Christmas in London is really impossible to not take part in. Even if you don’t go into shops, drink in a pub or bar, work in an office or watch TV, it’s all over the streets, and good luck going anywhere because transport shuts down for a day and a half. I used to be stroppy about this and feel very self-righteously oppressed, since I grew up in the US, where public Christmas actually is about public Christianity. But in the past three years or so I have got over this and come to appreciate that the general British aversion to public religiousness extends to this holiday, and in London especially, ‘Christmas’ in practice is really just a secular festival about light, booze and food, all things I can well get on board with.
This year I signed up to volunteer at Crisis at Christmas. Over 23-30 December, the homelessness charity Crisis takes over donated buildings (mostly schools and colleges, which are closed over the holidays) and turns them into centres where homeless people can eat, socialise, be warm and indoors, and have free access to services like legal advice, dental and eye care and haircuts. Depending on volunteers, there are also things like manicures and massages, films, musical performers, yoga lessons, and football matches.
The volunteer sign-up form asks if you have any services or special skills you can offer, including an option for ‘leading performing arts activities’, and I decided to sign up to lead Shakespeare workshops. Two days later I got an approval email, for the three days I’d said I could do – December 25, 27 and 29, working shifts from 10am-7pm – as well as a general induction on December 14.