Ewan Aiken: Christmas isn’t the season of peace for everyone

Christmas is often portrayed as a joyous time, but for many families this is not the case. Picture: 'The Christmas Tree', Albert Chevallier Tayler

Christmas is often portrayed as a joyous time, but for many families this is not the case. Picture: 'The Christmas Tree', Albert Chevallier Tayler

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CHRISTMAS is almost upon us, as if you didn’t know, and with it great joy but sometimes too great pain.

The expectation that you will have a good time – often predicated on the assumption everyone else is so your family should be – can instil a real sense of failure in your family relationships.

The now almost unbearable consumerism of what was once a religious festival often brings the pressure to spend unaffordable amounts of money, often on peer pressure-driven “must-haves”, meaning the value to relationships of gift-giving is undermined. Difficult decisions about where to spend the day when it’s a family where parents live apart expose deeper hurts about feelings of belonging and who appears to matter most. Along with the “cabin fever” effect of suddenly being in each other’s company for extended periods, it all means that Christmas can be more powder keg than peace and goodwill.

Every year, nearly 5000 young people across Scotland became homeless due to relationship breakdown. That’s the equivalent of five high schools. But we believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg, with many households struggling behind closed doors with conflict, arguments, and fall-outs. The number of referrals Cyrenians received to our family mediation and support services have already started to grow and we know we’ll hit a spike over January and February. It’s a tough time for the families and walking out often seems the only way but we know once someone is homeless the spiral down can quick and brutal. The average age of death for long-term rough sleepers is around 36.

Christmas isn’t the problem. What the festive season does is sometimes expose families to some pressures and challenges they may not feel able to deal with. That’s not a flaw or a failure, its simply part of the journey of being a family. And it’s ok to ask for help.

Cyrenians would like your assistance in reaching out to families who are struggling to say its ok – you are not on your own, we are there for you. Help is at hand. Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) is running a social media campaign called #5000nomore to highlight youth homelessness and how Christmas can be a difficult time for some families.

Keep a look out for it and join the campaign by sharing what you argue about at Christmas and how to resolve it – you can take a photo, write a message on your hand or on a piece of paper and share it on social media using #5000nomore; @sccrcentre. It won’t take a moment and it could be the best gift you give someone this Christmas.

Ewan Aitken is chief executive of the Cyrenians

Cyrenians’ Conflict Resolution Services have created a podcast for families who may not be 100 per cent confident that they can live up to the expectation that Christmas will be a time of peace and love; with lots of helpful tips on how to handle the stresses and focus on the good things about family and 2015, this podcast should ensure that despite the inevitable setbacks we can look forward to remembering what’s really important. You can listen to the podcast on Soundcloud.