Monday 10 December 2018

Kathy Donaghy: 'There's no joy if you've nowhere to call home this Christmas'

'Despite it being the season of goodwill, many will feel forgotten.' Stock photo: Tom Merton/Getty Images
'Despite it being the season of goodwill, many will feel forgotten.' Stock photo: Tom Merton/Getty Images

Kathy Donaghy

The most watched video of the Christmas season is not selling anything. It's not a big-budget production for a department store or a supermarket. But the simplicity of its message leaves the others looking gaudy by comparison.

The two-minute video - viewed millions of times online - begins with a young man decorating his tree and counting down the days till Christmas, marking them off with an X on his kitchen calendar.

On Christmas morning he wakes up, takes an old-fashioned tape from a box and pops it in his Sony Walkman. He listens as the voice of his deceased mother wishes him happy Christmas and thanks him for taking the time to remember her.

As tears roll down the young man's cheeks, his mother tells him she can't believe he'll soon be 30 and how she wishes she could be there to see how he's grown. If you haven't seen it, be prepared for tears of your own.

Filmmaker Phil Beastall reposted his video, which he made in 2014, after being inspired by the John Lewis ad featuring Elton John. Beastall's video, 'Love is a gift', cost about £50 (€56) to make, compared to the thousands spent on ads by retailers.

His message is simple: there are some gifts you can't put a price on. And in the mayhem that will ensue in the coming weeks, it might be good to remember that there's more to Christmas than shopping.

We don't need videos to remind us that, for many people, Christmas is a time of dread. While some signs point to a booming economy in full seasonal swing, others show the gap widening between the haves and the have-nots.

At the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin - which opened in 1969 - Brother Kevin Crowley says they have never had such queues for nappies and baby food as they have today.

Mothers with children in buggies queued half-way down Bow Street this week to collect supplies for their babies. Many of them are homeless. The scene is in stark contrast to the scenes on Grafton Street, less than 15 minutes away on foot, where well-heeled shoppers stop to take in the Brown Thomas window inspired by 'The Greatest Showman'.

Brother Kevin says it saddens him that the spirit of Christmas is being completely forgotten as people get caught up in buying expensive presents and gifts. And while he says he doesn't want to criticise or to suggest that people shouldn't enjoy themselves, the real meaning of Christmas is being lost.

What saddens him most is the little children he meets who are wondering if Santa will be able to come at all since they're staying in a hotel this Christmas and don't have a home to call their own.

What Brother Kevin would love to see is those families who are coming to the centre for food and supplies having a roof over their heads and a place where they could rear their children properly instead of in hotel rooms. That's where he believes the Government is falling down.

He recalls a Christmas Eve when a song came on the radio, a song about how good it was to be home for Christmas. He saw a man sitting in the corner with tears streaming down his face when he remembered the home, the wife and children he'd lost because of his drinking.

Brother Kevin says the Capuchins are grateful for all the generosity of people who give to the centre.

Figures show that Irish households spent an average of €2,654 in shops in the month of December last year. That figure is set to increase this year, according to Retail Ireland.

But just like in the days of the boom, the rising economic wave did not cause all boats to rise. Many find themselves actually sinking this Christmas season.

Despite it being the season of goodwill, many will feel forgotten. This year when we get misty-eyed over the seasonal ad fest, we should remember that real-life hardship is happening right under our noses. Remembering others and reaching out to them is what Christmas is all about, right?

Irish Independent

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