‘I’ll be alone this 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 singles. 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. However, even younger folk can find themselves with no one to spend the day with. How can you, as a church leader, make the festive season a better experience for the unmarried people in your congregation? 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

‘Invite me round – or encourage others to do so’

If people in your congregation will be alone on Christmas Day, you may want to consider inviting them to spend the day with your family. Singles tell us this makes a huge difference to their sense of being noticed, cared for and included.

If you’re unable to invite them round, or you and your family need private time together (we know how church life can take its toll on a leader’s family life), could you encourage other families in the church to include those who’ll be on their own? This can be explicitly suggested from the pulpit, and discreetly mentioned to families who may be in a position to offer hospitality.

‘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

‘Facilitate a singles get-together’

If there are a number of people in your church who will be alone over the festive period, you could suggest (and help to facilitate) a get-together, such as a bring-and-share Christmas meal hosted at one of their homes. You can put people in touch with each other, and offer to flag it up in the church notices for anyone looking for company for the festivities. You could even make space in the church available for it, if there are enough people

‘Every year, I host a bring-and-share Christmas lunch for anyone at church who doesn’t have anywhere else to go. The first year, it was just me and one other person – now we usually have five or six people. It’s something we all look forward to.’ Annabel

‘At Christmas, anyone who is alone is invited to a lunch at the church, which is great.’ Mike

‘The singles in my church have formed a support and social group. We brainstorm ideas and have an activity every week, including Christmas celebrations for those on their own.’ May

‘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 or visit over the holiday – 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 drinks, parties or outings. Anyone who isn’t mobile or doesn’t have transport may value help with Christmas shopping.

Singles may appreciate being invited to join others in the congregation at carol services and other events, rather than sit alone. Being offered lifts to events if they have no transport can make all the difference to whether they can attend, particularly when public transport isn’t an option, such as for midnight mass and on Christmas Day.

‘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

 

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).

Catherine Francis, 30 October 2017 

 

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.