New website upgrades! What’s new

How Providers Can Excel At Christmas

It’s not something we often talk about, but many people experience an increase in social isolation and emotional distress at Christmas time. Sally provides some practical solutions that providers can put in place to ensure that the you support are included this Christmas.


Updated 15 Apr 202416 Dec 2019

Feeling ambivalent about Christmas? Me too. The Christmases of my past are remembered through a golden gilded green and red-coloured lens of gardenia perfumed courtyards, matching Christmas outfits, sitting on the floor amidst plumes of discarded wrapping, tasty morsels drowned in gravy, tipsy elderly relatives and nudie after lunch swims with newly acquired floaties.

The intervening decades of living abroad, family friction and, mostly recently, Nicky’s death, means Christmas now feels more like a reminder of the things that are missing than an opportunity to reconnect and celebrate. 

Year after year, surveys reveal that Christmas is a time of increased stress and social isolation for many people. Social isolation and stress are growing problems in everyday life, let alone on Christmas.1 in 10 Aussies experience social isolation and 1 in 8 experience high psychological distress. Social isolation is bad for us in so many ways. It has been linked to mental illness, emotional distress, suicide, the development of dementia, premature death, poor health behaviours, smoking, physical inactivity, poor sleep, and biological effects, including high blood pressure and poorer immune function. High levels of social isolation are also associated with sustained decreases in feelings of wellbeing.  So I know I’m not alone in feeling shitty at Christmas.

Aussies with disability are even more likely to experience psychological distress and extreme social isolation in everyday life. About 1 in 3 people report having to avoid social situations because of their disability in the last year. Visiting family or friends was most commonly avoided activity.

All this means that our friends, family, neighbours, colleagues and clients with disability may especially benefit from concerted support over Christmas. There are many ways to support people to connect and celebrate over the Christmas period, and on Christmas day itself. Here are some of my ideas: 

Get festive: If the holidays are important to someone, support them to surround themselves with Christmas cheer. We have a Christmas box filled with Christmassy knick-knacks; a nativity scene bought in Mexico, a musical candle holder from Germany, and a Pinocchio themed wreath from Italy, and various bits and pieces made by the girls in primary school. But baubles like these don’t need to come from far flung corners of the world or be expensive. As an avid Op-shopper, I often hover over the shelves of Christmassy doodads imagining their prior lives amidst family traditions and hoping someone finds a place for them amongst new traditions.  Years ago, Nicky and her support worker, Montana, went Op shopping in the lead up to Christmas and came home with gawdy Christmas T-shirts. Each time they were together that year, they wore them with mirth.

In our house, the Christmas music starts on December 10th (it’s Ellie’s birthday on the 9th and Christmas celebration is forbidden before then). We pull the tree out from the garage and decorate it with the many souvenirs we’ve bought over the years. Our playlist is an eclectic mix of Elvis, Michael Bubble, Beach Boys and something called Christmas in Dixy by Alabama (I blame Mike for that, but over the years I have also come to know all the words). A Christmas play list is a great way of getting into the Christmas spirit. Every year we find it becomes more imbedded in tradition. And then there are the Christmas movies…. our Christmas Eve staple is Polar Express. Supporting someone in defining, redefining or resurrecting Christmas traditions is a great way to get festive in the lead up to Christmas. 

Reach out: Christmas is a great excuse to reach out to family, old friends and new or even not-yet-met friends. By supporting people with disability to take these steps, you can help reduce social isolation over Christmas. Tim Sharp of the Happiness Institute found that 77 per cent of Aussies never talk to the people next door and know little about them. Fear of rejection and anxiety over making the “first move” holds people back from reaching out. Thus Christmas is the perfect opportunity to introduce ourselves and wish each other well. Frankly, it would be rude to reject such a gesture so it can double as a vetting process. Reaching out may be as elaborate as baking and sharing Christmas biscuits or as simple as dropping Christmas cards into neighbourhood letterboxes – things anyone can do with support. 

Getting out and participating:There’s an incredible range of Christmassy things going on in the community from the end of November to throughout December. The City of Sydney even has its own “official Sydney Christmas website”, as do most other cities. There are community events with activities ranging from markets to lights, carols, concerts, exhibitions, tours and performances – many free and accessible.  You could support a person in creating a calendar or assets map of activities they’re interested in that meet their accessibility needs and then help them reach out to family and friends (including newly acquainted neighbours) to arrange dates to meet up throughout the season. 

Then there’s the actual day, December 25th. It’s a public holiday, but that does not mean people with disability do not need support.  Your Facebook feed would lead you to believe that, everyone is home, together on Christmas Day having fun and looking spectacular. But in reality, 69 per cent of the world’s population does not celebrate Christmas. So, what are the ways to support someone on Christmas Day?

At home with others: For some people there is no substitute for spending time with friends and family on Christmas Day. But many people may not have considered hosting these celebrations themselves. I recently heard of a person who used their NDIS Core supports to arrange six home delivered meals, enabling them to host their first dinner party. The same could be done on Christmas Day, allowing the person to invite friends and family over to their place. This might be an especially good solution for people who cannot access the homes of their friends and family. A range of organisations, including NDIS registered providers, offer home delivered Christmas meals. NDIS core supports can be used to cover the cost of food preparation and delivery, but not the actual ingredients themselves. For example, The Good Food Co is offering a Christmas roast turkey for $9.90 per large meal. The NDIS can contribute $7.90 to the cost leaving the person to pay a gap of $2 per meal. Make sure the person has used the checklist on page 9 of booklet 3 to determine if this is a reasonable and necessary way to use their NDIS funds. 

Out and about with others: Just like in the lead up to Christmas, there are a range of community activities running on Christmas Day. Things like church services, community lunches and volunteer opportunities. In our area, the Samaritans hold a Christmas lunch in the park that includes food, entertainment, volunteer jobs and a visit from Santa (with gifts!). All people have to do it turn up. 

But planning a fun filled day without the crowds is also an option. Our local cinema is playing the new Star Wars movie. Taronga Zoo and the Sydney Aquarium are both open, as are the zoo and aquarium in Melbourne. At Lone Pine in Brisbane, the world's largest koala sanctuary,you can cuddle a koala on Christmas Day.With proper planning Christmas Day could actually be really fun!

And all of this is possible even when a person requires support. Whether it’s to host Christmas at their place or get out to cuddle koalas, they’re in luck. Gone are the days where providers close over Christmas. Connecting with a support worker on Christmas Day is easier than ever.

A final touch in supporting a person to connect and celebrate Christmas is the small but not inconsequential micro moment of love that comes with a Christmas morning text. Send a Christmas text to the people you support. Nothing says “I’m thinking of you and wishing you the best” better than a well-chosen festive meme on Christmas morning. 

The holidays can be a difficult time for many, many people. If you are already experiencing social isolation, there is nothing like the festive season to amplify it. It is a conversation that we don’t often have- nobody wants to say anything negative about Christmas for fear of being a grinch. But if we all play our part, there is no reason why the holidays can’t be a time of joy for everyone.


Explore DSC

Subscribe to the newsletter you’ll actually want to read

Learn from the humans obsessed with Australia’s NDIS. 50,000 readers strong.

Explore DSC Learning