Christmas should be as much about the elderly as it is the young

Making time for our elders at Christmas makes the season more meaningful for all invoved
  • @stefanohat

Christmas, they say, is for the young. To my mind it’s true that there is something lacking in the festive get-together without the wide-eyed excitement of children for whom this is still the most magical time of the year.

Many of us choose to cling to the ephemeral notion of 'magic' as we grow older, even though we realise (spoiler alert!) that a beardy, fat man in a red suit hasn’t really squeezed down the chimney to deliver sackloads of presents – um, that were already under the tree!

We choose to believe in the otherness of the season as an antidote to the mundanity of everyday life the other eleven months of the year, and our own response to the horror of the late December shortest days. Our ancestors knew all this. So they invented a celebration to cheer us all up when we most needed it. We still do, despite this freakishly balmy weather.

Christmas should be as much about the elderly as it is the young. The latter get so much of our attention as it is. The old? Well, so often in Britain it appears spending time with our elders is a duty rather a pleasure. And, yes, that is a sweeping generalisation.

Many of our immigrant communities maintain the inter-generational mix in a more positive and meaningful fashion. Among Jews, arrivals from the Caribbean, Italians and Indians the bonds appear tighter, be that because of generations still living together in the same home or through more traditional hierarchies being maintained.

Who knows what change in our own culture will result from the current trend towards what Italians call ‘mammone’ (boys - it’s always boys in Italy - living at home with mama until their 30s and beyond)? It’s now a discernible trend, particularly in the South East as a combination of youth wage deflation, rampant house price inflation and soaring rents force people to move back or stay at home while they try to save enough for a deposit – or even just to rent.

It may also put more pressure on older people not to continue to live alone in mortgage-free larger homes. This may not necessarily be an awful thing. For every person who is happy in the solitude of their own space, there is someone who feels trapped by the loneliness of that solitary life.

Either way, if we all make some time for our elders at Christmas; if we genuinely listen to and engage with rather than merely humour or patronise them, it will make the season more meaningful for families and wider communities. Me? I love hearing the stories about the war, the old country and the old ways. I cherish beyond measure that there are still a disappearing band of those old enough to be able to tell them.

Anyway, enough babbling from me, time for baubles and bubbly. Whether you are with your young or old this Christmas, preferably both, enjoy the season and share the love around.

Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live