As a gerontologist I am regularly confronted with the way that, of all the prejudices, ageist stereotypes are the most freely accepted on the planet. However another set of assumptions are being given oxygen by proposals to ‘protect Christmas’ by delaying the march of the coronavirus. I accept that the UK is grounded in the traditions of Christianity but question the expectation that, countrywide, everyone will be devastated by lockdown criteria which prevent them from meeting together to celebrate the day or, indeed, the season. Will this be the first year that those who do not aspire to such expectations of conviviality will no longer feel ‘othered’; patronised by questions about their plans; pressed into accepting invitations to fraternise with well-meaning people who scarcely have time to pass the time of day at any other time of the year. Humbug! Humbug!
I cannot be the only person who seeks to preserve my sanity by attempting to ignore all the hype; fight off the standard questions about what I’m going to do with bland answers; resist the feelings of being pitied by going into a personal mental lockdown from about mid December; find other things to do that engross me; wait until it’s all over and normal life returns – except for the solicitous questions ‘Did you have a nice Christmas?’ Yet, like many, I will preserve the pretence of complicity in order to avoid causing offence.
I count myself as lucky in that I am able to verbalise these thoughts, though the angst simmers below the surface. There must be many other people who suffer silently, unable to express complex emotions. Particularly damaging is the thought that it is inadmissible to feel this way. Older adults, faced with internalising ageist stereotypes and assumptions about Christmas, and especially those who live alone, are likely to find themselves in a particularly weakened state to cope with the virus this Christmas. Perhaps, now that the pandemic has cast light on mental health, allowing people to talk more freely about how they are affected by assumptions about Christmas, feelings about Christmas may be more honestly framed?