As we start to wrap up warm, reluctantly digging out and retrieving our thicker winter coats from the back of the wardrobe (while shooting a wistful glance at our abandoned summer clothes), it is only natural that many of us start to look ahead to Christmas.
“Christmas isn’t far away, I can’t wait to start my present shopping”, the more eager among us cry. “But it’s not even halloween yet, it’s over two months away”, others protest. I myself have to admit that I often fall under the latter category. When the shops start stocking festive gifts and transforming their window displays to get us into the seasonal spirit, I tend to think that it is too early.
I adore Christmas when it arrives, but I do groan when ‘Fairytale of New York’ plays out in the supermarket and I haven’t so much as thought about carols or mince pies. But I have realised that the reason why I groan is precisely because I have the luxury of being so accustomed to enjoying Christmas and sharing it with my family and friends.
I have the pleasure of anticipating the brilliantly bad puns that my dad will come out with over the dinner table, and letting the joy and laughter from my parents wash over me. You yourself, as you are reading this, probably have your own distinct family memories and traditions associated with Christmas.
However, I recently had the pleasure of meeting with HELP, the Harrogate Easier Living Project charity, which provides support for older and vulnerable people in the district, and Anna Woollven, a Project Development Worker, got me thinking about how not everybody looks forward to Christmas in this way. It might be something that people used to look forward to, a highlight of the year, even, but could now be an occasion held in dread. Not everyone has someone to share the holiday with.
Loneliness and social isolation can be very difficult things to talk about, but there are a phenomenal number of organisations in our district that can help. HELP’s Opening Doors project helps elderly or vulnerable people to retain their independence by enabling them to get out and about and enjoy social activities with the assistance of a volunteer. Volunteers accompany service users on a one-to-one basis to help them get to where they want to go to, including theatres, supermarkets and garden centres, as well as supporting visits to doctors and dentists.
Regular volunteer befrienders can be matched up to service users based on mutual interests.
Wesley Chapel in Harrogate throws its doors open every year to serve up a Christmas day lunch, and is a very sociable experience loved by many, and the Harrogate and Ripon Centres for Voluntary Service are about to launch a new upgraded version of their ‘Where to Turn’ directory, which is a comprehensive and searchable online database of community organisations, activities and services for people in our district.
There are so many organisations in our area that provide vital support, but there is always more that can be done, and I don’t think I will ever grumble about Fairytale of New York again. It will be a trigger to start thinking about Christmas earlier and to consider how we can help others.