“Oh baby, it’s cold outside” is the chorus of the Christmas hit, and that is the cold reality.
Christmas is a time of great duality – inside and outside being two starkly different and opposing worlds.
Inside you have mince pies, mulled wine, over-indulgence and basking in front of roaring open fires with those you cherish.
Outside, for those who cannot rely on the same comforts, there is a cold and bleak winter that rages unrelentingly.
For those without supportive families, Christmas is a lonely time. For those without warm homes to return to at the close of day, Christmas is no escape from the rigmarole of daily life but a reminder of their dire situation.
The spirit of giving wafts through nearly every window, spreading love and cheer with almost aggressive force.
To many parents the fear of children’s tears on the lounge floor leads to a scramble for the right presents.
Yuletide-frenzied shopping sprees fill the streets. Our television sets blare out their endless consumerist sermon.
There is no avoiding the idealised image of a sickly sweet, cinnamon-scented Christmas. If you cannot afford that then you are forced to look on from the edge of society. There is no room at the inn, so to speak.
For Britain’s growing homeless population, Christmas does not offer the same festive cheer. The UK government rapidly need to confront the escalating homeless crisis in a meaningful sense for Christmas to mean anything.
As the homeless figures rise our country continues to lose sight of the ethos its biggest holiday is based on. The housing shortage, new amendments to benefits policies and years of austerity are forcing younger people into sleeping rough in greater numbers.
In a condemnatory U.N. report published by Philip Alston, the U.N. rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, poverty in the U.K. was described as “a political choice.”
According to statistics from charity Shelter “there will be an estimated 131,000 children homeless in Britain this Christmas.”
Their report also made the staggering claim that in London the rate of homeless children is “28 for every school – the equivalent of almost one whole class.” This cannot go on.
Deborah Ball, who works at St. Mary’s food-bank in Manchester, told me that usually they serve 15 food packs a week but on “Christmas week, we cap it at 230”.
Food-banks like this one are essential facilities to an increasing number of families in this country and they are under particular strain around this time.
Deborah says that this Christmas they need all the help they can get and encourages every concerned citizen to “donate, be compassionate and to not accept that things are not ok.”
At this time of year, the temptation is to escape to a winter wonderland. This Christmas, I hope that rather than escape, we face the fact that the social fabric of this country is severely damaged.
Of course, if you have the means, it is wonderful to treat your family. But it is simply a disgrace that in the November lead-up to Christmas last year, “UK consumers spent over 1.6bn online every week” while there are hundreds of thousands of others in this country without basic shelter or enough money to support themselves.
Beneath the modern consumerist nature of Christmas is the core principle of kindness. It is only the modern mindset that has equated kindness with spending heavily. We must remind ourselves what real kindness is.
Even if you are not religious, and I am not, this Christmas should be a time to question whether we are being true to the Christian values of the festival. Are we embodying the principles that we celebrate? Or are we letting down our citizens?
While the sentiments of joy and togetherness that come with Advent are especially welcoming this year with all of the craziness of 2018, we shouldn’t promote values and simultaneously neglect them.
As temperatures continue to plummet this winter, we must think of the vulnerable among us who brave that cold. As our government fails its duties, we must take it upon ourselves to do what we can to spread the true Christmas spirit of charity and unity.
Let’s works towards a country that doesn’t throw its citizens to the cold outside but accepts them into the warmth.