Wouldn’t you get heart-sick of Christmas all the same? writes Donal O’Keeffe.

This Christmas seems to have been going on now forever. It was certainly well-underway long before the Americans decided that 83 years was long enough of a break between major western democracies electing a fascist demagogue to high office.

In “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, C.S. Lewis described Narnia as a place where it is “always winter but never Christmas”. One wonders what old Jack Lewis would have made of the modern phenomenon where it doesn’t even have to be winter to be always Christmas.

No, this isn’t a ‘Bah humbug’ column – although I am halfway through my annual re-read of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and if you’ve never read it, I recommend it. It keeps the cloying sentimentality under control, for the most part, which can be important at Christmas, and Dickens had a real social conscience, which should be important at Christmas.

I actually love Christmas. Proper Christmas. The few days around the actual feast-day. Not the dreary ‘Holidays Are Coming, Holidays Are Coming’ bullshit that starts sometime in September now.

Christmas Eve can be lovely, with strangers smiling and wishing each other well. Christmas Day is a day for family, if you’re lucky enough to have a family.

Then, the next day, we celebrate St Stephen Zuss Day, or ‘Boxing Day’ as it became briefly known in Fermoy in the 1990s, when lads from Glanworth and Kilworth, starved of the pub for a whole 24 hours, would stand on the tables in the Bonnán Búi, tearing their own shirts off and roaring for fight. Happy times.

I’m often reminded, this time of year, of the late Horace Rumpole’s contention that, had the Son of Man known the trouble He was going to cause, He would probably have chosen to be born in July when everyone is away on their holidays. Similarly, I am troubled by the realisation that an omniscient God sent His only Son to save all of humanity, knowing full-well about ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’.

For those concerned that Christmas has become a secular, commercial festival now, well, Christmas is a mid-winter festival which long predates Christianity. That said, it’s a celebration of the journey out of darkness, as the days at last lengthen and we head into light.

Whether you believe in Jesus, or Sol Invictus, or Baldur or any of the other gods which precede or compliment Christianity, the important message is the promise that even in the darkest hours of winter, better days are only a dawn away.

Whether you’re religious or not, most people would agree that Christmas should be a time of kindness, and warmth, and generosity. It can also be a very hard time for many, and a very lonely time. There’s no sin in admitting that you’re down and there’s no harm either in reaching out to someone who might be feeling lonely this Christmas.

If you’re struggling this Christmas, please remember that Samaritans Ireland volunteers are there for you at any time and can be contacted free on 116123.

For those who are homeless, Christmas can be just another long and cold night and a hard and hungry day.

Since 2011, Cork Simon Community reports, the number of people sleeping rough in Cork has increased ninefold from 38 people in 2011 to 345 people in 2015. On a nightly basis, an average of 20 people per night slept rough in Cork during this October, year-on-year from 2015 that’s an increase of 110%.

In 2011, Cork Penny Dinners served an average of 100 meals a week. Now that figure is closer to 2,000. Penny Dinners volunteers are serving meals now to people they never saw before, not ‘just’ homeless people or ‘just’ those with drug or alcohol dependency.

Now the oldest charity in Cork, a soup kitchen founded in Famine times, feeds people who have jobs, families with small children, people just about paying their mortgage or meeting the rent and who can’t afford food. Penny Dinners also supplies a weekly shop to several households, literally to put food on the family table.

I’m doing something this Christmas and hopefully it might help me sleep a bit easier at night. I’ve been putting together a cardboard box of bits and pieces and I’m going to drop it in to Penny Dinners on Little Hanover Street. It’s no big deal, just some dry goods that might come in handy.

Maybe you might think about doing something similar yourself.

Penny Dinners always needs things like tinned fruit; peas and beans; sugar; coffee; soup; gravy granules; jelly; custard; biscuits; cooking oil & olive oil; salt & pepper; toilet rolls & kitchen paper; towels; refuse sacks; tin foil; clingfilm; tea towels; hand wash; washing-up liquid; bleach; pot-scourers; disinfectant kitchen sprays.

Call in before 2pm any day to Little Hanover Street and see the great work done in one of the warmest, kindest places in Cork. And the next time you see an appeal from the Simon Community, please remember how many people your Euro will help.

What a horrible bloody year, though. Bowie went first, shockingly, and then Mohammed Ali, Prince and all the others. In the end, even Leonard Cohen, the man I always thought might have been God’s own lawyer, checked out.

I always thought God would lean across his leather armchair in the club and say “Lenny, what do you make of this?”

And now, Laughing Lenny has been promoted to a full-time position at God’s right hand.

As this column goes to press, at least a dozen people have been murdered in a terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin. In Zurich, one person is dead and at least three injured in a gun attack on a mosque. In Ankara, the Russian ambassador has been assassinated.

In the United States, a narcissistic buffoon who ran a campaign of ignorance, hatred and rage and who benefitted from Russian intervention is about to be inaugurated president.

The words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr seem more apt now than ever: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

In Aleppo, little Bana Alabed is safe for the moment, though I dread the fate of her family now that Russian bombers have pounded her world to dust and Putin’s creature Assad seems unassailable.

(Those who suggested Bana is a propaganda tool should try reading sometime, or just having some basic humanity.)

Bana is seven. If you have kids, hug them a little closer tonight and thank God, or Allah, or providence, that you don’t live in Aleppo.


Happy Christmas to you and to yours, and thank you – as always – for reading.

– Donal