Read in full: President Michael D Higgins' Christmas message to Ireland
As President of Ireland, may I offer my warmest wishes for Christmas and the New Year to everyone in Ireland, and to all of our Irish abroad, those who assist them, and the communities that have welcomed them.
Christmas is a season of joy and warmth. It is a special time of the year, when so many of us come together with family and friends in a spirit of sharing and celebration. It is an opportunity to revive hope and anticipation, which can encourage us, including those who may be feeling distressed or lonely, to look beyond the long dark nights, to the promise once again, of the dawning light of Spring.
The story of Bethlehem, of the homeless Joseph and Mary anticipating the birth of their child, is at the heart of this holiday and it invites us to reflect on how we relate to the stranger, the vulnerable in our midst.
At Christmas we are reminded, not only of how a man and a woman had to leave their familiar surroundings and have their child in a strange place, of how they were joined by unknown shepherds and visitors from faraway lands, but most importantly, of the empowering ethic of hospitality.
I completed, last month, a three-week visit to Africa, where I witnessed first-hand the impressive solidarity of countries such as Ethiopia in responding to the predicament of so many men, women and children from neighbouring countries who were forced to leave behind their homes, communities and livelihoods to seek refuge in their neighbour's territory.
Such willingness to offer shelter to those fleeing persecution or hunger is an issue that should involve us all, and not just the countries first affected.
Christmas is a season of peace, a time to recall all that can be achieved through reflection, forgiveness and reconciliation. Earlier this year, I had the great honour of being Ireland’s first Head of State to pay a State Visit to our nearest neighbour in every sense, the United Kingdom.
It was an immense privilege and pleasure to be thus able to manifest the friendship between our two peoples, who no longer “look at each other with doubtful eyes”, but, rather, with the trustful eyes of mutual respect and shared commitments.
As a New Year approaches, and we continue our lives together, may I offer our appreciation to all who make that possible. I know that a commitment to the service of our citizens is shared by all those with a public service mission.
May I, on behalf of the Irish people, thank in particular those who are caring for our communities during the holiday season – including the staff in our hospitals and emergency services, An Garda Síochána, and members of our Defence Forces who are supporting peace abroad.
My wish is that 2015 will bring our people a bounty of opportunities for flourishing and renewal. May the caring spirit that infuses these precious few days spent in the company of those we love extend to all and well beyond the Christmas holiday, into the year ahead.
Sabina and I wish each and every one of you a very happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.