Christmas is the loneliest time of the year for more than 1.5 million older people, research suggests.
A study by the charity Age UK found the bereaved are hit hardest, with more than 750,000 widowed people feeling isolated over the festive season.
While Christmas is a cause of celebration for many, more than three million older people are dreading the big day, with nearly a quarter (23%) saying it brings back painful memories of loved ones they have lost.
“Many of us look forward to Christmas in anticipation of having a lovely time with those we love, but unfortunately that’s not how it is for some older people, especially if they are already feeling sad and alone,” Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said.
“Bereavement is a very common experience in later life but that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with, and Christmas is a particular challenge if you are facing it on your own, with just your memories and perhaps the television or a pet for company, to see you through.”
Up to 170,000 older people are facing their first Christmas without their recently-departed other half.
One who knows the feeling all too well is widower Colin, 78, who took part in Age UK’s “No one should have no one to turn to” campaign.
“Nothing can prepare you for losing the love of your life,” he said.
“That first Christmas on my own was a particularly difficult time. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying the festivities, but it made me feel even more alone.”
While loneliness is a year-long issue, the festive season can drive a sense of solitude home.
“Christmas can amplify loneliness,” Dr Kalpa Kharicha, head of innovation policy and research at the Campaign to End Loneliness, told Yahoo UK.
“If you’re on the back of a bereavement you’ll be very much aware of the empty chairs. Your partner may have been the one who wrote the cards.”
While December may leave many feeling isolated, it could also be the perfect time to widen your social circle.
“Christmas gives us an opportunity to talk about loneliness,” Dr Kharicha said.
“Lots of things are going on in communities at Christmas time.
“If you can cross that threshold at Christmas, you may be more likely to take part in community events in January.”
When it comes to helping lonely people, small gestures can make a big difference.
“Drop someone a card or knock on their door on your street,” Dr Kharicha said. “People tend to be more open to that at Christmas than other times of the year.”
Where to enjoy Christmas lunch if you’re alone this December 25
This cosy south-west London pub is offering a free three-course meal, complete with alcohol, to anyone spending Christmas Day alone.
Dozens attended last year, including the elderly, those new to London and people who simply missed their flight home.
Although more are expected this December 25, booking is not required, with attendees being invited to show up and be merry from midday to 3pm.
Held at a local community hall, a free-of-charge lunch is served following the morning services at Kings Heath churches.
And the fun doesn’t stop there, with volunteers also putting on festive “entertainment”.
Donations are accepted, but not obligatory, and booking is required.
Mancunians can enjoy a Christmas lunch with all the trimmings at an “accessible” primary school.
The festive celebration comes at no cost, with volunteers looking to “reduce social isolation and provide food support over the holiday period”.
Booking is required, with spaces filling up fast.
Volunteers at the church are putting on a three-course lunch, with a vegetarian option, for up to 60 people free-of-charge.
They may even be able to help those unable to make their own way to the event, but cannot facilitate wheelchairs in their transport.
Bookings are being taken in advance.
Sports fans can enjoy a free three-course meal, along with a tipple and entertainment, at the city’s stadium.
The lunch is not Christmas specific, so may suit those sick of turkey.
Booking is not required, and transport to and from the venue is even provided for free.
For everyone else, the charity Re-engage has a handy Christmas events listing, where you can find goings on near your postcode this festive season.
Additional support and helplines available
Older people who cannot leave the house can contact Age UK’s advice line for free 365 days a year 8am-7pm, including December 25, on 0800 169 6565.
The Samaritans are also available 24/7 whenever someone needs a confidential chat on 116 123.