“I’m writing a piece about being deaf at Christmas,” I tell my friend down the pub.
He looks surprised.
“No different from any other time of year, surely?” he frowns.
Actually, he’s wrong. And the more I think about it, the more I realise that so many elements of the season depend on being able to hear.
There’s all the music, obviously, from carols to school concerts to The Messiah. The other day I was in my local High Street and the Sally Army band, bless ‘em, was giving it plenty of welly, but I had no idea whether they were belting out Once in Royal David’s City or Jingle Bells.
You wonder how many carol singers get deaf awareness training before they hit the doorsteps. Not many, I’ll wager.
A show is part of the festive fun for many, whether that’s a panto or a performance of The Nutcracker Suite or a school nativity. Unless you’re watching mime (not that likely), it’s going to be a challenge. It’s behind you! Oh, yes it is! (Sorry, what?)
Even the entertainment at home can be more Sound of Silence than Sound of Music if Aunt Brenda decides she absolutely can’t watch the film with subtitles. (Whereas you absolutely can’t watch it without.)
Party games can be fast-paced, board games a source of bewilderment and frustration, not least if you’re not facing the speaker, so you can’t see them clearly. And it only takes someone to read from the rules while covering their mouth to make the prospect of sneaking off to the pub alone seem overwhelmingly tempting.
Then there’s all the socialising. Meal times tend to be busier, houses fuller, and you may be faced with the unfamiliar voices of relatives you don’t see that often. Voices rise in all the excitement and chatter becomes quicker.
Or you may find yourself at a packed office party, wondering how much longer you can tolerate the almost inaudible small talk with Brian from Accounts, with whom you never exchange a word at any other time of year.
Present opening sessions tend to be punctuated by the squeals of over-excited children, who will in all likelihood be far too thrilled by their new toys to want to repeat anything or take much interest in your inability to hear.
On the subject of the kiddies, I had a lengthy chat to my friend about Father Christmas.
“Bearded, isn’t he?” I said. “Pretty much impossible for a deaf child to catch anything.”
The friend erupted, decrying me as some joyless ‘elf & safety’ zealot, hell-bent on banning Santa and generally doing my darnedest to rid the season of all fun.
Not a bit of it, I said, I’m merely stating an objective fact. Deaf children will not hear Father Christmas very well if sound gets lost on his beard. My insistence fell on – hollow laugh – deaf ears. (He’s hearing. But of course he is.)
Shops, too, are busier, for weeks on end if you’re hitting the January sales, and staff quite possibly more stressed and less able to have the time, energy or patience to repeat something you haven’t caught.
Of course, there are things you can do to make life a bit easier for yourself and others – and the following tips were shared on the #HearingLossHour Twitter feed:
Making sure everyone at your Yuletide gathering knows you have a hearing problem is clearly a good starting point.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need. Tell people not to call you from another room, turn on more lights if the fairy lights and candles don’t give enough illumination for lipreading, however sparklingly pretty they may look. Ask people to swap seats if it helps. Stand with the main source of light at your back.
You could get a close family member, partner or friend to act as your ‘ears’ and sit close to you, stepping in when something needs a bit of extra explanation.
It’s also worth taking regular breaks from gatherings to minimise ‘listener fatigue’. Take the dog for a walk, busy yourself clearing the table or with some task in the kitchen, or enjoy a long hot soak in the bath but take your breaks and return to the fold refreshed.
After all, surely one thing we share with our hearing brethren is our wish to join in and feel the love at this time of year, just like anyone else, rather than being banished to the little town of Deaflehem.
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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