Jean Antoine-Dunne writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
The Christmas season brings with it a particular kind of pain for some, if not for many people. There are those who are homeless and who will sleep on the streets. There are also many individuals in our society who are impoverished or who find it difficult to meet their daily commitments, and for whom the extravagance of this season means sheer torture. This is so in particular if there are children. However, even more than the issues surrounding the consumerism of today is the fact of increasing loneliness for many who will face the day alone.
In days of yore, there was such a thing as the extended family. Grannies and grandads lived with their offspring or the children lived with them. Grandparents were often an essential part of family life. Today with increasing affluence, many elderly people are in homes or simply have no real value in the family unit.
There is also the issue of migration and so many elderly people live on their own because their children and grandchildren live abroad. So at Christmas time the older members of our society very often have nowhere to go and no seat to occupy other than at their own lonely table. There are many who have no family or close friends at all, for as we get older our list of close contacts gets smaller.
Loneliness leads to depression and Christmas brings with it an increase in depression arising out of the stark opposition between the glitter and the glamour and the reality. As the lonely watch the apparent happiness of others through the virtual lens of television, the pain of their own solitude increases. There is a reason why records show that suicides increase dramatically at Christmas time. I should add that the aura generated by this season is not exclusive to Christians.
For those who live alone, this period also creates an upsurge of memories and regrets. It may be of lingering quarrels, or simply those acts that have never been done, or the words that could have healed a breech, but that were never spoken.
There is certainly a deep human need to reconnect and to remember at this time of the year. Everyone wants to be with family and at any cost, so airports throng with activity. But what of those to whom no one comes?
For various reasons we no longer even send Christmas cards as we used to. Remember the days when families put cards on display and the children counted how many were received? But we now say Merry Christmas on Facebook to our hundreds of “friends.”
And what of my memory of Christmas when after Mass on Christmas Eve we flocked to each others’ houses to taste the ham and the black cake, not forgetting the sorrel and the ponche crema?
For those who are retired and alone, with not even a work party to attend, these memories become increasingly poignant as e-mails and e-messages and texts replace the warmth of a visit, or even a card that the postman delivers and that resonates with human contact. There is a story of an elderly man who constantly wrote letters to himself so that he could meet the postman when he or she delivered them to his door.
It may seem somewhat old-fashioned and even nostalgic to say: invite someone to share your meal at Christmas or even send a card and pay a visit. Nonetheless, it is a fact that something as simple as one of these acts could actually generate that thing that we still call the true spirit of Christmas.