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VERNON OICKLE: Help thy neighbour

Well, friends, the holiday season is upon us once again and people have begun rushing about with all the hustle and bustle one would expect at this time of year. As the frenzy gains momentum, we can expect that hurried pace to intensify until it reaches the crescendo on December 25.

This time of year can be a whirlwind, that’s for sure and often times, it feels like you have only two options — either go with the flow or step back and get out of the way.

With less than a month remaining until the Big Day, however, we can expect that pace to only grow more intense and by this stage in the game, it is safe to say that if you haven’t yet begun your holiday preparations, then it is time to kick it into gear.

Perhaps it’s because I’m growing older, but each year now, as we head toward that magical day, my mind turns to those Christmases from my childhood and I’m reminded of what a special season it was for family and friends. Call me cynical or blame it on the commercialization of the season, but these days it appears that much of that magic has worn off.

Oh, there’s no doubt that if you’re a youngster, Christmas is still a special time of year for you, one filled with brightly coloured lights, festive gatherings, an assortment of delectable treats to please every discerning taste and, of course, gifts, and usually lots of them.

And rightfully so as it would be a shame to lose those feelings too quickly. However, as we grow older, it becomes increasingly more important to hang onto those other qualities of Christmas that may not be quite as tangible as a present under the tree, but are equally as important or, perhaps, even more important.

This point was driven home to me recently during a conversation with a group of seniors who, while they were lamenting about the holidays quickly approaching because it created increased financial hardships for them, they also pointed out that as their children have grown up and mostly moved onto other places with their own families, it’s often a challenge for them to stay excited about the holidays.

However, as one of the ladies pointed out, she long ago learned that Christmas isn’t about any of those material things, it’s about being with those she loves and those she holds dear. Of course, her first priority is to be with her children and their families, but that isn’t always practical or possible as her children are spread out across the country and beyond, meaning it would be expensive for her to visit or for them to come home for the holidays.

As a widow, she added, Christmas becomes an especially trying time for her, but she has found that nurturing good friendships and celebrating the season with those special people, is one way she copes with the holidays. Usually, she adds, she has a wonderful time each year and would encourage others to find people with whom they enjoy spending time because for her, the worst part of the holiday would be spending it alone.

Another member of the group joined the conversation and quickly pointed out that with all the festive activities taking place in our wonderful communities throughout the South Shore, there really is no good excuse for people to feel isolated and alone this holiday season. She felt it’s important to get out in the community and to enjoy these opportunities as they present themselves.

The list is endless and can include concerts, teas, parades, dinners, theatre, carolling, parties and your choice of seasonal shopping promotions in local stores and malls which not only offer great deals but usually also offer a social component while at the same time providing an opportunity to shop. The thing is, she pointed out, there is always something to do in our communities, but it’s important to become involved and get out there.

“It’s way to easy to sit at home and feel sorry for yourself,” she said. “Believe me. I’ve done that myself, but eventually I learned that I hated to be alone and I especially hated to be alone over Christmas so I look around at the things that are being done in town and then I ask a friend to go with me. We always have a great time. It can be so much fun.”

Not to downplay the plight of those who suffer alone during the holidays, because I know this a major issue for a great number of people in all of our communities, but I think the message here from these two wonderful women is that if you’re feeling isolated and cut off during the season, then it’s important to find a way out of those doldrums.

In some communities, there are volunteer groups and service organizations that will help with this problem like finding drives and transporting shut-ins to events and activities, and there are also people who will visit with you if you feel like you need a friend.

Of course, the other side of the equation is that those of us, who are fortunate to have our families and loved ones around during the holidays, can reach out to those in our communities who we know are alone and isolated. If you know someone who needs a friend then invite that person to join you for the holidays or if you’re attending an event, then offer to bring him or her along with you. It’s the neighbourly thing to do.

For those of us who are fortunate to have our families around during the holidays, we often take them for granted, but as the years go by, we experience losses and changes in our family dynamics, which leads to a need to adjust and alter our holiday traditions.

It’s one thing to remember those festive good times from the past, but you can’t allow yourself to be stuck there. As circumstances change in our lives, it’s important to make new traditions and celebrate with those who bring us love and joy, or least that’s the view from here.

Vernon Oickle writes The View from Here column, which appears weekly in the South Shore Breaker. He can be reached at vernon.l.oickle@Eastlink.ca.

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