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Why Christmas cheer is overrated...

Be kind to those around you, and especially to yourself at this time of year.

What’s the best way to spread Christmas cheer? Don't bother.

Cheer is overrated, especially at this time of year. Especially when we’re bombarded with images and ideals of how cheery we should be, all the time. It’s just not possible. Particularly in the current climate where it’s as much most of us can do to get out of bed in the morning, to smile politely as your mother-in-law launches into a political tirade, or to not defenestrate the next person to ambush you wearing a Christmas jumper and instructing you to ‘get in the Christmas spirit’.

So this year, during the festivities, I'm resolving to steer clear of cheer. That’s not to say, I’m aligning myself with the bah-humbuggers of the world; if you love the sparkle and the singing, fill your Santa boots. I’m just saying that it’s not for me or my mental health.

Instead, I’m embracing the Christmas kindness, which I will endeavour to spread (gently and without unduly bothering anyone) wherever I go.

Christmas can be a time for extreme loneliness. The barrage of cheeriness, on the telly, on adverts, apparently surrounding everyone you know like a halo of happiness (according to social media) is overwhelming. It’s Christmas: you MUST be having fun. If you’re not, you must be failing. Or that’s how it seems.

But this is categorically, emphatically, painfully untrue.

Everyone feels some sadness or emptiness throughout the year; it’s part of the curse of humanity, so why should December differ? The difference is that we are told that we shouldn’t feel like that. Instead we should block out the pain with Christmas cheer, in whatever form that may take.

It never works. Loneliness, estrangement, gnawing doubts of self-worth, and whatever personal demons we face are magnified though the shining light of the Christmas baubles.

Here are some valuable ways to sidestep the gaping hole that can threaten to swallow you if you’re not watching. These are the real shining beacons of Christmas kindness, many of which will last long after the tinsel is banished back to the loft. Some are practical tips to help you survive, some are concepts to help you look to a brighter time and some will just make you smile a real smile. Which is what we all need instead of the fake smiles we don for much of Christmas.

1) #JoinIn

This is brilliant. A community brought together on Twitter during Christmas Day. If you’re alone on the big day and rather you weren’t, you'll find warm welcomes here. Follow the hashtag, tag your own activity and interact with other people who want some company.

You can find solace, shared experiences and humour with people from all over the world, and you can give the love right back by just chatting about the M&S slippers you treated yourself to or the immense salted caramel gateaux you don’t have to share with anyone.

Started in 2010 by Sarah Millican, each year it gets stronger and more supportive.

Dip into this and it will show you just how wonderful people are. And you are never alone.

2) The Alexandra

What to do in London if you’re on your own on Christmas Day? Go to the Alexandra! They fling open their doors to serve Christmas dinner for lone diners who want some company for free. FOR FREE. Out of the goodness of their hearts. I’m actually in love with this pub. I discovered this pub and their kind work a few weeks ago on a particularly sad day, and just knowing that they exist made my heart soar. A shining example of people doing good in the world.

3) #YuleSlog

Another hashtag to join people together through the power of technology. Yes, there’s a lot wrong with social media, but it can also work for good as well. This is an initiative run by CALM to encourage people to join the conversation about how Christmas isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year.

By using #YuleSlog, you can share stories and read advice about feeling the pressure instead of the festive spirit. They even have a catchy NOEL acronym to help you remember what to do if you find Christmas too much.

4) Re-engage

The charity formerly known as Contact the Elderly is making a huge difference to many people’s lives. Older people are particularly vulnerable to loneliness, not just at Christmas. So Re-engage encourage people to host Sunday tea parties; you offer a chair (or six) at the table and invite older members of your local community to join you food and friendship. Everyone benefits from the social interaction. And there’s usually cake. What’s not to love?

Their latest idea for volunteering is to set up reading groups where people of any generation can meet to talk about what they’ve read and to encourage further interactions. As if it couldn’t get any more precious.

5) Make friends

You could embark on a similar, less organised challenge right on your own doorstep. That old lady down the road you see walking her dog? The old fella who lives next door who only goes out to pop to the Co-op? Drop them in a card and maybe you’ll give them a chance to talk to someone today. This time last year, I was on vague greeting terms with my neighbour Ruby. Now we’re firm friends who share cake and medical advice. You don’t have to go that far, but who knows how much joy a card and a smile could bring?

It doesn’t have to just be older people either. Last year, our Polish neighbours dropped by to gift us with a plate of festive food from their culture. It warmed my stomach and my heart. A little kindness may just bring all members of our community together with the power of shared experiences (and food).

6) #DuvetKnowItsChristmas

This may not change the world, or even your Christmas, but it will make you smile. I can’t promise a laugh, but there is a high probability. Have you ever gone back to the parental home for Christmas to be told your old bedroom is now a craft room and you have to sleep on a lilo underneath a drawing desk with a life size mannequin looming over you? Some people have. And worse.

Dip into the thread to see the random sleeping situations people find themselves in during the festive gatherings. Launched by Rhodri Marsden, it’s grown each year for people to share their pictures and horror stories.

7) Action for Happiness

Imagine a world where people are happier because they care more about helping other people than what they can get for themselves. That’s what this movement is aiming for. Members (sounds like a cult – it’s not: I think) pledge to create more happiness in the world around them. That could be on a grand scale, a local level, or just within yourself. Founded in 2010, they have spread across the world and have the backing of the Dalai Lama. He must know something about kindness.

The movement is guided by the idea that you can feel good by doing things to help others. Yourself included. They have many projects in action such as public events, courses, and ‘Happy Cafes’ which provide a local place for people to meet up in their community. People are social creatures, and as much as I shy away from the loud, brash gatherings at Christmas, it’s something we all need in our lives in some way. People can be wonderful, and this is a curated collection of people doing kind things for the happiness of the world.

8) Be kind

Just like Action for Happiness advocates, you have to be kind to yourself as well as others. Sometimes it's harder to be kind to yourself. But it's vital. And you can get better at it with practice. Try saying the nice things you would say to a friend to yourself. If that makes you feel good, imagine how many days you could brighten by spreading that message. Kindness spreads exponentially and is stronger than you realise. Wishing you all a festive season where kindness is king. Oh, and you look wonderful today.


Current Affairs Editor, Katie Isham...

Katie Isham is a writer, teacher, drummer and mild adventurer. She loves cakes, dogs and her own company, especially when near the sea. Whenever she needs to escape from reality, she tries to ride her bike or listen to Springsteen. She is powered by sarcasm and a need to smash the demon lizard patriarchy. Katie believes kindness is a superpower. 

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