Feeling it's the season to be jolly can be a strain

You might soon be wondering how to stop eating those mini Cheddars, or be unwrapping your 14th Broons annual. Then there's that haze of days between Christmas and Hogmanay where all sense of time is lost. For most of us, Christmas is a wonderful, and somewhat odd, time of the year. Yet somewhere between the heartwarming joy of a John Lewis advert and spending the day alone in a cold, empty home, there are a lot of people who just find this time of year a little tough.

There is therefore an understandable perception that it’s a particularly busy time of year for us at Samaritans. That’s not really the case. At Christmas, Samaritans receive about the same number of calls as we normally do. But when I say that, bear in mind that a “normal” day in Scotland means receiving over 800 calls. It’s hard to know why we don’t see an increase, but part of the reason may be because this is the time of the year where we all make an extra effort to reach out to one another. Particularly to those whom we think might be struggling a little.

Jane and Christine, two of our volunteers, spoke to me recently about doing just that. “Because it’s Christmas, it doesn’t mean that people don’t have their usual emotional strains,” says Jane. Like many of our volunteers, Jane will spend a good part of Christmas Day in a Samaritans branch providing support for those who need us. Christine will be doing a night shift on Christmas Eve. As Jane says, our problems don’t go away at Christmas, even if it is a time of the year where many feel the need to hide what they’re really feeling. And with all the pressure to enjoy the festivities, it can be difficult to ask for help if you really need it.

To those people who feel that seasonal pressure, Jane and Christine’s dedication is so needed. In their experience, though, many call simply to make a human connection. “It can be a very lonely time of the year for some people”, stresses Jane. “Even in the midst of Christmas parties, it doesn’t mean there aren’t people in there who feel alone.”

While some of the people Jane hears from will be spending the day quite literally alone, we all know it’s easy to feel lonely in a crowd. Christmas never feels like the time of the year to burden your loved ones with anything that isn’t merriment. Christine says: “You feel that you’ve got to be jolly. Even in big families, people can find this time of the year very difficult.” Christine is one of those people for whom this time of year is tough. “Doing something that has a purpose, that helps,” she says.

Neither Christine nor Jane find it a struggle to go into the local Samaritans branch on the 25th. For Jane, “it’s Christmas Day and you’re giving something of yourself – it’s what it’s about. As a Samaritan, that’s my contribution to Christmas.”

You might be missing someone you’ve lost, you might have underlying challenges that you deal with every day of the year or you might just feel forced to grin as you unwrap another “ironic” jumper. We all tend to put on a little bit of a mask this festive season. If you’re struggling underneath that, you can be sure that Jane and Christine, and others like them, will be here.

Jane and Christine are, of course, extraordinary – but also resolutely not. Everyone can be a little like them this Christmas. Forget the perfect gifts, the perfect tree and the need we all feel to live up to the aspirations of the season. Give a really remarkable gift this Christmas. Reach out to someone and listen to them openly. Initially, this can seem daunting, so we’ve produced some free materials to help, along with a guide to having a #RealChristmas on our website.

And if you find you’re good at that, consider becoming a Samaritan next year. You could be that person someone turns to when they feel it’s not the time to burden those closest to them. This time next year, it could be you giving a truly priceless gift. Visit www.samaritans.org/volunteer-us

Find out more about Samaritans’ #RealChristmas campaign at www.samaritans.org/realchristmas

James Jopling is Executive Director for Samaritans