Including single people at Christmas

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families…’ Psalm 68 v 5-6

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for single people. If they don’t have wider family to spend time with, or they’re unable to get ‘home’ for Christmas, they may face spending the day alone and isolated, during what should be a joyful time. This is especially the case for older and disabled singles, who may not see another person for the whole Christmas period.

This year's Christmas will look very different for everyone, with many more of us feeling isolated and cut off from loved ones. For those who are single, the restrictions might bring a sense of uncertainty or dread as to whether they will be invited to join a "bubble" for Christmas, or be left to spend the holidays by themselves.

How can you, as a church leadership team, make the festive season a better experience for the unmarried people in your congregation? And could you encourage them to be creative when making their own plans? Single Christians share their suggestions…

‘Ask what my plans are’

The key to supporting singles, as with most people, is knowing their stories, asking what they need – and, most important of all, listening. Some people may be embarrassed to reveal they have no one to spend Christmas with, and few would feel comfortable inviting themselves to someone else’s family gathering. So if there are people in your congregation who might be alone over the festive period, it’s good to make a point of asking them. Once they know they’re cared for, they’re more likely to share their situation and how they feel about it.

Don’t forget the ‘hidden singles’ – those who are widowed, separated or divorced, and whose children may be spending Christmas with their other parent. It’s also good to be mindful of people who are married but living ‘as if’ single – for example, their spouse is away for long periods of time working, in prison, or in long-term care (for instance, they may have dementia and no longer recognise their partner). 

On the other hand, we can’t make assumptions. For some singles, Christmas offers joyful relief from the loneliness of the rest of the year, as they get to spend time with their wider family. We also can’t assume singles are desperate for invitations – for some busy individuals, a few days of peace and quiet alone is not a hardship. So ask people what they would find most helpful. 

‘As a single person, I dread Christmas. I don’t get much time off work over the festive period and my family lives too far away to visit. My friends disappear to spend time with their own families. Christmas is the loneliest time of year for me.’ Tina

‘I’m blessed to be invited by family for Christmas. For me, the difficulties aren’t about Christmas – they’re about every day.’ Gerald

‘Since my divorce, I dread Christmas – especially when it’s my ex’s turn to have the children. I miss them terribly and I just don’t know what to do with myself, rattling around in an empty house.’ Madeleine

Use Zoom to provide an informal space for people to connect

You could think about hosting an ‘open church’ Zoom meeting room on Christmas day, or throughout the Christmas period, for people could dip in and out of. There is no need for hosts to sit directly in front of the camera all day – it could be for sharing in more casual conversation as you cook Christmas dinner or do other things. If this sounds like too much of a commitment you could just open the Zoom meeting for a short shared period of the day, for instance to hold a ‘shared lighting of the Christmas pudding’ or just after one of the Christmas movies or the Queen’s speech. For a minimal time commitment, this could provide a valuable moment of connection and focus for people on their own.

Have a church WhatsApp group to share Christmas photos

Again, small acts of sharing like these can provide a sense of connection and help people to feel part of the church family, even when they are physically on their own. Many people enjoy sharing photos of their decorations or Christmas culinary efforts (or disasters!).

You could also run a Facebook funny caption competition.

Hold a simple service during the time when people are with their families

While many people, particularly clergy and those who support them, are glad of a break from church after Christmas morning, this is not the case for everyone. The sudden stopping of services can leave a gap and take away an important point of connection for single people.  Consider doing something short and low-effort such as sharing morning or evening prayer in church or on Zoom on the 5 days when people will be with their families so that people on their own have a chance to connect.

If possible, leave the church open for some of days after Christmas so that people can come and pray.

Make sure you know who is on their own and patch them into a church telephone tree or offer to put them into prayer triplets

Sometimes traditional ways of keeping in touch in a church community – such as telephone trees – can be the best. Phone calls are particularly valued by older singles, but younger people will often also find that a call is more personal and more thoughtful than, for example, a WhatsApp message.

You could put people into ‘prayer triplets’ throughout the Christmas period so that they feel an ongoing connection to the spiritual mission of the church over the period.

Invite someone to join you digitally

Could you invite someone to join Christmas dinner with your family digitally, and encourage others to do the same? This can be explicitly suggested from the pulpit, and discreetly mentioned to families who may be in a position to offer hospitality. Singles tell us this makes a huge difference to their sense of being noticed, cared for and included.

If you know of people who will be on their own, you could arrange as a church to deliver them a Christmas meal, or a gift to let them know that they are seen and appreciated.

Please note the following quotes are from pre-pandemic Christmases.

‘A couple of years ago, I was upset to find myself facing Christmas on my own, but I didn’t want to invite myself to anyone else’s family celebration. However, when a friend told people at church that I was going to be alone, I got several invitations. I had a lovely day with a family from church.’ Lindsay

‘At my previous church, my leader and his wife treated me like family (and still do), and invited me to stay at Christmas. It was very helpful knowing they were there to support me, as I had no family nearby and was unable to visit my parents for over a year.’ Denise

‘My minister’s family has an open door policy. They even let me sleep over on Christmas Eve when I didn’t want to be on my own, and I joined in on Christmas morning when I was missing my own children.’ Steven

‘We had a curate who would invite me and my children over on traditional family days, such as Christmas and Easter. It was so important to me as those were the days when I felt most alone.’ Kerry

‘Think of us when planning services’

With its emphasis on children and families, Christmas can a painful time for many singles, emphasising their lack of a partner and family and making them feel even more alone. That can also be true for couples who don’t have the children they long for; those who’ve lost loved ones; people who’ve experienced a family break-down; full-time carers; individuals who have to work over the holiday; and people whose family will be away during the celebrations.

Being mindful of these folk when planning services and sermons will make all the difference. You could also mention them in the prayers, give them a role at events, and offer an opportunity to light a candle for someone they’ve lost. 

‘Being alone can make a person feel rejected and unlovable. People can be so wrapped up in their own agenda that they look past the single people. As a 35-year-old man with no kids, I don't fit in anywhere. Having no one to spend Christmas with makes me feel like a loser.’ Robert

‘I was my late mum’s carer and I really miss her at Christmas. At midnight mass on Christmas Eve, my vicar includes an opportunity to remember people who’ve died and light a candle. It means a lot to me.’ Katy

‘My church is full of lovely, friendly and welcoming people, but I do feel out of place at Christmas, when families are all together and I am alone.’ Ruth

‘Remember us over the holiday’

Even if singles have arrangements for the big day itself, the rest of the festive period can be difficult. If someone is housebound or unwell, they will greatly appreciate a call – perhaps you can also encourage your congregation to do the same. You can also remind church members to think about those who might appreciate an invitation to an outdoor walk or a phone call. Anyone who isn’t mobile or doesn’t have transport may value help with Christmas shopping.

‘The worst thing about Christmas is not seeing other people. I’m disabled and housebound, and last year I didn’t see or speak to anyone for ten days.’ Anne

‘I’m lucky that I have family who include me on Christmas Day, but I often find church and life quite lonely around the festive period. As someone who doesn’t have a car, I’m most blessed when people offer me a lift to services. I also appreciate being invited round for a meal or drink in the run up to Christmas.’ Lisa

Ideas for single people

Of course, it is also important for single people to be proactive and make plans themselves, especially this year when many of us will have a challenging Christmas season. Our director Jackie Elton, shares some thoughts and ideas for making the most of Christmas this year:

With thanks to: Anne, Annabel, Denise, Gerald, Katy, Kerry, Lindsay, Lisa, Madeleine, May, Mike, Robert, Ruth, Steven and Tina (some names have been changed to protect privacy).

Related information:  We also have an article for singles struggling with Christmas, with further ideas for a fulfilling festive season, which you and your church members may find helpful.