Oh, Christmas. That wonderful time of year when everything seems to get sprinkled in magical Christmas fairy dust: romantic twinkling lights line the streets, supermarkets blare out festive tunes, every television advert shows loving families exchanging gifts and everyone starts complaining about how terribly busy they are.
But for many New Zealanders, Christmas isn't such a straightforward affair.
Be it because of a financial hardship, a recent separation, death or isolation, instead, every well-meaning reminder of Christmas can feel more like a stab to the heart.
It's a tricky time of year for many Kiwis, and a time where feelings of loneliness can become overwhelming. So here at the Weekly, we feel it's important to take a good look at this other side of the Christmas coin, and do our best to alleviate some of that pain and loneliness that can be a plague during the festive season.
Loneliness: It's a worldwide issue.
It's a rather surprising fact, but despite the introduction of so many social networking sites online, the highest rates of loneliness are reported in NZ amongst youth aged 15-24.
In fact, the bulk of lonely New Zealanders are aged under 65.
Young Kiwis are feeling more disconnected than ever and statistics show the number is continuing to rise.
But at the opposite end of the scale, elderly Kiwis are still feeling acutely isolated. According to a 2017 study by the University of Otago, one in five elderly Kiwis feels lonely.
And it's certainly an issue that needs to be taken seriously as studies have proven that feeling lonely can have a significant impact on your health.
A former US Surgeon General, Dr Vivek Murthy, said the reduction in life span was comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day – also making it of greater consequence than the impact of obesity.
Other studies have linked loneliness to serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cognitive loss, depression and one study even determining that lonely people have a 64 per cent increase of developing clinical dementia.
It's seen as such a pressing issue that in the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Tracey Crouch as the Minister for Loneliness.
The appointment came off the back of a study that discovered more than nine million people in the UK felt lonely always or often, and around 200,000 older people had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.
The government has now committed to a series of studies that will look into the impact of a number of initiatives that hope to tackle loneliness, and have created a dedicated fund to work with charitable trusts and foundations that tackle the issue.
The good folks at Age Concern work year round to connect the elderly with their community. They say the holiday season is the perfect opportunity to break the ice and make contact with the people who live around us.
Knowing your neighbours can make a significant impact on alleviating feelings of isolation. Here are five tips for making contact...
Christmas can be a tough time for older people, especially those who live alone. Invite your older neighbour over for a meal this holiday season. This will give you a chance to build a relationship with them.
A little note to say Happy Holidays can make the world of difference to an older person.
Have your son or daughter make up a card or get your crafty hat on and make one yourself.
It's a great excuse to pop over and have a nice chat.
Something as simple as a phone call can have positive benefits that go both ways.
Contact with older people can help families to connect with what Christmas is really about.
Nothing gets you in the festive spirit like whipping up a good batch of Christmas preserves and taking over a jar will give you a good opportunity to have a chat.
Maybe you will learn something about your neighbour that you don't already know.
This social connection can be a great chance to explore traditions and share memories.
Be mindful that Christmas can be a tough time for some older people, especially those who live alone and have no family.
Small gestures of kindness can make this time much easier for older people who may be feeling lonely.
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