The Christmas season sometimes feels like an incredibly lonely one for me, and listening in on other people’s exciting holiday plans makes things worse.
“Am I the only one doomed to be spending Christmas holed up in Auckland with my family?” I think.
While there is nothing wrong with hanging out with my family, I’m envious of my friends and work mates, with their plans for travelling out of town to visit grandparents and long-lost relatives, or spending time with close friends. I envision them piling into the car, their trunk filled with luggage and presents, as they drive out of Auckland, away for a fabulous time.
As for me, my Christmas holidays usually involve four long days of doing nothing, apart from sleeping in, watching DVDs, and attending church on Christmas morning. Furthermore, with all the shops closed on Christmas Day, the feeling of isolation and loneliness has a way of seeping into my spirit.
There are no relatives for my family to visit, as all of my extended family had stayed on in Malaysia when my family moved to New Zealand almost two decades ago. So Christmas is usually a very quiet affair spent with my parents and my sister.
Many years ago, when Christmas cards were still sent and received, I would line our window sill with cards in a bid to keep our living room cheerful. But upon closer inspection, you’d see the cards were mainly from local businesses, real estate agents, and the church. A few would be from friends.
We also had a Christmas tree, and while it wasn’t a tree that would win awards, we did our best to decorate it with red and gold baubles, wooden soldiers, and angels. If you looked under the tree, however, you’d find presents that looked like they had been hastily stuffed back inside their wrapping, with torn corners and curling cellophane. Some were just props—empty boxes wrapped in colorful paper. The presents with the torn edges were my birthday gifts (my birthday is four days before Christmas, so I do get a few 2-in-1 gifts), which I had opened only to rewrap them for the tree.
My family doesn’t quite do Christmas the way other families might—big sumptuous lunches, buying gifts for one another, decking our house in fairy lights and various Christmas decorations. So I guess that’s what makes our Christmases feel so woeful and lonely.
Occasionally, my family does get invited for a Christmas gathering at a friend’s home. It involves each family bringing a meal to share and a present for Secret Santa. Can I tell you how much I dread these gatherings? I’ve never been keen on hanging out with people I have never clapped eyes on, and working my plastic cutlery into overcooked barbecued meats. And then there’s the Secret Santa gift exchange, which often feels like a dumping ground for cheap unwanted goods or cast-offs. If you’re lucky, you’d walk away with a box of chocolates.
So yes, Christmas for me is pretty so-so. However, my thoughts and attitude towards my so-called lonely Christmas changed after I saw firsthand what a lonely Christmas truly looked like.
A lonely Christmas is the individual I packed a gift box for as part of my church’s year-end community event, where we gave to people who would otherwise not receive a present. I remember my pastor telling us to buy something we thought they would need, something they would like, and a Christmas decoration. For my chosen individual, I bought a pair of new pajamas, an autobiography by the late All Blacks rugby player, Fred the Needle (even had the book signed), and a Christmas bauble.
A lonely Christmas is the vulnerable woman who had broken away from an abusive relationship. But she was grateful for the gift of basic toiletries such as bath soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste, along with a gift for her child.
A lonely Christmas is the family struggling to pay their bills, resorting to their local food bank to see them through the season, and most likely not being able to give presents to their children.
A lonely Christmas is the young mum who desperately wants a food hamper filled with washing detergent, toilet paper, and canned food.
I believe if we were to ask Jesus what Christmas should be about, He would say it’s the time to care for the widows and the orphans (James 1:27).
For Jesus, I believe it’ll be about taking the time to reach out to people who otherwise might not have anyone to spend Christmas with. Last year, my sister and I invited a friend whose parents live in a different town, over for a Christmas lunch and gift-giving.
It was a small gathering of three, but we had Christmas foods like mini-pavlovas and a bottle of sparkling juice. We also tried our hand at deep-frying a pork dish—the oil went all over the kitchen and cleaning it was a mess. There was nothing extravagant about the Christmas lunch and the presents exchanged were hardly excessive, but it was probably one of my best Christmas memories.
After my eye-opening experience of what a truly lonely Christmas means for various individuals, I have since made it a habit to buy presents for my local charity.
Christmas can be a time of loneliness for certain individuals, but I believe when we reach out to them with love and compassion, we are also bringing with us a little bit of Jesus into their lives.