This post has been written by Lee Peckover
When I taught in a school with 100% of children having English as an additional language, I taught one child who had moved a lot around Europe. For his first few weeks he didn’t speak, he had arrived as a refugee and struggled with language, adapting to a new way of life and everything changing around him. I couldn’t get anything from him until one day, he saw a picture up on the wall. Rushing eagerly over to it, he grabbed my arm and tugged at my shirt sleeve to show me what he had seen. It was ‘Sinterklaas!’ as he proudly announced to me. He was wide-eyed. His face brightened at the mere sight of a familiar and warming figure. This was something he knew. A warming, familiar sense of something he knew to be good and happy was here, in this place where he had until now seen only unfamiliar and scary change, now he saw something bright and happy, something he knew meant only positive things. Christmas activities were, for this child, his way of becoming part of our classroom, the school and the community as a whole. He made friends, the other children in class were fascinated to learn about Sinterklaas when they previously knew only Father Christmas. There were seven languages spoken in that class and a mixture of different religions, each of which we celebrated to the maximum because celebrations are just that…celebrations! Times of happiness, community and joy.
It isn’t just children who need Christmas (and as many other festivals and celebrations as possible). It’s a wide range of people and good causes too. The sale of charity cards alone raises around £50 million for good causes every year. The British Heart Foundation call it ‘an important source of income for charities up and down the country’ and you can find their cards here should you wish to help add to this total this year. One thing I cannot dispute when it comes to cards and gifts is that there certainly is a lot of waste at Christmas. People buy presents for others who don’t necessarily need or even want the gifts they receive and with ongoing calls to arms over climate crises around the world it might be time to change how we think about gifting this year. There are options and there is one in particular I’m choosing to advocate for here. Why not gift something that will definitely be both wanted and needed this year? Through Unicef you can purchase gifts for people who really need them and dedicate your gift to a loved one while doing so. Gifts range from as little as £7 to fund lifesaving salts for 20 children to more expensive gifts like a school in a box to help 40 children at £160. There’s even options perfect for a Secret Santa friendly budget of £10 like a gift box of essential supplies for children. Other charities have their own initiatives such as the Booktrust’s aim to send books to 12,250 children this Christmas where £10 is enough to send a book to a child in care.
Away from charity and giving for a moment, there are other ways in which Christmas can be a force for good in the world. In winter, many people find they have a lower mood, less energy, and happiness levels generally decrease. For some, this is a time they begin to feel lethargic or irritable and around 10-20% of people are now believed to have further symptoms considered to be mild forms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). There is help out there for people who suffer or struggle at this time of year. Mental health charity Mind offer a range of advice for people who feel lower in winter and this includes putting up Christmas lights ‘really early’. ‘Festive lights and cheerfulness are an antidote for some people’, as are ‘socialising and going outside’ suggest Mind. Christmas is a time where socialising is made easier. Where there would only be cold and miserable dark nights, there are late shopping evenings, family or work gatherings and a general lighting up of towns across the UK. Where there would be dark nights and empty streets, people are far more likely to venture outside in spite of the cold where they go on winter walks, out to visit friends or family, or just to get out and sample some of the warming winter foodstuffs that only come around this time of year. Pumpkin spiced latte and a festive themed sandwich anyone?
There’s an oddity surrounding the psychology of Christmas in that people tend to think that Christmas increases depression, loneliness and other mental health issues. However, as Dr Randy Hillard has stated in Christmas and Psychopathology:
‘The fact is, fewer people report to psychiatric emergency rooms just before Christmas than at other times of the year. Hospital admissions, suicide attempts and completions, and even letters to advice columnists go down just before Christmas, then go back up immediately afterwards.’
It seems then, that the problem isn’t Christmas, it’s the continuation of winter after Christmas. What we need, is a second Christmas – or a first Christmas of the year, as I suppose it would be. I propose a new Christmas, a Christmas One we can look forward to before the summer comes back. April 29th is my provisional date. Get the lights out, decorate the towns and get supporting good causes this December 25th and next April 29th. Feliz Navidad(es).