Christmas pretty much passes me by these days. Partly, I think, because it’s not “in the air” in the way that it used to be. This year, for various reasons, the “non-Christmassy” spirit was compounded by personal factors that left me dwelling on the passage of time and mortality.

I still enjoy sending and receiving Christmas cards – paper and electronic – and choosing presents for a couple of close friends. As a little girl, I could never understand why my mother continued to send cards to people she never saw or had any contact with at other times. I could understand the cousins in Canada, but the ATS girl who’d been billeted on them (my mother’s family, not the Canadian cousins) during the War? This is something I’ve changed my mind about – something to do with changes in perception of time as you grow older. Nowadays, I welcome news from someone I knew at primary school, last saw as a teenager and reconnected with in 2002 via social media, having lost touch for the best part of 30 years.

This Christmas I helped out at the day centre for homeless people where I’m a regular volunteer. This isn’t a “one off – see you again next year” event, but an integral part of the Centre’s work and philosophy. Partly a holiday from the day to day round of job-seeking, problem-sorting and officialdom chasing (officialdom is, in any case shut for Christmas) and partly an opportunity to socialize, share a meal and have a bit of fun – the same as everyone else.

My main task was to run the office – checking people in and helping them put their bags into the cupboard for safe keeping. Some people stopped for a chat – especially the ones who were feeling a bit below par – others headed straight in. There were extra visitors – ex-volunteers who popped in to say hello and deliver chocolates – a couple of people from a local church who brought a collection of gifts and toiletries.

The saddest part of the morning was when three obviously needy people turned up in search of somewhere to eat Christmas dinner. Sad because there was simply no space – they weren’t regular members of the centre, but would probably have accommodated if it had been physically possible to do so. Sad because, although other services were providing (or thought to be providing) lunch, they don’t generally advertise them and were uncontactable by telephone. Sad because, although they were needy people who were in all probability in contact with other services, it seemed as if no-one had thought to make sure that they had somewhere to go at Christmas.

For those that were able to squeeze in there was a good lunch, crackers, treats and presents – actually quite nice presents – gloves, hats, scarves and jumpers. There was a good atmosphere, too – a fine blend of food and sociability and a real sense of togetherness.