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Opinion: ’Tis the season to be lonely

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Steve needed my help. The college Christmas tree needed to be put up and, despite being probably the best caretaker this side of the A1, Steve isn’t well known for his artistic ability.

The powers that be bought a new tree last year. It’s a posh one, about 7ft tall and all bushy around the bottom. They also bought new fairy lights and baubles in the college corporate colours.

The tree used to be a more ramshackle affair. Multicoloured lights and a vast mixture of baubles. I’ll admit it: I like the new tree better. It’s more professional and slick, more in keeping with the image we want to promote. It has none of the gaudy campness of the old one.

The job took longer than I expected. First, we had to unfold all the branches, untangle all the lights and check that every bauble had a string. At various points in the proceedings, learners and staff drifted past and complimented us on the job that we were doing. No one stopped to help, though. Steve and I didn’t mind – we were having too much fun. When we’d finished, we took a photo and posted it on the college website for everyone to marvel at.

It’s a good job we worked as a dynamic decorating duo, otherwise we would never have got the angel on top of the tree. I’m 5ft tall; thankfully, Steve is nearly 6ft. There’s no way that either one of us would have managed to get the tree looking half-decent if he or I had been working alone.

The Christmas season at college is a funny one. It’s tricky not to let the students (or staff) begin winding down too early. I’ll confess, I wore my Christmas jumper on the first day of December. There are emails flying around about Secret Santas, Christmas dinners and nights out. It’s also a busy period for the chaplaincy, mentoring and counselling services. Images of happy families in supermarket adverts can throw the sadness of some of our learners’ lives into stark contrast. For some, the words “Merry Christmas” can sound pretty hollow.

This year’s John Lewis advert (the one about the man on the moon) draws attention to the needs of lonely older people. The commercial is a good one (although I liked the penguin better), but I can’t help but wonder how it might have been received had the lonely person on the moon been a 17-year-old plumbing apprentice on a bursary. Call me cynical, but it seems that heart strings are more readily tugged by marketable, charitable images than by disaffected youth. I suspect that we’ll have to wait a while for an advert featuring a health and beauty student whose mum has just chucked her out on the street.

But the college Christmas tree looks lovely – the lights are sparkly and the decorations are beautiful.

I’m beginning to brace myself for the post-Christmas fallout, but I’m reassured that if learners’ Christmas celebrations aren’t everything they should be, we’ll still be here for them in the new year, long after Steve has put the baubles back in the box.

Reverend Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College. She tweets at @revkatebottley

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