You probably can’t have missed seeing or hearing about the Christmas advert for the German supermarket Edeka. It amassed nearly 30 million views on YouTube in under a week and tugs at the heartstrings. If you haven’t seen it you can watch it here and it is very similar to the John Lewis advert from this year – both of them show people who are lonely at Christmas.

john-lewis-christmas-advert-2015-screencapA still from the John Lewis advert “The Man on the Moon”

The Edeka advert shows an elderly gentleman spending Christmas by himself, with his children around the world making different excuses as to why they can’t be with him. The advert then shows his children the following Christmas receiving the news that their father had died and they fly home for his funeral. The advert ends with the children walking into the dining room of the family home and seeing the elderly man who says “How else could I have brought you all together?”

Christmas A still from the Edeka supermarket advert

It is very easy at Christmas to get caught up in the busyness of everything. Every year Christmas seems to get earlier and earlier and everyone gets caught up with how much there is to do before ‘the big day’. We all seem to spend December in an absolute whirlwind to make sure that Christmas is an enjoyable time for those who we will share it with and it has to be as perfect as we can make it.

However, it’s important to remember that Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone. There are people who will spending this Christmas Day working in the emergency services, in our hospitals, on farms, in resturants or wherever else and for whom December 25th will just be another day. I remember speaking to a friend who is a PSNI officer who has worked over Christmas for a few years (he does this so that those with young families can have the day at home) and he said that he hates it. It wasn’t because of the fact that he wanted to be with his own family but it was because he had seen so many domestic incidents which are fuelled by Christmas celebrations

After leaving university and before I started working, I accompanied Santa on his tour of my mum’s primary school for him to give out presents to the P1 to P3 classes. He asked all of the children what they wanted from Santa and most of the answers were game consoles, toys or whatever but what one P2 child said has stuck with my ever since: “I just want a happy family this Christmas.”

“Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as it is opening our hearts” Janice Meaditere

There will also be people who will be spending their first Christmas apart from a loved one who has died over the past year and I am always conscious of families who have suffered recent bereavements. My grandfather died on 22nd December 2007 and his funeral was on Boxing Day – I will always remember the undertaker sitting in our front room on 25th December with our Christmas tree twinkling in the corner and feeling like I was stuck in a bad dream.

There will also be those who will be lonely this Christmas for a variety of reasons. I listened to Good Morning Ulster last week which had an interview with elderly people at an AgeNI centre in Belfast. One of them, Robert, said that he has been living alone for the past 9 years and understood the Edeka advert and said it related to his own life.

“It brings tears to my eyes. Watching it I immediately thought back to my own family and the times we had at Christmas…it does really make you think. It is a terrible thing that you have to go to that length or that extreme [to see family]. I know that I have family somewhere but we just lost touch and that was it.”

Siobhan Casey, Director of Marketing & Business Development for AgeNI, when on to say that companies are just vehicles for the message but from an AgeNI perspective they see adverts like this helping to highlight the facts that  1 in 3 older people are lonely and that 30,000 older people in Northern Ireland feel trapped in their own homes.

In church we have a Christmas party for our older members every year which includes a Christmas dinner and some entertainment afterwards. A lot of people put a lot of time and effort into the event with traditionally the ladies cooking the food and the gentlemen serving it. I really enjoy seeing how happy these people are at such a simple thing but for some it is the only Christmas experience that they have.

“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” Calvin Coolridge

While both the Edeka and John Lewis adverts are clearly designed to get people to shop at their respective businesses, they still have an important message. I’d encourage you this Christmas time to think about other people and especially remember those people who won’t be having the same sort of Christmas that you will be.

It could be something very simple such as calling on elderly relatives, neighbours or anyone who might be lonely and offering them a small present, taking some time out of your preparations and inviting them around for a coffee and a chat or even just picking up the phone and calling someone. For a practical example, as a family we always have my mums brother and his family on Christmas Day (as we have done since I was born) and invite some people that we know who live alone for lunch on Boxing Day.

It won’t take a lot of effort to make someone’s Christmas a little bit more special this year. Forget the tinsel, the presents, the food and the ‘to do’ lists and show love to someone else. The Australian poet Pam Brown sums it up well:

“We expect too much at Christmas. It’s got to be magical, It’s got to go right. Feasting. Fun. The perfect present. All that anticipation. Take it easy. Love’s the thing. The rest is tinsel.”

Merry Christmas.