’Tis the season for tidings of comfort & joy

Volunteers at Rachel House help make it a special Christmas. Picture: Paul Hampton
Volunteers at Rachel House help make it a special Christmas. Picture: Paul Hampton

If there was ever a time of year guaranteed to heighten human emotions, it’s Christmas.

Grief and loneliness will be more profound and happiness and love more intense.

Happy to help...at Rachel House in Kinross at Christmas,  Donald Campbell  from Kincardine and Maureen Spence from Lochgelly in Fife. Picture: Paul Hampton

Happy to help...at Rachel House in Kinross at Christmas, Donald Campbell from Kincardine and Maureen Spence from Lochgelly in Fife. Picture: Paul Hampton

And while Christmas spent with loved ones can be magical, being without them for whatever reason can be too much to bear.

Charities estimate that over half a million elderly people will be completely alone this Christmas.

Then there’s those who are sick in hospital, people living without their families, and others who, because of their homeless status, will spend Christmas on the streets with little to eat.

But on December 25, when almost everything is closed, some doors will be very much open.

Raising a glass... and plenty of smiles, Community Christmas aims to ensure that no-one is 'alone on Christmas Day

Raising a glass... and plenty of smiles, Community Christmas aims to ensure that no-one is 'alone on Christmas Day

Manned by a variety of charities and volunteers, Christmas Day events are running across the country to provide comfort and joy.

An example is children’s hospice Rachel House in Kinross.

By its very nature, it never closes and, just like any other house, the children inside are excited about Santa’s visit and being with their families for a scrummy festive dinner.

Volunteers Tom and Liz Smith, who live nearby, have spent the past four Christmases lending a hand in the Rachel House kitchen.

They help prepare lunch for around 20 sick children and their families, make sure it is served properly and do the dishes afterwards.

It means that families who may not be at home can still be together.

Retired Tom, who volunteers at the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland home once a week throughout the year, said: “It feels just like a family Christmas – but with more than one family.

“We get a lot of pleasure out of seeing all the families together on Christmas Day and it’s a very fun day.

“It’s never a sad place; that’s just the way Rachel House is.

“Our family are not here anymore, they are scattered all over Scotland and abroad and it’s something that gives us a purpose on Christmas Day.

“You feel like you have made a contribution; you’ve been involved in something larger than just yourself.”

At the other end of the scale, people who are more likely to endure, rather than enjoy Christmas, are those who are advancing in years.

Age charities say the over 75s in general feel isolated throughout the year, but that over half a million elderly Britons will feel lonelier on Christmas Day than at any other time of the year.

What makes that statistic more upsetting is that, according to a survey from the Office of National Statistics released by the Royal Voluntary Service, 87 per cent of older people want company at Christmas.

Of the 375,506 over 75s who will spend Christmas alone, the survey reveals that 41 per cent wished they had someone to spend the day with, but almost half – 44 per cent – said they didn’t expect to see anyone on Christmas Day.

It is facts like these that have led to the creation of a little known but very handy service called Community Christmas.

Supported by the RVS and founded in 2011 by Berkshire’s Caroline Billington, Community Christmas correlates what’s on where on Christmas Day for those who are struggling or just want to be with others.

Caroline believes that no one should be alone at Christmas unless, of course, they want to be.

Today, there are 238 UK events listed online, from a drink together at the local pub to full Christmas dinners with all the trimmings in quiet church halls.

Caroline said: “Community Christmas events are solely for Christmas Day because we know that people want Christmas Day to be different.

“Research shows that being lonely is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and new data shows there is a 64 per cent increase in the risk of developing dementia if someone is isolated.

“I spoke to a lady recently who said she was terrified of Christmas since her husband died in the summer.

“It would be her first Christmas without him and her friends had all stemmed from him. The relief in her voice when I told her she did not need to spend Christmas alone was wonderful.”

One such event listed on Community Christmas is the Salvation Army’s Bo’ness Corp lunch.

Now in its third year, the Corp offers a three-course lunch, games and festive tunes for people facing Christmas alone.

Lieutenant Tom Dunham said: “It started because of a need in the town due to the number of elderly people who were going to be on their own on Christmas Day.

“But this year, there’s no age limit because we recognise that there will also be much younger people who’ll be on their own.

“We have no shortage of volunteers; in fact every year we get new enquiries from people who want to help.

“It’s actually the people who need the provision that we want to attract. I’m 100 per cent certain there will be many people who could benefit from our Christmas Day lunch, which is really like a family Christmas.”

The Salvation Army is one of the main charities opening its door on Christmas Day, including Stirling Corp and five homeless centres across Glasgow and Edinburgh.

For more information, visit Salvation Army ; Community Christmas ; Ages Scotland ; Silverline; CHAS; or Netmums

Make it a time for giving this year...

If you want to donate money to fund organisations who do offer help and support to the vulnerable, lonely or homeless at Christmas, there are many to choose from.

If you are not able to get involved this year, why not support those who can?

I’ll be spending my Christmas Day with the Salvation Army Corps in Gorgie, Edinburgh, serving and sharing a delicious lunch with the homeless or people who would otherwise be by themselves.

Follow on Twitter @FH_Deborah, or help raise money for Salvation Army projects across Scotland at www.justgiving.com/Deborah-Fox5.

Or how about Age Scotland who say 40,000 older people in Scotland will be alone this Christmas Day.

But it has over 1000 member groups around the country which help older people remain mentally and physical active all year round.

It’s these types of groups that can save older people from long-term isolation and allow them to make friends. To support the charity’s work, text LONE15 and a numerical amount (such as £5) to 70070.

If you want to do something different, think about Mary’s Meals, the Scottish charity that supports children in the world’s poorest countries.

This Christmas, you can set a virtual place at the Mary’s Meals Christmas table by making a donation of £12.20 online. Your place will appear on the virtual table on the website, with your name or message displayed on the plate. And thanks to the UK Government’s match funding, each donation of £12.20 can be doubled to provide two children with meals for a whole school year.

Forum of support for parents who are struggling this festive season

Just like parenthood itself, a support network offering assistance to mums and dads going through the mill never stops.

Netmums offers a support network for parents all year round.

Its popular online chat forums and Coffee House receive over 200,000 posts every month, and, during the festive season, there are threads from parents sharing advice on how to get through Christmas without their children or the first Christmas after a separation.

And coming from people who have been through it and come out the other end, the threads are particularly helpful.

There’s also inspirational stories of how some mixed up their traditional Christmas to make it special for themselves and their children in a variety of different ways.

Sally Jee, from Netmums, said: “Our chatroom forum is open 24/7 and our community is renowned for offering excellent support to mums.

“Our moderators and parent supporters will be working throughout the festive period offering one-to-one support to those in most need.”

Whatever is troubling you this Christmas, it may help to discover that there are many in the same boat and ready to help.

For advice, log on to Coffee House