Christmas is more commercial than ever. It seems that shops are more and more desperate to get us to spend big on presents, but there is little meaning behind the glitz. Even the Christian message about the birth of Jesus barely gets a mention.
There are cultures where Christmas is just another festival the way that a Westerner might think of Diwali or Ramadan. And sometimes things get lost in translation: for example, 40 years ago a KFC marketing campaign went viral with the result that in Japan, Christmas is now commonly celebrated with a bucket of KFC chicken.
There used to be a tradition of helping out vulnerable people at Christmas – in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is scorned because of his unwillingness to help out Christmas charity collectors. Christmas should be a time where we come together to care for each other as a community, not just an exchange of gifts that are soon forgotten.
Unfortunately, if you don’t fit the mould of the traditional happy Western family with jobs that allow time off at this time of year, Christmas can be a difficult and isolating experience.
More than anything else, spare a thought for those dedicated workers and volunteers who are there for people who need care, and to pick up the pieces when Christmas really doesn’t go to plan for the rest of us. Babies still get born, people still have accidents, our elderly still need care. Whether they are police, paramedics, doctors, or nurses, some people simply don’t get to spend Christmas Day at home.
In fact, emergency services workers are extra busy over the holiday period as the combination of alcohol and the stress of family gatherings can lead to a spike in violence-related callouts. Crisis services have to focus on the most urgent cases for support and ignore the rest as the bureaucracy of government shuts down between Christmas and New Year. And in a sad twist, just being lonely makes people up to 60% more likely to visit the Emergency Department for company.
Others volunteer on Christmas Day to ensure that people without families or little money to celebrate can still feel included. In Canberra, the St John’s Care Christmas Day Community Lunch – feeding hundreds of people – aims to make sure “no one has to spend Christmas Day alone”. Next year they will have been doing it for 15 years – a new Canberra tradition worth preserving. Volunteering and Contact ACT also maintain a list of other places that people can go for company and free food on Christmas Day.
It’s easy to forget the truly important things in life in the hustle and bustle of Christmas. This year, if you are going to be celebrating Christmas as part of a loving family and community where people are safe and healthy, that is a true blessing worth celebrating. Anything else is just ornamentation on the Christmas tree.
Kim Fischer is an ACT Labor candidate for the seat of Ginninderra in the 2016 ACT Legislative Assembly election.