We hear so much about life expectancy increasing resulting in there being more older people in society that we tend to forget other aspects of our changing society which also affect us.
Three major changes are the effect of birth control, meaning that we were able to control the number of children we had, easier divorce so that more people are having other partners and the fact that travel is so much easier.
All of these have a big effect at Christmas which is essentially a family time. The first and last changes mean that we have fewer children and that many of them have moved away from the places of birth. Sometimes the parents have moved away too which complicates getting together at Christmas. ‘Blended’ marriages often result in a couple having different offspring which can add to the problem that whoever you spend Christmas with is possibly not the offspring of one of you. What if the new union follows a bitter and nasty divorce which means the parents may not want to encounter each other. Add to this mix blended families in which the parents may both have offspring from previous marriages and also have their own children. This was all rare, or didn’t happen at all, before the changes mentioned above altered society considerably.
All this probably leads to more people not spending time with their own children and are perhaps facing a lonely Christmas. Some communities, particularly the churches, are aware of this and often organise Christmas parties for those in this situation in the community.
My thoughts turn to those in aged care facilities who face a family-less Christmas, particularly if others in the facility have their families visiting them. I’m sure the staff do their best to take away the loneliness but the reality is still there. There must be many people whose children are too far away to visit, whose children (and partners) may have passed on before them, who didn’t have children and those for whom the blended family situation is far too complicated for them to join in Christmas celebrations. I suspect that these people are overlooked by the community who tend to think in terms of people having adequate shelter and food forgetting that they need more at such a family time.
I’m not sure how large the problem is or how we cater for it but I suspect it will become an increasing problem. When people had many children in the past at least some of them would have returned for this family season, particularly when many of them stayed around their birthplace following their marriages. Even if we don’t have statistics to show how big the problem is at least we should be aware that society is changing in ways which are having unrecognised consequences. Loneliness is hard at any time but is particularly so at a traditionally family time.