The holidays can be tough. For every Brady Bunch-type family who began making elaborate plans exactly five months ago as Coronavirus pandemic restrictions eased, there's many more who find the whole thing extremely overwhelming.
If you’ve just suffered a loss, for example, or if you’re unable to be around family – being alone for Christmas can be a pretty tough time. Others might have work obligations, family disputes or simply a lack of funds to hop on a flight home.
If this sounds like you, the most important thing to remember is that you should be patient and gentle with yourself. If you’re feeling low or not in the mood to celebrate, that's absolutely fine. Just because it’s Christmas, doesn’t mean everything in your life has to be wrapped up in a tightly knotted bow and sparkling under candlelight.
Last year a poll of 2,100 adults in Great Britain, commissioned by the British Psychological Society (BPS), found that more than a quarter of people would not see loved ones during the festive period, while two in five were worried about a relative or friend being lonely.
In 2016, mental health charity Mind found that one in 10 people aged between 25 and 34 admitted they didn't have anyone to spend Christmas with, compared with just one in 20 older people.
With many of us facing a deluge of perfectly-curated Instagram feeds of seemingly idyllic Christmases, it's no surprise that a whopping third of us (35 per cent) spend the holiday season dwelling on what we've failed to achieve over the year.
To help, we've rounded up a list of surprisingly helpful activities you can do when spending time with family isn't an option.
1) Make cocktails with the elderly
Sounds intriguing, right? Based in London, Magic Me is an arts charity bringing the generations together to build a stronger, safer community.
In 2011, the initiative launched 'Cocktails in Care Homes', inviting volunteers to head down to a local care home to whip up anything from a gin & tonic to ice-cold cosmopolitans for the elderly, before sitting down to have a good old chinwag about life.
Think of it as your local pub but with fruity mojitos and chatty old folk.
The initiative hosts monthly parties at ten care homes across London - on Wednesday or Thursday evenings, 6pm-7.30pm - providing social occasions for over 250 adults.
The only thing required from volunteers is the attendance at a 90-minute induction session, with training including non-verbal communication skills and cocktail making.
2) Volunteer with YES Group London Basket Brigade
If you can’t bare the thought of others not having food on the table come Christmas time, now is the time to offer your help. The London Basket Brigade’s mission is to make up baskets – otherwise known as ‘Hampers of Happiness’ - to be delivered to more than thousands of baskets on December 23.
This charity idea came about over 40 years ago and sees thousands of volunteers coming together in around the world to provide baskets of food and household items for an estimated 4 million people. Last year’s YES Group London Basket Brigade welcomed over 700 volunteers and we delivered 1,500 hampers.
3) Offer up your night to the Hackney Winter Night Shelter
Open from November to March each year, Hackney Winter Night Shelter offers a bed for the night and a hot meal for people who would otherwise be sleeping rough. Without its team of volunteers, it simply would be unable to run.
During the night, a volunteer’s first shift will see them preparing the venue, while the second will involve cooking and servicing dinner and offering guests conversation in a friendly environment. ‘Some then stay overnight as part of our overnight shift, and then a final shift arrives first thing to serve breakfast or help clear up,’ the organisation's website explains.
4) Volunteer in Calais
Care4Calais is a French/UK registered charity that works to support refugees sleeping rough in Calais, directly with a focus on providing fresh meals, warm clothing, heating and social interaction.
With mobile English workshops, sports days and art and music initiatives, to helping search for refugees in need of help, visiting those in detention, and organising the warehouse on site, your efforts are in need more than ever this Christmas.
If you believe every human has the right to be treated in a fair and dignified way, a volunteering trip to Calais is most certainly for you this Christmas.
Alternatively, you can donate your coat to those in camps in Calais and find your nearest donation drop off point here. Or, if you’re feeling extra generous, donate £25 and Care4Calais will buy a coat for a refugee.
Click here to find out more.
5) Join Goodgym
Over a million older people in the UK are always or often lonely and many go for months without seeing friends or family. And that's where GoodGym is here to help.
GoodGym is a weekly running club that combines regular exercise with helping the community. Whether it's jogging to plant trees for a local park and shifting earth for a community gardening project to sorting cans for a food bank, the charity works hard to improve the quality of life for the elderly by ensuring volunteering fits easily into busy schedules.
The group has already accomplished over 176,160 good deeds since its launch in 2008 but is still in need of more help.
With the project now set up in 39 areas across the UK, there's no excuse not to don your trainers this Christmas and do some good in your community. After all, what better way to work off all that stuffing, right?
Sign up to GoodGym here.
6) Find a 'friend'
Via initiatives such as North London Cares, South London Cares and Manchester Cares, friendship matching scheme 'Love Thy Neighbour' joins men and women aged 65 and over with younger neighbours in the area to promote spending a little time one-to-one time together.
Matches are encouraged to catch up over a cup of tea or a walk once a week to develop a mutual friendship over time and help elderly neighbours who may struggle to get out of the house.
7) Volunteer in a charity shop
In the lead up to Christmas, many charity shops struggle to cope with the extra work and demands of the festive shopping period.
So, if you have an afternoon, evening or even just two hours free in your diary, why not book yourself in for a shift at a charity shop this winter?
8) Give out food at a foodbank
In the UK, more than 14 million people are living in poverty – including 4.5 million children.
Between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, food banks in the Trussell Trust’s UK wide network distributed 2.5 million emergency food parcels to people in crisis – a 33% increase on the previous year. A staggering 980,000 of the parcels went to children.
Give something back this year and help out a your nearest foodbank, whether it's donating produce, sorting, or distributing food to those in need.
Find your local food bank and find out how you can help this Christmas by clicking here.
9) Flex your cooking muscles with Foodcycle
Food cycle is a national charity that builds communities through surplus food, volunteers and spare kitchen spaces.
With food projects from Bath to Birmingham, the project aims to cook up tasty meals for people in need of a hot dinner and friendship. Each week, it serves over 750 three-course meals and gives away over 150 reusable containers for guests to take home.
Whether you want to become a team co-ordinator or a cooking leader running weekly cooking sessions with volunteers, there's no better way to show off your cooking skills, motivate others and help your community.
Find you closest FoodCycle project here.
10) Couchsurf in a new city
If you're travelling over the Christmas period or have recently moved abroad and are struggling with homesickness and finding new friends, take yourself on an adventure this festive season by couchsurfing.
A few days off over Christmas poses the perfect - and cheap - opportunity to sign up to Couchsurf, where travellers connect with each other to provide free accommodation to global wanderers. Just remember to take Covid-19 tests to ensure everyone's safety prior to your stays.
Whether it's two days in Barcelona, a night's stay in Rome, or a quick trip to Paris for the weekend, you never know, you might even bag yourself a free Christmas dinner with a host's family!
Sign up to the scheme here.
11) Become a house sitter
You know that Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet Christmas film, The Holiday? Where the two women can't stand the thought of being lonely at home during the holidays and decide to swap houses (and lives) for two weeks?
Well, you can do the same - just without Jude Law - by signing up to House Sitters UK. You look after a home, and an owner's pet, over Christmas.
House sitting is by far the cheapest way to find accommodation, have an authentic holiday experience and indulge in a love of animals all at the same time. All you have to do is search through houses available online and contact the owners.
Finally, an opportunity to take that cosy three-day break in Cork or Edinburgh, for free!
Sign up to become a house sitter here.
12) Book a Christmas shift
High street shops often offer higher wages or 'double pay' during the festive period to recruit more members of staff to meet shopping demands.
If the thought of spending Christmas Eve, Boxing Day or the entirety of the holidays alone at home has you worried, organise a few shifts at a local high street shop for additional pay, an opportunity to eye-up items in the sales in advance and work with like-minded millennials.
Being paid to spend the day in Zara all day? Sign us up.
Contact individual stores for more details.
13) Invite friends over for dinner
As we all know, not everyone celebrates Christmas, so why not send a Facebook or Whatsapp message to friends to find out who is free over the holidays and would like to spend time together - be it at home, in the local pub or at a restaurant?
Regardless or how you feel about Christmas, we can all agree it's the perfect time to reconnect with old pals and celebrate having time off, even it's just to eat to our heart's content, guilt-free.
However, if - for whatever reason - you're feeling lonely, sad or just need someone to talk to this festive season, remember that help is close at hand.
Here are a list of helplines available (times may vary) :
Cruse Bereavement Care: 0808 808 1677
Samaritans: 116 123
Shelter: 0808 800 4444
MIND: 0300 123 3393 or text 86463
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