Generosity of spirit must remain the essence of Christmas

Americans around the world will today celebrate their traditional Thanksgiving - believed to have begun as an autumn harvest festival in the 17th century and a time for people to give thanks for what they have.

Coinciding with the start of the modern-day Christmas season - the fourth Sunday before Christmas being the start of Advent - it would appear to be a natural progression into the season of goodwill - a time to cherish time off work, relax with family and friends, and soak up all the joys that Christmas offers.

Unfortunately Christmas for many has become a season of stress and financial strain, exacerbated by the often frenzied commercial lead up to Christmas Day. It is an expensive time for most people, but particularly for parents who understandably want to fulfill their children's hopes and wishes, and some may simply not have anything extra to buy presents for their family. And it can also be a lonely and sad time for those who cannot celebrate with family for various reasons.

Thankfully here in Galway we have a number of organisations working to help those for whom Christmas is a difficult time. This week the Society of the St Vincent de Paul launched its annual appeal and there are many ways a small contribution can help - not necessarily financial. COPE, which provides vital services to the most isolated in the community, is looking for volunteers to help its fundraisers.

Many charities are keen for people to lend a helping hand over the festive season, so if you are thinking of volunteering this Christmas, now is the time to find out what opportunities are available.

Christmas is a wonderful season, but in the hustle and bustle, it is easy to lose sight of the real reasons we celebrate. Yes, it is the time to commemorate the birth of Christ, but you do not have to be a Christian to make your Christmas more meaningful. It does not mean you have to get rid of the fairy lights and become a modern day Scrooge, but if you have a family, be thankful and enjoy this time together - whether it is hunkering down in front of the telly watching a rerun of The Royle Family at Christmas, or buttoning up and enjoying the great outdoors. Visit an elderly neighbour, drop a line to a long lost friend, invite someone in need for dinner, ask your children to gather up any unwanted toys and give them to those in need.

Let’s also ask all ESB workers to spend just €5 less on each present they purchase and donate it to the elderly who can purchase some solid fuel to keep them warm this winter.

They too may well find there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.

Linley MacKenzie

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