As the year draws to a close, it is often a time for reflection. Here Irish people from different walks of life share their words of wisdom for the festive season
Journalist Charlie Bird
My Christmas this year is different from every other because I now come from a position of not knowing if I’m going to be alive next Christmas. We never know the moment or the time, so we must live every Christmas like it’s our last.
Last Christmas, I never dreamt that I would be where I am today. And now I’m sitting here knowing there is a fair chance that I won’t have a voice in a few months’ time. But the one thing that will not be gone are my eyes, and the smile on my face. And we all have that — every one of us.
We buy too many presents at Christmas. We go overboard and we stretch our credit cards. But every one of us has the capacity to share a feeling and give someone a hug.
You can buy someone a drink or a present, but maybe what’s more important is that you share your hug and your smile.
Look around where you’re standing or sitting and, if you see someone who doesn’t have a smile on their face, ask them why. Who knows what dark place they are in. And instead of giving them a token present, give them your hand and give them your eyes and your smile.
I live in Wicklow, and there are people in the area who host refugees. I see these people walking by every day and I beep my horn at them and wave at them and I put my thumb up. And that’s what we’ve got to do.
Ireland is changing in front of us. It is becoming a multicultural country. So instead of throwing money at these people, give them your hands and your smile. I believe that is far more important.
We live in a society where, unfortunately, people are taking their lives all the time and, at Christmastime, it can get worse. Therefore, we must stretch our hands out more to these people — not with money, not with presents, but with a feeling of love.
The one thing I want to do while I’m still standing is be kind to people. Be simply kind.
Mike Kavanagh (90)
Being mobile is one of the features I am most grateful for at my age. I can go for good long walks to Eyre Square. I can go swimming in Blackrock. And for 90, that’s not bad…
Being active has always been important to me. I used to work as a commercial traveller in the sweets and chocolate trade. Nowadays, they call them company reps. I came down from Dublin to look after Galway, Mayo and Athlone, and I was always on my feet.
I was 85 when I retired, but I did it on my own terms. I used to say I was retired, and my wife would correct me and say, “You’re retired-redundant, Michael.”
I think there are benefits to later retirement. There’s a social aspect to it too. My father was only retired a couple of years and he was gone — and he didn’t smoke or drink.
My mother lived on 30 years after my father died. And, at 90, she was running around like a blue-arsed fly. Her own mother lived until she was 97.
I had a semi-stroke in 2017 and I was being fed through my nose in hospital for three months, which was a bit weird. So my Christmas message for older people would be to go to the doctor and do what you’re told to do medically. Don’t put it on the long finger.
I also think it’s very important to get out of the house every day, if you’re mobile. It doesn’t matter if it’s 200 yards or two miles.
Try to have a hobby — mine is swimming. We used to swim a lot when we were children and, one day, I didn’t want to go. I said, “I want to play football, Daddy.” And he said, “Listen to me, Michael, football is great but you’ll have to stop early. But if you swim, you’ll swim all your life.” Now, when I’m swimming, I say, “Howya Pops,” and off I go.
There is a lot of age discrimination on the radio these days. They usually refer to the old as people in their seventies and eighties, and they never mention the nineties. Yet there are loads of people in their seventies and eighties who are still well able to go. As for people in their nineties, it’s almost as if we’ve been written off.
Immunologist Professor Luke O’Neill
Variety is the spice of life and Christmas! I see Christmas as a chance to step off the treadmill for a few days. We like routine, but we also like to break routines occasionally as we humans love variety.
So, what I would say is, go for a bit of variety. You may be tired of preparing Christmas dinner, so add something new to the mix. Try a new recipe. Go for a walk to somewhere you haven’t been before. Or meet someone you haven’t seen in ages. This will all shake up your mind and will do you the world of good.
It’s also important not to get too worried about the current situation regarding Covid-19. Worry is corrosive and weakens your immune system. Be confident that what you’re doing will work. Follow the guidelines as best you can and also use science.
The booster is more than likely going to protect people from severe disease, including against Omicron. Use antigen testing if you need to, and if you’re concerned you might have picked up the virus. Remember, they only really count if you’re positive. In that situation, stay home.
But most of all, look forward to 2022 with optimism based on what we know — that this is a seasonal virus which will decrease in the spring, that the vaccines are protecting against severe disease, and that we have another great weapon coming in the form of the antiviral drugs, the best of which is Irish made. That one is called Paxlovid and is being made in Ringaskiddy.
For variety, stop listening to the news on Covid-19 and instead play some music, read a good book or watch something you love on TV. It has been another tough year for everyone but, as ever, it’s our looking out for one another (the spirit of Christmas) and science that will prevail in our fight against Covid-19.
Midwife Katie Hearty
We have gathered so much strength from each other this year, especially us on the frontline. When we walk out our doors every day, we leave our partners and our children, and we go to our second families in the hospitals or care settings we work in.
There are good days and there are bad days, but at the end of the day, we have each other. And that is what has given us this strength to keep going.
For us in Holles Street, there is a remarkable sense of family and a true sense of community. Through the tears, we have laughter and chats.
Yes, we’re more exposed to the virus, but at least we have the support of our colleagues. And while there is always a level of apprehension, it’s only thanks to each other that we have survived the pandemic so well.
So, this Christmas, take a moment to appreciate the communities that feel like your second family. They carry you through the bad times, and they make the good times even better.
Senator Eileen Flynn
I remember the Christmas when I got a Baby Born, and being so happy with it. My mother and father were in the house, my sisters and brothers, and we all got something. My mother had us dressed to the best for Mass and to go out to my grandparents, who we always called ‘Big Mammy’ and ‘Big Daddy’.
My mother died when I was 10 and, for me, Christmas was never the same until I got married and had my daughters. That reminds me that, while Christmas is a happy time for many people, we have to be mindful of people who are missing a loved one or who are struggling in other ways. We should always be kind, but maybe especially at Christmas.
Christmas on Labre halting site is special. The children feel freedom, playing outside with their toys and, before the pandemic, people always made the effort to come to your home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I just think that’s lovely — children knocking on your door to wish you a happy Christmas. Where else would you see it?
Travellers make the best of what they have and, most importantly, their loved ones. For us, it’s also important at Christmas to visit and decorate our loved ones’ graves to let them know they’re remembered. It’s lovely.
I also recall Christmases on the site when families would come to the house looking for water because they had none. Or the electricity went off, maybe halfway through cooking their Christmas turkey. The provision of those basic services to sites is still an issue, and there are still Traveller families who will wake up on Christmas morning with no water or electricity. That’s surely not meant to be Christmas for anyone.
A poem by Jan Brierton
We used to drink alcohol.
Now we rub it on our hands.
And any other surfaces,
where bacteria could land.
We used to hug and greet our friends.
We’d kiss them on the cheek.
Now we shuffle; pump our fist to theirs
There’s no embrace, it feels quite bleak.
We used to smile at strangers.
Say ‘hello’ and stop ‘n’ talk.
Now our smile is hidden by a mask
On our silent daily walks.
We keep our sneezes in our elbow crook,
our coughs wrapped in a tissue.
In our pocket; vinyl medi-gloves
In case we have an issue
with door handles, or the menu board.
Shopping baskets, or a trolley.
Or the sharing jug of oat milk
for that fancy take-out coffee.
But still, we’ll keep on going.
Try our best to make some sense
Of the rules; the dos, the shouldn’ts
A new type of self-defence.
We’ll keep it up, the masks and all.
We’ll be selective with our hugs.
We won’t go to a crowded house.
Or spend hours down the pub
drinking Christmas cocktails
tinsel wrapped around the straw.
Pleading with your long-lost pals
‘Ah it’s Christmas! Have one more?’
This year, we’ll do it simply.
It’s best not to have regret.
There are hopeful things to happen
They just haven’t happened yet.
Jan is a poet and the author of What Day Is It? Who Gives a F*ck’
Activist Paddy Smyth
As we look toward the New Year, it’s important to think about inclusivity and equality, and remember that people with disabilities are just like everyone else. They have the same urges, the same wants and the same needs. Just because someone is disabled doesn’t mean they aren’t able to achieve greatness. And yet there is still so much stigma in the workplace, and during the hiring process.
I’m delighted that I’m now working with Human Collective, a clothing company that focuses on equal opportunities for all. But as a person with a disability, I know how hard it can be to get into positions of power.
So my message is to treat people with disabilities with the same respect you would show to anyone else. Don’t just assume they are not going to be able to do something – there are always ways around it. Show empathy and compassion, be kind and give people the space and time to be heard and be seen.
Politician Hazel Chu
As I walk around the city and compare it to last year, there’s a sense of apprehension and exhaustion, but there is also a sense of hope and joy. Children looking at the sparkling lights around them. Friends getting to finally meet up. The mad dash for presents.
Our cities and towns are changing. There’s an increased sense of community — not surprising after almost two years of keeping close to our areas. In each community, we also see the camaraderie of supporting local. Of understanding that, without your custom, the small business, eatery or pub may not see next Christmas.
What perhaps is most heart-warming to see is the collective public push to ensure that we need to preserve our cultural heritage and rejuvenate our public spaces.
For a long time now we’ve seen cultural spaces being replaced by chain hotels and commercial developments, but with the recent rejection of planning permission for the Cobblestone site, accompanied by vocal public protest, it signals, hopefully, a turn away from a developer-led approach.
Across the country, local authorities are being set the challenge to develop city and county plans to make sure we have sustainable, fit-for-purpose and thriving communities for this generation and next. This gives me great hope that, in our darkest days, we will rise and build for better.
It will continue to be difficult, but we will get there, and, hopefully by next Christmas, we will be enjoying better-planned spaces and communities across the country. Wherever you are this Christmas, I wish you a safe and happy one.
Marine environmentalist Flossie Donnelly (14)
As we approach the new year, it’s a good time to think about the resolutions you would like to make to help the planet. Maybe you want to recycle more. Maybe you’d like to attend more climate protests. Maybe you plan to sign more petitions.
If you’re not sure where to start, there are so many things you can do. You could get involved with beach cleans. You could plant more flowers in certain places in the garden to make a pathway for bees. (When there are flowers all over the garden, bees can get confused.)
Or maybe you could become flexitarian. My family doesn’t eat meat on two days of each week. It may sound pointless, but it’s actually really beneficial.
We’ve also banned open fires in the house. It’s a big change, and my family aren’t a massive fan of it, especially at Christmas, but we really have to stop burning coal. Every household that uses their fireplace is making an impact on climate change.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or helpless, just take a breath and remember, there is hope. We just have to work together.
Find a moment for stillness amid the chaos of Christmas. It is a time to pause and pay attention, to step back from the busyness of life and to appreciate the real meaning of Christmas.
For me, the real meaning of Christmas is the coming of Christ, and this isn’t just the coming of Christ 2,000 years ago. It’s the coming of Christ into our lives today.
Christ can mean different things to different people. It can mean a higher power or a feeling of compassion. And Christ will take many forms. He might come in the form of the neighbour next door, or in the child you see on the street. We just need to be open to it.
One way to do that is to take time each day to pause, reflect and to breathe mindfully. Breathe in and out 10 times. If you want to count, breathe in for four seconds and out for six. If we do that for just one minute, five times a day, it could change our lives.
And it is wonderful preparation for Christmas because it brings a stillness into our lives. And when we have that stillness, we are able to recognise many different things. We see people in different ways.
We’re not used to stopping for even a minute, but when we train the mind to do that, it has an amazing calming effect on us. And I think calmness and peacefulness is really what Christmas is about.
Fr Peter McVerry
I hate Christmas. Too many people I know are under huge financial pressure all year round, and the Christmas season is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The consumer culture we live in almost compels us to spend at Christmastime, buying presents many cannot afford and more food than we can reasonably eat. Many people go into debt, which may take the rest of the year to pay off.
Homeless people want to wear new clothes at Christmas, like almost everyone else, but they cannot afford them. They want to buy presents for their children, but they cannot afford them. Christmas makes them feel a failure. Many of them tell me that they would love to go to sleep on December 1 and wake up on January 1.
Christmas is a schizophrenic time of the year. We celebrate the birth of a poor, homeless child by going on a spending spree — a child who will grow up to ask people to spend their money on relieving the distress of the poor, who will live on the generosity of others, who will upset religious people and who will be executed because he refused to conform to the religious and cultural norms of his society.
This contradiction is glaringly obvious to everyone, but we suppress this inconvenient and uncomfortable truth lest it interfere with the festivities. Christmas should remind us that the child whose birth we celebrate calls us to “live simply, share generously”.
Mary Lelo Thebe is from Zimbabwe but living in Direct Provision
This Christmas, can we turn our words into action? Christmas is about family, being surrounded by loved ones, sharing meals, wearing your new Christmas clothes and sharing gifts.
Direct Provision is an isolating system that cuts one out of society and makes integration even more difficult. Christmas holidays are the
worst. The isolation sits heavily on the heart. With the pandemic upon us, we cannot even visit our friends for Christmas dinners.
Direct Provision takes power away from people — the ability to make a meal, time to have your meals, who you share your living space with. One becomes childlike waiting for a decision to be made for them by the system that infantilises full-grown human beings.
My heart goes out to all who cannot prepare their own meals during this Christmas season. Food is an intrinsic part of all of us. We want to be able to choose what we have on our dinner plate.
MASI is a group for asylum seekers that has been doing massive work in bringing about change. Part of their work involves delivering Christmas presents to all the children in Direct Provision. I could not afford to buy my child a Christmas present.
Their campaigns and demand for change bring about dignity and freedom for asylum seekers. Politics has become inescapable in our era. Laws passed by politicians impact our daily lives.
This Christmas, let us remember all that have been isolated and kept as a dirty secret in the dark corners of the country.
This Christmas, let us be more kind to one another.
Writer and poet Manchán Magan
Mo beannacht Nollag i mbliana ná go nglacfaimis, ar deireadh thiar thall, leis an bhfulaingt agus an pian atá ionainn go léir, go neamh-chomhfhiosach, faoi chlaochlú agus tréigint na teanga. (My Christmas blessing this year is that we may, at long last, begin to acknowledge the trauma and pain that lies unconsciously within us all with regard to the decline and abandonment of our language.)
Cuirimid an milleán ar na múinteoirí agus ar an rialtas, in ionad glacadh leis nach raibh de rogha ag ár sinsir ach casadh i dtreo an Bhéarla tar éis an Ghorta. (We blame the teachers and the Government instead of accepting that our ancestors had no choice but to turn to English after the Famine.)
Theip an talamh orainn. Bhíomar ag fáil bháis le hocras. Ní raibh aon dul as ach scaradh leis an Gaeilge ionas go bhféadfaimis bogadh go cathair mór in Éirinn nó thar lear. (The land failed us. We were starving. We had no choice but to abandon Irish so that we could move to a city in Ireland or abroad.)
Má ghlacaimid ag macánta le seo, féadaimis stop ag cur an milleán ar dhaoine eile, agus dúshlán foghlaim na Gaeilge a thógaint orainn féin go cróga, agus cneácha na sean-ama a leigheas. (If we accept this honestly, we can stop blaming others, and bravely take on the challenge of learning Irish and healing the wounds of our past.)