Innishannon author Alice Taylor reflects on how this year, more than ever, we all need the comfort of a warm and meaningful Christmas
EVERY year Christmas glows like a warm fire in the midst of dark winter days. Looking forward to it helps us though the bleak November and December, and then we are into January and February with days lengthening and buds beginning to appear above the ground.
In between times, like a comforting friend, Christmas nurtures us. And this year more than others we need the comfort of Christmas.
On the back pages of all our minds, blended though the original ancient narrative, are our own special Christmas memories and it’s this mystical blend of magical intangible essences that creates our Christmas.
The star-studded sky over Bethlehem intermingled with floating angels captures all imaginations and growing up in rural Ireland the magical night sky was the backdrop to our Christmas night.
On Christmas Eve in the gathering dusk we stood on the doorstep of our home and in our imagination saw Santa guide his reindeers and sleigh along the top of the Kerry mountains.
Today our children, and grandchildren, watch Santa’s journey on laptops and follow his progress across the world. But the magic is still there!
Christmas is a time when the memories of past seasons are wrapped up in the warmth of our own sense of wonder. Children love Christmas and the child in each of us comes alive at this time of year. So let’s wrap this Christmas up in warm memories and savour the delight of doing the little things that will make it mean a lot.
The lovely custom of sending Christmas cards is a wonderful link with friends and how delightful when written on the card is a little note or better still a handwritten letter enclosed. It surely adds to the glow of the season.
In recent years many bemoaned the galloping commercialism that had swamped Christmas which saw us over ran, over shopped and over tired, and we sometimes wished that we could go back to simpler times. Is the time now?
The story of the original crib is where it all began. So why not begin there. Creating a crib in the home opens the door into Christmas and children simply love it. Never mind if it ends up with headless shepherds or battered wise men, rather go with creativity in flow. A knitted crib provides endless playing hours for little ones and a knitter in the family may do the needful. Some years ago here in Innishannon we had a craft fair in aid of church restoration where a knitted crib was on sale. An imaginative resourceful young teacher purchased it and what hours of endless play that crib provided. So if you enjoy knitting, what a lovely gift to create for children.
This year in the making of your crib why not begin with a visit to the wood or if you live on a farm, a meander along by the ditches of the fields to collect moss, ivy and holly?
If you don’t have a holly tree why not decide to plant one? A holly tree is a lovely gift for any young couple, guaranteeing them Christmas holly in the years ahead.
Coming home from the great outdoors laden with baskets of moss, ivy and holly gives you the makings of a magical crib. Your stable can be made from bits of drift wood collected from the beach or a selection of logs from the back yard or even an abandoned box. There was no Dermot Bannon in Bethlehem! If you wish to furnish your stable with straw or hay, most of us are within shouting distance of a friendly farmer.
Over the years old crib figures become more battered and mellowed and in the process gather their own story and into the crib with them can go all the little animals that your children love. The original crib that the human world rejected was celebrated by the natural world so let the teddy bears and all the other play animals move in.
The lighting of the Christmas candle when the whole family gathered around was a treasured Irish tradition rooted in the original Christmas of lighting the way for those travelling in the dark of night. Such requirements are long gone but our old customs are part of who we are.
So this Christmas why not gather the family together and light the Christmas Candle and if you have the vocal ability why not chance a rendering of Silent Night? You do not need to be Pavarotti or Daniel O’Donnell!
Teenagers may scoff but despite that, it is in such ways family traditions are passed on.
And who knows, but in years to come when you are a twinkling star, a Christmas candle may glow because you lit the first memory flame. And if you live alone a glowing candle is a comforting companion.
Some years ago I called to see a friend on Christmas Eve who was going through a huge family trauma and I was surprised to find her house glowing with decorations, a candle in the window, a crib in pride of place and a tree sparkling in the corner. Seeing my look of amazement she smiled and said quietly ‘doing these little things has kept me sane and helped me cope with all that is going on at the moment.’
So this year why not take a leaf out of her book and put a big effort into making this a very special Christmas, full of warmth, love and caring.
• Alice Taylor’s latest book Books from the Attic is published by O’Brien Press and is in shops now.