For me, Christmas isn’t something that I’m used to being positive about. It is a time of year that I usually hide away from, not a time I look forward to. This year, it’s different.
I grew up in care and Christmas has felt different for me. Contact, or not, with my family was decided by other people. So I didn’t really know if I’d get to see them on Christmas Day. I lived in places where I was told what my budget for presents was and chose my own presents from the catalogue. That wasn’t the kind of Christmas I saw everyone else around me having.
When you’re in care, there are particular times of the year that remind you that you’re different. Christmas is one of them.
It feels like everywhere you look, there is a perfect image of Christmas. Christmas dinner is with all the family, who have come from far and wide, to be together. It’s your Dad carving the turkey and giving you the biggest bit. It’s hot chocolate and mince pies served in the plates your Mum only takes out at Christmas. The constant adverts, songs and glare of the TV always reminded me that I didn’t have anything close to that kind of Christmas. I was on the outside looking in, and I hated it.
School was also somewhere that I couldn’t escape the expectations and reality of Christmas.
Before the holidays, my friends would talk about what they might be getting. About how their family was coming over for the day, or what they were getting for their brothers and sisters.
After the holidays were over, I would feel so embarrassed at how my presents didn’t compare to my friends. At school, the peer pressure was intense and I couldn’t face the humiliation of not being able to fit in with everyone else. So I didn’t go back after Christmas. I’d say I was sick, or that I was fed up of school, until everyone had forgotten the holidays were over.
When I first got asked to go to the Care Family Christmas Dinner I was nervous, scared and anxious. I really didn’t know what to expect, and it was a big gamble for me to go along. I tentatively agreed to go after speaking to someone at Who Cares? Scotland about it.
Two volunteers, who lived just round the corner from me, picked me up in the morning. They were so friendly. We even got lost on the way there because we were chatting so much. When I say lost, I don’t mean we took a wrong turn, I mean we ended up in a field.
When we eventually arrived I was really nervous. As soon as I walked in the door though, I knew it was going to be amazing. Everyone was laughing and cuddling. The decorations were so warm and over the top. It was the Christmas that I saw on the TV growing up. And for the first time, I felt like I belonged and wanted.
After dinner we went to another decorated room and I saw bags of presents all over the floor. I asked who they were for, not thinking that they might have been for us. Everyone else must have been thinking the same because when the presents were handed out, people were crying. It was so emotional to think that people who didn’t even know me donated these gifts. I was looking around and everyone was so shocked by how generous people had been.
Another amazing surprise was the volunteers. The venue was full of people who took time out of their own Christmas Day to make sure that we had a memorable Christmas.
Whether they were doing lifts, helping set out tables, or just chatting – it wouldn’t have been possible without them. Just people who wanted to be there with us, to make us smile and laugh. It was a real family atmosphere. When I think about how I felt in the morning getting picked up, I can’t believe how quickly I felt comfortable and able to relax.
I still feel warm when I think about my first Care Family Christmas. I will never forget it.
If you’re reading this and facing a Christmas with no plans, don’t. Come and join us. To attend, you just need to register online by Monday 16 December 2019.
If you want to help us make it even more special:
- Volunteer your time – fill in our registration form by Sunday 10 November
- Give a gift by Friday 13 December
- Donate and fundraise to make Christmas magical for Care Experienced people