Community Christmases – what are they, and how can you get involved

We all know that Christmas can be a difficult time for many. Some are lonely, or beset by troubling memories, or may simply struggle to afford the kind of Christmas they’d like.

But a new movement sweeping the UK is promising to change all that.

The concept of the ‘Community Christmas’ has been around for a while now, and it’s growing by the year. Hundreds of people say that their local Community Christmas has been a godsend. They no longer dread Christmas – in fact, they look forward to it.

So, what is a Community Christmas? And how can you get involved?

Community Christmas: a simple but powerful concept

The basic idea of a Community Christmas is pretty simple: a group of volunteers donate time or resources to putting on a Christmas dinner (usually on the 25th, but some communities choose different dates) for anyone who wishes to attend. Those who feel lonely, or who can’t afford their own Christmas meal, or who simply want to spend Christmas with their community rather than elsewhere come along. They have a meal, chat with one another, maybe play some party games. Perhaps local musicians play some festive tunes.

A Community Christmas can be as big or as small as the community needs. It can be as big as a three course meal and party, or as small as a stand of volunteers handing out mulled wine and mince pies.

Of course, a lot of what’s achievable depends on what people can offer, but most Community Christmas endeavours up and down the country have been bowled over by the generosity of volunteers and donors. It’s heartwarming to see just how much goodwill remains in what can be a rather cynical time of year.

Who can attend?

Most Community Christmases have a limit on how many people they can accommodate, so it’s usually advisable to get people to sign up for a place by a certain deadline. However, as to who is eligible – that really depends on the needs of the community and the skill set of the volunteers running it.

Some communities offer places according to those they deem most in need. However, determining who is more (for example) lonely than another is a tricky and delicate business, and means-testing for need can be controversial.

Other communities open places at the Community Christmas for anyone who wants to attend, from the elderly and lonely to large young families and everyone in between. Many feel that this approach makes for a more genuine and inclusive atmosphere, as well as removing the stigma for those who may not want to feel like ‘charity cases’.

How can you get involved?

First of all, check to see if there is a Community Christmas scheme in your area. Most Community Christmases are independently run by local volunteers. However, some are supported by the charity Re-engage. If you can’t find a Community Christmas in your area, Re-engage may be the place to look.

If you find a scheme already up and running in your area, why not offer to help? Think about what you could (perhaps literally) bring to the table. People give what they can to these endeavors – time, food, alcohol, crackers, skills, money…what do you have to offer? Could you help the organisers on the day, with cooking or washing up or just being an extra pair of hands? Perhaps you’re a dab hand at putting up Christmas decoration? Are you good at cleaning up after a big event? Could you play some tunes or organise some party games? What can you offer, and (most importantly) what are you willing to offer?

If you can’t find a scheme in your area, why not try and get one off the ground? Again, Re-engage are a good place to start. They’ll offer advice and resources which can help you to get your new project off the ground. You’ll have volunteers flocking to you in no time!

However, don’t offer to do something you know you won’t enjoy, simply because you feel you must. Be honest with yourself and with the other volunteers about what you can and cannot offer. Remember – the really important thing about a Community Christmas is that everyone (volunteers included!) has a good time.

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