In a few days’ time, people across the province will gather with family and friends to begin celebrating the Christmas season.
For most of us, Christmas is a time of happy memories when we set aside our daily routines and focus on spending time with those we love, exchanging gifts, expressing our goodwill and indulging in a variety of foods and drinks. For Christians, this season marks the celebration of the birth of the Jesus Christ, and people gather in churches to give thanks for God’s gift to the world.
Regardless of how religious one may be, what often gets lost in the commercial bustle that surrounds the season is that it’s this gift of a child that forms the basis for all the giving and celebration that we associate with Christmas, and the spirit of Christmas imbues the qualities of love, acceptance and inclusion for everyone that Jesus brought with him.
While most of us gather with our loved ones, there will, sadly, be many in our communities who do not have family or who are estranged from family who will not feel the spirit of the season. For some, Christmas is a lonely time in which they are acutely reminded of the connections they are lacking in their lives, and the celebrations going on around them reinforce their sense of exclusion. For those who live with mental illness, Christmas is often a time when their symptoms are exacerbated and there is increased pressure to “put on a happy face,” despite how they are feeling. Consequently, there is an increased risk for suicide over the Christmas season. The recent suicide of Victoria Best in Clarenville is a powerful reminder that even those who are surrounded by love and support can still be at risk of losing their battle with mental illness.
If you truly want to embrace the spirit of Christmas this year, look around your neighbourhood or community and identify the people who will be alone during Christmas.
For those who are dealing with addiction, Christmas can be one of the greatest challenges. With all the excess of partying associated with this celebration, especially with alcohol, those who are active in their addiction can find the season to be one long binge with the resultant consequences of monetary loss, damaged relationships, health problems and possibly conflict with the law. Those who are in recovery are faced with the task of figuring out how to manoeuvre through family celebrations without having a relapse or to avoid family functions altogether to support their sobriety; in either case, the pressure is enormous and the experience can lead to feelings of isolation and exclusion.
Fortunately, there are a number of organizations and charities in our communities who are actively trying to provide services for those who are struggling during the Christmas season. Many of you may have made donations to these causes over the past few weeks which will go a long way towards helping others to have some sense of Christmas. This spirit of giving and generosity is something we pride ourselves on here in this province, and it truly reflects the intent of Christmas. However, things such as food and gifts are not what people need most at this time; they need to be among other people and feel a sense of belonging and inclusion in a family setting. If you truly want to embrace the spirit of Christmas this year, look around your neighbourhood or community and identify the people who will be alone during Christmas. Invite them to spend the day with your family and give them the opportunity to share in the happiness, support, laughter and memories which give us all a true sense of family.
Like the gift of the Christ Child for which the season is named, it is a gift beyond the measure of money or possessions and the impact of your gift just might make the difference in helping someone to gain the hope and strength to create a better life going forward.
Merry Christmas to all of you with the hope that the spirit of the season will grow in your heart next week and throughout the year ahead.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.