• The 'orphan's Christmas', which brings together people who can't celebrate the festive period with their families, has become a nation-wide event. (Supplied )Source: Supplied
Would you invite a stranger to share your Christmas spread? Dilvin Yasa meets two such folks who organise an 'orphan's Christmas' event every year.
Dilvin Yasa

16 Dec 2020 - 9:03 AM  UPDATED 16 Dec 2020 - 9:03 AM

Christmas is meant to be a time for connection and frivolity, but according to Swinburne University's Australian Loneliness Report, one in four Australians feel lonely in general, with many — particularly younger Australians — reporting that they feel anxiety about socialising.

Add COVID-19 and travel restrictions, which prevent many from travelling to spend Christmas 2020 with their families, and those feelings of isolation can take a toll on our most vulnerable.

Fortunately, some Australians are taking matters into their own hands by organising 'orphan Christmas' events, giving people without family or friends something to celebrate. Here are two of their stories.

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Jacob Webb co-hosted his first orphans Christmas last year. He's looking forward to doing it all again this year, with one exception.

"If I had one word to describe my childhood Christmases growing up on New South Wales' Central Coast, I would say they were 'casual'. The one rule we had was there was to be no cooking on the day, so it was all about spending it at the beach with cold meats, salads and seafood. The food was great but what I loved most, even from an early age, was how the day brought everyone together: distant cousins and family friends you only saw once a year. For me, it was all about connecting with others.

Last year, my friend Taylor and I were talking about how so many don't have anywhere to go at Christmas, and we thought, 'well, why don't we do something about that?' We decided we would hold an orphan's Christmas every year and invite friends and acquaintances who didn't have any family nearby who they could spend the holiday with. We put the word out and as sad as this may be, we didn't have any problems finding people to take us up on our offer.

There are so many people who didn't have anywhere to go for Christmas lunch until 'orphan Christmas' events helped bring people together.

We had 10 guests last year. We treated them to a traditional lunch: roast meats, trimmings and multiple courses. The lunch was such a success that it spilled into dinner and then a really late night. Our guests didn't really know each other, but when they turned up they quickly made new connections. We invited a British guy we met at a bar the night before and he's become a friend. He was only new to the country, and was just so appreciative to have been invited. There really is no better way to get to know people.

"Our guests didn't really know each other, but when they turned up they quickly made new connections." 

This year's going to be an interesting one. With so many unable to fly back to their home countries to spend the day with their own families, our orphan's Christmas is becoming quite an international event. So far, we have a Scottish girl, a French couple and my Brazilian boyfriend, and we're all bringing a dish from our own hometown. I'm making a Bombe Alaska, the French couple are bringing a cheese platter and my boyfriend has some ideas that probably involve meats. The Scottish girl wanted to do haggis, but everyone else turned their noses up so she's having to rethink her options.

I wouldn't say that people are intrinsically lonely, but if co-hosting orphan Christmas events has taught me anything, it's that we're all craving connection with others and our time means a lot more to others than we realise."

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A firm believer in the importance of community, entrepreneur Ace Mamun has turned a simple Orphan's Christmas meal into a nation-wide movement.

"I'm what you might call a global citizen; I was brought up around the world and I can't remember a time I wasn't around expats. After I moved to Australia, I was working in events, but then I started my own business, The Socialites, a global lifestyle network focused on events, social and entertainment. I create experiences to bring people together and we have over 100,000 members worldwide.

I've never been religious, but Christmas has a strong cultural significance for me and if you take away the commercial aspects, so much of the joy we feel on the day is derived from connecting with others. Hanging with so many expats in Australia, I realised quickly that so many — travellers in particular — didn't have anywhere to go on Christmas Day.

With my events hat on, I set about planning my first orphan's Christmas dinner and it was a great success. Eight years ago my orphan's Christmas events started with a table for four guests and has since grown and evolved so that I now host a series of elaborate Christmas dinners and Christmas picnics. At the last picnic event we had, we had 150 'Christmas orphans' come to enjoy the day and we have events all across the country, from Sydney and Melbourne to Perth.

Orphan Christmas events can be a great way to meet new people, too.

Rooted in the spirit of community, every aspect of our Christmas orphans events are crowdsourced. Every guest brings something, whether it be a bottle of wine, a salad or some cheese, and we create shared grazing boards for all. The idea is everyone who comes along is there to share, and for those who want to get more involved we'll even do a Kris Kringle. No one's ever obligated though; it's simply a case of 'if you want to pitch in and you can afford it, that's great but if you can't, that's okay too'.

"Over the years, we've seen people meet at our events, fall in love and come back with their kids."

Our Orphan Christmas events are the least homogenous communities you ever will see. We have everyone from small business owners in their 60s and travellers backpacking through Sydney, to someone from the African continent who is travelling outside of their homeland for the first time. We have strict Christians, strict Muslims who've never experienced Christmas before, young families and polyamorous couples. You get to meet people well outside your regular social circle and that makes the day something to remember for all the right reasons. Over the years, we've seen people meet at our events, fall in love and come back with their kids, and that's really special.

Most Australians would be surprised at how many around the country don't have anywhere to go on Christmas Day. COVID-19 has encouraged people to be more open to express their emotions and let others know they're lonely. However, others also need to be willing to reach out and say, 'Yes, I have a space for you at my table'. We all have room in our hearts to play substitute family for a day for those who need our help."

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