pleased with her silly putty, which she said would be perfect to use in her therapy sessions. In short, I really couldn’t have asked for more. Ho, ho, ho!
Several weeks ago, channelling my self-elected role of Chief Planner, I decided it might be nice to organise a festive meal for a group of friends in a central(ish) London pub. I created an online poll thinking the total number who would be keen to join might make it into the twenties if we were lucky…..and here we are, on the day itself with forty people confirmed and paid up for a three course meal in our own private dining room in Primrose Hill.
The planning process has not been without its hitches – the pub calling to say they had messed up and the festive menu would not actually be available this early being the main one (along with other minor irritations such as people dropping out, failing to read the instructions and paying the wrong amount of money into my account). I have also made things unnecessarily complicated for myself by deciding to purchase decorations and gifts for all the guests, but I hope they will add to the ambience and make it a fun afternoon.
In truth I’m not sure I’ll have the energy to do something this ambitious again, so I intend to get the most out of today and enjoy the fruits of my labour. Happy early Christmas to one and all-Ho Ho Ho.