Orphans Christmases offer connections for those left alone on the holidays
For many, Christmas is a time of food, family gatherings and the odd bit of drama over present double-ups and seating arrangements — but not everyone has family to spend it with.
- Calls to Lifeline Australia peak over Christmas, the charity says
- In Hobart, there will be a special lunch on Christmas Day for people who have lost loved ones
- The organiser says Christmas is traditionally a time of connection, and being alone can highlight the hole left by a death
Some have lost loved ones, others are separated by distance.
That’s where the organisers of ‘orphans Christmases’ step in to throw a party for people who don’t necessarily have a table to go to.
Tasmanian resident Sabrina Sequeira is a bit of a veteran when it comes to throwing such gatherings.
Originally from the United States, she and a friend found themselves single almost a decade ago, and with no-one to spend the holidays with, they decided to start a new tradition.
“I think the first year was out of desperation, we were like ‘we should do something … we will have our own Christmas’. And then it just grew and grew,” she said.
This year will be the ninth year Ms Sequiera has thrown an orphans Christmas.
The number of attendees varies and so do the people, but the rules are simple: bring a plate and everyone’s welcome.
“It’s not the same people, but it’s definitely the same vibe year after year. It’s a bit of a ‘love the ones you’re with’,” she said.
“By the end of the day you’re all best friends, even if you’ve never seen them before.”
There are no formalities and Ms Sequeira said there were benefits to not being a family event.
“Some family events people get sick of their family after a while. There’s some weird uncle in the corner or someone’s had enough of someone’s antics for 30 years,” she said.
“But I think when we just spend one day with each other, all those quirks are really funny and really valued.”
Christmas can ‘exacerbate isolation and sadness’
In the days following Christmas, calls to Lifeline Australia’s hotline peak.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
Lifeline spokesperson Ina Mullin said the joy and festivities around Christmas could be hard for some.
“If they’ve had a hard year or if they’ve lost someone, that societal pressure [around Christmas] can really exacerbate that feeling of isolation or sadness,” she said.
Ms Mullin said she believed awareness around mental health and the need to look out for each other was increasing.
She said events like orphans Christmases were particularly important.
“Anytime that people can come together with people that have shared experience is a potentially very-powerful moment, and any kind of positive connection can be lifechanging for anyone,” she said.
Hobart event offers ‘genuine connection’
Danielle Conlan wanted to create an event for those who had lost loved ones. (ABC News: Scott Ross)
Hobart funeral celebrant Danielle Conlan knows orphans Christmases are not all about merriment.
After many conversations with families who had recently lost loved ones, she decided to create an event to support bereaved members of the community.
“I was just struck by the overwhelming number of people who have farewelled someone they really love and were actually going to be spending this Christmas by themselves for the first time,” Ms Conlan said.
“I thought, what better way than opening up a seat at the Christmas table and inviting people to come and join us for Christmas Day.”
Ms Conlan is behind the Our Table event, a two-course lunch at the Battery Point Community Hall, which will be followed by a memorial service.
“This time of year is so family centric and really reinforces to everyone the importance of family, but to those who have lost someone, it really does highlight the gaping hole that is now in their lives,” she said.
She said the response since she announced the event three weeks ago had been “quite overwhelming”.
“One [person said] it was almost as if the event was created just for them because it just really satisfies their need for connection this year, in a way that they found quite profound,” she said.
Ms Conlan said she was expecting the venue to hit capacity with between 50 and 60 people at the lunch, and more than 100 at the memorial.
Many who cannot make it on the day have sent in letters to be added to a wall of remembrance.
Ms Conlan said it would be less about “tinsel and Father Christmas”, and more about “offering genuine connection with people”.
“I’m hoping it gives people a sense of peace this Christmas [in a time] that would otherwise be tinged with quite a deep sadness,” she said.