Meet the Scots who give up their Christmas to help others

From cancer nurses to charity workers, there are plenty of people who put others first at Christmas.

Meet the Scots who give up their Christmas to help others iStock

After a year of uncertainty, many people will be delighted to have the Christmas they longed for last year with friends and family. 

While Covid restrictions mean that not everything will be ‘normal’ over the festive period, many people will be able to travel to spend time with loved ones over Christmas for the first time in two years.

Yet for some Scots, the opportunity to help others over the festive period is an important part of their Christmas Day. 

Whether giving up their time to help serve Christmas dinner to the homeless or working in a children’s cancer ward putting smiles on little faces, there are those who find joy in giving up December 25 with their families to help others. 

The volunteer dishing up Christmas dinner

Lauren Garnish used to work for Social Bite in Glasgow as a cafe manager and would spend her Christmasses helping plate up turkey dinners for the homeless as well as dishing out gifts and toiletries donated by businesses and charities to those in need. 

This year she will return as a volunteer to assist the team as they once again provide a vital service for those who are struggling. 

“It’s a nice day, everyone is happy. It’s a really nice atmosphere,” she said. 

“It’s a safe space for people to come to if they don’t have anywhere else to go. Sometimes it’s not just homeless people, it’s people experiencing food poverty, people who don’t necessarily have any family to spend time with on Christmas. It’s generally a mix of people who turn up. 

“It’s a nice place for people to come for Christmas dinner, have a chat, get some presents and just enjoy Christmas as it should be.”

Lauren said her family doesn’t mind that she spends Christmas Day helping others, as she gets so excited to spend time with service users she met while working for the social enterprise. 

“It’s quite a humbling experience to sit and talk to people who you wouldn’t necessarily sit and talk to everyday and getting to know people’s stories. 

“It kind of settles you back down to ground and helps you remember what to be grateful for.”

The children’s cancer ward nurse

At Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Julie Cefferty will be spending her Christmas with children who are undergoing cancer treatment. 

Although things are even harder for the youngsters due to coronavirus restrictions, the staff go out of their way to ensure Christmas Day spent on the cancer ward is still magical. 

“Every Christmas is quite different, some Christmases are quite busy, some haven’t been quite as busy. We do try and get as many children home for Christmas as possible but that’s not always possible,” explains senior staff nurse Julie. 

“The build up starts on Christmas Eve, the kids put plates outside their doors with milk for Santa and cookies and a carrot for Rudolph. 

“In previous years, Santa has come round the hospital with his elves and he will pop his head round the door and give the children a wee wave which is always really special.”

Julie adds that some of the children on the ward worry that Santa won’t be able to find them while they are getting treatment in hospital.

“We always make sure Santa knows where the children are on Christmas Day,” she said.

“Some of them do worry that Santa won’t be able to come to the hospital so it’s wonderful to see their wee faces in the morning when they’re opening their presents.”

With everyone from catering staff to porters working on Christmas Day, Julie says the team is like “one big family” who try to spread as much festive cheer as possible on December 25.

And while she gives up time with her own family to tend to sick children, she says it is a “pleasure” to help the youngsters have as magical a Christmas as possible. 

“It’s a pleasure to be able to look after these children, some of them are really sick. The parents are always so grateful that you’ve given up your day to look after their children,” she said. 

“There’s not many people who give up their Christmas Day but if it means you can help these families then it’s a pleasure to be able to spend Christmas with them.”

The animal charity worker

It’s not just people who need a little extra support at Christmas, as Scottish SPCA staff give up their day to spread festive cheer with the animals in their care. 

At the charity’s Aberdeenshire centre in Drumoak, staff get into the festive spirit by hanging stockings by the animals’ kennels and cubicles, play Christmas music and take dogs waiting to be rehomed out for long walks. 

Jacqueline McEwen, an assistant manager at the centre, says the staff don’t mind missing Christmas Day with their families to care for animals with no homes of their own. 

“It is just like any other day, the staff are so committed that we don’t really think about missing out with our family as we’re here for the animals,” she said. 

“Usually about a week before Christmas, all the animals get their stockings put up outside their cubicles and kennels and over the next week we will fill them up with toys and treats, so that when it comes to Christmas Day, we give them their toys and some of their treats which is really nice.”

Following a tradition set up by a former volunteer, the animals are also given a Christmas dinner of sorts with special sausages and bits of cooked turkey. 

Jacqueline added that Scottish SPCA staff come together over the festive period to bring a bit of magic to the animals’ lives, who may have been abandoned or mistreated by previous owners. 

“It is a lot more special as the animals don’t have their own families to spend time with, it’s quite sad when people give up their animals around Christmas time,” she said. 

“Although they are loved and very much cared for at the kennels, it’s just not that home environment so I think it’s a sacrifice that all the staff are more than happy to make.”

The volunteer granting wishes for people in care

While other people relish the opportunity to slow down and relax on Christmas Day, Sharon Berrie’s December 25 is usually a bit more hectic. 

The advocacy and participation manager at Who Cares? Scotland spent Christmas last year driving across the country delivering Christmas wishes to care experienced people.

She says she can’t imagine a Christmas where she isn’t volunteering to help make young people’s day that little bit brighter. 

“Christmas Day means different things for everyone. For me, I spend the day doing what I love, which is seeing care experienced people from across Scotland and making it as special a day for them as it is for me,” she said. 

Usually the charity hosts a big Christmas dinner for care experienced people but due to the pandemic, they have been delivering Christmas wishes instead. 

Last year Who Cares delivered more than 2000 festive parcels to service users as well as granting over 250 wishes. 

“I spent most of Christmas Day [last year] in my car delivering presents or chatting with people. Their wishes ranged from signed football shirts to just having someone call them to wish them a Merry Christmas on the day,” she said. 

“It wasn’t the same, but I was amazed and proud at how quickly we adapted to still have an offer for our members, so they knew we didn’t forget about them.”

This year Sharon will be playing Santa once again by delivering Christmas wishes. 

“We’ve included options of getting a gift for them or a loved one to make sure there are presents to open. Making sure they have something tasty to eat they can also add on a Hello Fresh box or Just Eat voucher to their wish. 

“It might not feel the same as all coming together in one big room, but I know it will be just as special for our members.”

So as you enjoy your Christmas this year, spare a thought for those who give up their December 25 to help others instead.

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