The feeling of making other people happy through surprising them can be a spectacular one and, for many, seeing the reaction in someone else from a gift that they’ve provided is far preferable to receiving a present themselves. The same, warm happiness of providing might also be found in serving up a great Christmas dinner, or playing a new game with a young child.
Sharing gifts, food, and time is a powerful feeling. According to a Christmas Dinner survey carried out by AO the vast majority of people spend December 25 with family: 75.2% of those queried. There was also strong support for enjoying Christmas with partners and friends, in-laws.
None of these figures are surprising, but intriguingly 1.3% spend it with with ‘others’, that don’t fall into these categories. Where are they going, and why? The pub, perhaps, or maybe work?
Actually, the truth might be that they’re providing those who would otherwise struggle at Christmas with company. AO’s study of Christmas habits showed that 6% of UK will eat Christmas dinner alone, with this figure rising to 1 in 10 in Scotland. This figure is backed up on the Age UK site which states that 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely.
Age UK and Community Christmas aim to reverse the trend, and give people that most treasured commodity – companionship. The latter was started by Handybus driver Caroline Billington, who was touched by the enjoyment a group of elderly women expressed on their way home from Christmas dinner in 2007. That led to Caroline organising additional events, and, by 2015, the number was up to 300 across the country, each one urging members of local communities to provide conversation and comfort to older people. Its success is perhaps summed up by the quotations on its site, such as: “Christmas Day used to be such a sad, miserable time for me. Now, I could smile all day and enjoy other people’s company.”
The run-up to Christmas for people of all ages can be tough. No-one wants their children to go without, but at the same time the consequences of overspending on toys, decorations or food can be serious, sending families into debt that could take months or even years to cover. It seems almost Dickensian that charitable facilities such as foodbanks are needed in the 21st Century, but they are. According to the Trussell Trust, more than half a million three- day emergency food parcels were distributed in the first half of the year.
However, visit a foodbank and you may be surprised. The venues – typically churches – are warm and friendly, with not a hint of pessimism or despondency. While no-one would ever want to need their services, they are not made to feel ashamed when they do attend. As an aside, you might not be aware that it’s possible to share toiletries, household items, feminine products and baby supplies with food banks.
Another well-known campaign is Operation Christmas Child, organised by Samaritans Purse. Schools and families across the UK wrap up various gifts in shoeboxes, which are then sent on to families that really need them across the world. The charity’s recent efforts include sending a disaster response team to Mosul and survivors of Hurricane Matthew in the Bahamas, and these will no doubt continue across December and into 2017. The charity’s site gives clear, specific guidelines on how and what to pack.
These are community events, but what about the individuals who decide to give for the festive period? The very story of Christmas is based on giving; an exhausted Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem to participate in the census, and could not find accommodation – but thankfully a few individuals helped them out. In that spirit, in America the Instagram account Tipsforjesus has been causing a sensation by leaving massive tips of typically $5,000 or more at various restaurants. Whomever is behind this generosity writes messages on the receipts such as #godbless and #makechristmasgreatagain.
With social media acting as an avenue for mass communication, acts of kindness can now spread efficiently, with video proof. Last year the #doorstepchallenge invited people to present gifts to strangers in a knock-and-run style challenge; its creator, mum-of-two Caroline Macrory, saw her message shared more than 115,000 times.
There’s also the story of the man who paid for groceries for the next ten shoppers in a Texan store. And WestJet engineered a fantastic idea that only an airline could create, by setting up a line asking passengers for their Christmas wishes and then giving them those gifts upon arrival.
It’s less than a month until Christmas and we are all busy shopping and buying and loving. It is truly the time of the year when we can help others, and we don’t need to know them. It isn’t even difficult to find them, and it certainly isn’t expensive to do your bit. All that is needed is the will to make someone’s Christmas just that little bit better.