Merry Christmas

On December 25th Christians worldwide will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  But where did the traditions associated with Christmas originate?

The early Christians adopted and absorbed the old pagan holidays and made them their own.   Saturnalia was an ancient Roman holiday which was celebrated from December 17th to 25th dedicated to the sun God Saturn.  Romans would cut trees and bring them into their homes to mark the winter solstice.  All business was suspended, slaves were temporarily freed and children and poor people were given gifts.

The modern Santa Claus that we all love has had many names, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas and sometimes just Santa.

st nicholas

Santa seems to have originated from Saint Nicholas, a 4th century Greek bishop.  Saint Nicholas was born in Asia Minor (Turkey) and became Bishop of the Greek city of Myra.  One story relates how when a local man lost his fortune and could not support his three daughters, Nicholas threw three bags of gold through a window into the house.  The gold was then used as dowries to marry off the daughters ensuring their futures.  One version I read suggested that the three bags of gold are the origin of the emblem of pawnbrokers, three gold balls.  Mind you, another story said that he threw the first bag of gold down the chimney and it landed in a sock that was on the mantelpiece, the origin of hanging a stocking on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill.  I don’t know which version to believe if any!   The Dutch figure of Sinterklaas (which eventually became Santa Claus) and the British figure of Father Christmas both originate from Saint Nicholas.

Santa's_Portrait_TNast_1881

The modern image we have of Santa Claus as a jolly, overweight bearded man wearing a red coat with fur collar and cuffs, black leather belt and boots can be traced back to the influence of the poem first published 1823, ‘A visit from St. Nicholas,’ better known as ‘Twas the night before Christmas’ and brought to life by cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1881.  This image was further enhanced by the illustrator Norman Rockwell with his depictions for Boys Life magazine in 1914 and various publications in the early 1920s.

Of course, Coca-Cola would have us all believe that they gave Santa his red suit in their advertising campaign in 1931 but Santa’s red suit goes all the way back to the 4th century and Saint Nicholas’s red bishop robes.  Having said that the Coca-Cola Christmas advert on TV is the one that signals the Christmas season has started.  Well, the Coca-Cola and the Pennys advert with the little girl saying HoHoHo.

Traditions evolve over the years, influenced by media, particularly film.  Over the years our Christmas films have changed to reflect our changing world.  Remember ‘It’s a wonderful life” and ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ “White Christmas” “Home Alone” “Elf” “The Santa Clause”, the list goes on.

In the last few years, we have seen the arrival of the ‘Elf on the Shelf.’  This new tradition is based on a book written in 2005 by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell.  The book describes how Santa’s scout elves are sent to look over the family and report back to Santa each night on who is being naughty or nice.  They return each morning and hid in a new spot to play hide and seek with the family.  The scout elves get their magic by being named and loved by a child but they cannot be touched.  The child can speak to the elf and tell it their Christmas wishes and then on Christmas day the elf leaves to stay with Santa until the following Christmas.  What a charming story and a heart-warming new tradition in many households.

So whatever tradition you follow in your household, whether Christian or not, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

 

 

Week 1 of the Year of Possibilities

Start each day with a positive thought

Week 1 of my Year of Possibilities has been eventful.  New year resolutions are now decided upon and written down.  One resolution is to spend more time with my father and so far, so good.  On New Year’s Day, we went on a day trip to Howth outside Dublin.  A little over an hour’s drive from us, it is picturesque, with a delightful pier full of fishing boats (and pleasure boats and yachts), beautiful cliff walks, excellent restaurants and views to inspire.  It was cold when we set out, but the skies were blue, and we hoped for the best.  The minute we parked the car we felt the force of nature.  The cobwebs were definitely blown away as we faced into the wind at Howth harbour.  I was struck by the number of people battling the elements on the first day of the New Year.  Maybe like us, they were anxious to shake off the old year and welcome in the new with renewed vigour.  There was a mixture of accents and languages, all wrapped up in heavy coats and gloves, all admiring the view from the harbour but not foolhardy enough to attempt any cliff walks.  Himself had to go back for the car as Dad and I took shelter behind a wall against the wind which threatened to whip him, and his walking aid, into the sea.  Once Dad was safely ensconced inside the car, with his beloved pipe to keep him company, himself and I took a few minutes to enjoy the view out to sea until heavy drops of rain plopped around us forcing our retreat to the relative safety of the car.  Dad suggested hot whiskies and we drove the short distance back to a bar overlooking the harbour.  Even with the rain lashing off the windows, Howth looked picturesque from our vantage point, with a hot drink in hand and a delicious bowl of chowder served up with fresh soda bread.

dad and gerry

On Day 2 of my Year of Possibilities my other half and I set off to the midlands, just the two of us.  Our Christmas present to each other, two nights in a hotel to rest and recuperate from the excesses of Christmas and New Year.  The Adult Retreat at The Hudson Bay Hotel was perfect.  The rooms are delightful, large and airy with a huge bed, great views of Lough Ree and a bathroom fit for royalty.  Our booking included an evening meal in their L’Escale restaurant and what a treat that was.  The staff were knowledgeable and friendly.  The food was beautifully presented and cooked to perfection.  A wonderful experience.

We are now back home, refreshed, renewed and ready to start our New Year in earnest.  We have both decided on a ‘dry January’, or rather part of January as we are starting a few days into the month and ending on the 27th.   Hopefully, the absence of alcohol will aid in weight loss as well as wallet gain for us.  Both badly needed after the excesses of the season.  I dread taking down the Christmas tree and lights tomorrow.  Once the twinkling Christmas lights have been packed away the magic disappears, and the dark encroaches on our spirits.  Outside it’s cold, dark and dreary and spring seems so very far away.  Usually, I hate this time of year but this year I am taking a different approach and have vowed to use these short days and long nights wisely.  I aim to rise each morning with a positive affirmation and during the short days banish all negative thoughts as soon as they occur.  In the evenings a cosy fire and a selection of lamps and candles will banish the dark shadows and a good book always has the power to entertain.  I’m looking forward to following through on more of my resolutions in week 2 of my Year of Possibilities.

 

 

 

Christmas Cheer

It’s that time of year again!  The ideal family Christmas is played out on TV and film.  The adverts stay with us year after year, the Coca-Cola Christmas truck, the ‘Penneys got a whole of things for Christmas’ jingle, the little blond girl eating the cornflakes saying ‘Ho Ho Ho’.  The feelgood movies on TV and the competition for the best TV advert.  Who wins this year, ‘Paddington’ or ‘Kevin the Carrot’?  The pressure mounts to host the best Christmas dinner, to give the best Christmas gift, to be the perfect host or to be the perfect guest.  Newspaper articles and radio broadcasts remind us of the true meaning of Christmas and implore us to disregard the commerciality while at the same time advertising the very products and lifestyle they suggest we disregard.  And who can blame them?  They need to earn a living, same as the rest of us.  How else can they do that but to sell the products and the lifestyle we all aspire to.

In Ireland, we have become accustomed to raising a glass at Christmas time to our friends and family who live on foreign shores.  Since famine times our ancestors have left these shores in search of a better way of life.  We at home have toasted them and have missed their presence in our lives.  It was a Christmas morning tradition in our household for my father to make a telephone call to his brother in Canada.  The call was made from my uncle’s house (we didn’t have a phone) and the call was planned and timed, (international phone calls were a considerable expense).  We all stood around the phone in the hall of my uncle’s home singing Merry Christmas, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews and cousins.  My uncle cried into the receiver while singing with us together with his wife and children, all Irish born but Canadian raised.  He hung up, wishing us the very best for all of us, and praying that the year ahead would be the year he would manage to get home for a visit to the land of his birth.

In recent years the world has become a smaller place and our younger emigrants are no longer completely cut off from those they left behind.  Nowadays, with Skype and Facetime, we can talk to our loved ones overseas on a regular basis easing the pain of separation slightly but never replacing the physical presence of your offspring or sibling, their scent in your nostrils and their bodily warmth in your arms.  Cheaper travel has meant that our loved ones can now travel home more regularly, or we can visit them in their far-flung homes and admire their new-found way of life.  Do we envy them?  Do we envy their bravery, their get up and go?  Do we envy their lifestyle, their opportunities in the lands they have chosen?  Or do we pray for their return to these shores?  It is this time of year we suffer these mixed emotions. We miss our loved ones and want them with us, but do we really want them to abandon the life they have chosen for themselves?

Even if we could entice them back here with amazing job opportunities and promises of a lifestyle to match, where would they live?  We have a housing crisis.  We are not building enough housing for our already growing population.  And we are certainly not building affordable housing.  It is quite simple really.  In 2016 the average industrial wage was €45,611, p.a., the average house price was €240,000 or €352975 in Dublin (where 39% of the total population live).   How can the average person buy the average house?  He/she can’t.   What? Let them rent, Do I hear you say? let them rent.  The national average monthly rent amounts to €1131, while if you are one of the 39% who live in the capital, rents range from €1553 to €1868 PER MONTH.  How can you pay that kind of rent on the average wage and save the minimum deposit of €35,297 you need to buy the average house.  Of course, you could move out of Dublin to buy a cheaper home and commute.  You can join the thousands of others who spend 3-4 hours of their day travelling to and from work and pay the extra €200 plus on tolls, and did I mention parking?  Or you could take the train, only an extra expense of €200 to €400 a month depending on how far into the commuter belt you go.  Although don’t expect a seat every journey.   Of course, that is if you are on the average wage.  We have nearly full employment we are told.  But have we?  Are all these employed people on the average wage or, are a large percentage of them on the minimum wage of €18,759 p.a.  According to OECD data, 25.1% of the employed in this country are low paid (earning less than 2/3 of the median income).  How can you pay rent on that wage?  You certainly won’t be considered for a mortgage.  But, I hear you say, if you can’t afford to buy and you can’t afford to rent, the state will house you.  After all, this is the 21st century and we are a first world state who cherish all of its citizens equally, aren’t we?  You would think so, wouldn’t you?  But no, As I write there are 5,524 adults and 3,333 children homeless.  3,333children without a home!  At Christmas.  Think about it.   And it is common knowledge that this is not an accident, this is government policy.  How sick is that?  How far away from the aspirations of those who wrote the proclamation?

A year ago, a group of people took over Apollo House, a derelict building, and within days had established quality, respectful accommodation for homeless people.  Volunteers provided facilities to those people which offered them a degree of respect which officialdom denied them on a regular basis.  Thousands of Irish people reacted and supported Apollo House.  The public showed the government what could be achieved in a short space of time and with minimum expense.  Our government reacted by allowing the residents of Apollo House to be evicted and that building to remain standing a year later, unoccupied, undemolished, a testament to the failure of our government to cherish all citizens of this state equally.

And what about health care?  Our health service is in chaos.  Even with the large salaries, our well-educated emigrants can command, health insurance can only cover whatever our health service can provide.  Those who are accustomed to the high medical insurance costs in America would undoubtedly have no issue with the premiums requested but would expect the same high level of health service provided in America for that cost.  They certainly won’t get that here.  As for those who currently live in Canada!  The Canadians believe in providing universal health care for all their citizens and at an affordable price, a concept we need to learn in this country.

I started writing this blog tonight thinking about the meaning of Christmas in our country and the absence of loved ones at this time of year.  I ended up finding myself thinking about the reasons people leave this island and the reasons we could entice them to return.  I found myself ashamed of this republic.  Our constitution promises to honour all of our citizens equally, but we have failed and failed badly.  Our children continue to emigrate to find a better way of life and who can blame them.  I think I might join them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Cheer

It’s that time of year again!  The ideal family Christmas is played out on TV and film.  The adverts stay with us year after year, the Coca-Cola Christmas truck, the ‘Penneys got a whole of things for Christmas’ jingle, the little blond girl eating the cornflakes saying ‘Ho Ho Ho’.  The feelgood movies on TV and the competition for the best TV advert.  Who wins this year, ‘Paddington’ or ‘Kevin the Carrot’?  The pressure mounts to host the best Christmas dinner, to give the best Christmas gift, to be the perfect host or to be the perfect guest.  Newspaper articles and radio broadcasts remind us of the true meaning of Christmas and implore us to disregard the commerciality while at the same time advertising the very products and lifestyle they suggest we disregard.  And who can blame them?  They need to earn a living, same as the rest of us.  How else can they do that but sell the products and the lifestyle we all aspire to.

In Ireland, we have become accustomed to raising a glass at Christmas time to our friends and family who live on foreign shores.  Since famine times our ancestors have left these shores in search of a better way of life.  We at home have toasted them and have missed their presence in our lives.  It was a Christmas morning tradition in our household for my father to make a telephone call to his brother in Canada.  The call was made from my uncle’s house (we didn’t have a phone) and the call was planned and timed, (international phone calls were a considerable expense).  We all stood around the phone in the hall of my uncle’s home singing Merry Christmas, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews and cousins.  My uncle cried into the receiver while singing with us together with his wife and children, all Irish born but Canadian raised.  He hung up, wishing us the very best for all of us, and praying that the year ahead would be the year he would manage to get home for a visit to the land of his birth.

In recent years the world has become a smaller place and our younger emigrants are no longer completely cut off from those they left behind.  Nowadays, with Skype and facetime, we can talk to our loved ones oversees on a regular basis easing the pain of separation slightly but never replacing the physical presence of your offspring or sibling, their scent in your nostrils and their bodily warmth in your arms.  Cheaper travel has meant that our loved ones can now travel home more regularly, or we can visit them in their far-flung homes and admire their new-found way of life.  Do we envy them?  Do we envy their bravery, their get up and go?  Do we envy their lifestyle, their opportunities in the lands they have chosen?  Or do we pray for their return to these shores?  It is this time of year we suffer these mixed emotions. We miss our loved ones and want them with us, but do we really want them to abandon the life they have chosen for themselves?

Even if we could entice them back here with amazing job opportunities and promises of a lifestyle to match, where would they live?  We have a housing crisis.  We are not building enough housing for our already growing population.  And we are certainly not building affordable housing.  It is quite simple really.  In 2016 the average industrial wage was €45,611, p.a., the average house price was €240,000 or €352975 in Dublin (where 39% of the total population live).   How can the average person buy the average house?  He/she can’t.   What? Let them rent, Do I hear you say? let them rent.  The national average monthly rent amounts to €1198, while if you are one of the 39% who lives in the capital, the average rent you will pay amounts to €1774 PER MONTH.  How can you pay that kind of rent on the average wage and save the minimum deposit of €35,297 you need to buy the average house.  Of course, you could move out of Dublin to buy a cheaper home and commute.  You can join the thousands of others who spend 3-4 hours of their day travelling to and from work and pay the extra €200 plus on tolls, and did I mention parking?  Or you could take the train, only an extra expense of €200 to €400 a month depending on how far into the commuter belt you go.  Although don’t expect a seat every journey.   Of course, that is if you are on the average wage.  We have nearly full employment we are told.  But have we?  Are all these employed people on the average wage or, are a large percentage of them on the minimum wage of €18,759 p.a.  According to OECD data, 25.1% of the employed in this country are low paid (earning less than 2/3 of the median income).  How can you pay rent on that wage?  You certainly won’t be considered for a mortgage.  But, I hear you say, if you can’t afford to buy and you can’t afford to rent, the state will house you.  After all, this is the 21st century and we are a first world state who cherish all of its citizens equally, aren’t we?  You would think so, wouldn’t you?  But no, As I write there are 5,524 adults and 3,333 children homeless.  3,333children without a home!  At Christmas.  Think about it.   And it is common knowledge that this is not an accident, this is government policy.  How sick is that?  How far away from the aspirations of those who wrote the proclamation?

A year ago, a group of people took over Apollo House, a derelict building, and within days had established quality, respectful accommodation for homeless people.  Volunteers provided facilities to those people which offered them a degree of respect which officialdom denied them on a regular basis.  Thousands of Irish people reacted and supported Apollo House.  The public showed the government what could be achieved in a short space of time and with minimum expense.  Our government reacted by allowing the residents of Apollo House to be evicted and that building to remain standing a year later, unoccupied, undemolished, a testament to the failure of our government to cherish all citizens of this state equally.

And what about health care?  Our health service is in chaos.  Even with the large salaries, our well-educated emigrants can command, health insurance can only cover whatever our health service can provide.  Those who are accustomed to the high medical insurance costs in America would undoubtedly have no issue with the premiums requested but would expect the same high level of health service provided in America for that cost.  They certainly won’t get that here.  As for those who currently live in Canada!  The Canadians believe in providing universal health care for all their citizens and at an affordable price, a concept we need to learn in this country.

I started writing this blog tonight thinking about the meaning of Christmas in our country and the absence of loved ones at this time of year.  I ended up finding myself thinking about the reasons people leave this island and the reasons we could entice them to return.  I found myself ashamed of this republic.  Our constitution promises to honour all of our citizens equally, but we have failed and failed badly.  Our children continue to emigrate to find a better way of life and who can blame them.  I think I might join them.