“How wonderful that was, how wonderful!” these words flow out from ‘A Christmas Childhood’, Patrick Kavanagh’s memory poem, recalling the sights and sounds of a Christmas morning when he was 6 years old. He captures landscape and weather, family and neighbour, work and music and with the tightening of a belt on his coat suggests his readiness to walk out to Mass with his family. He doesn’t fill in all the details of the gathering in the church, the altar dressed, the carols sung there, the tree decorated and crib set with baby in place, but the wise men’s journey is suggested by the three whin bushes riding cross the horizon. “I can remember something of the gay garden that was childhood’s. Again”

We all have a reservoir of memories of past, of the Christmas days shared with parents and grandparents, friends and neighbours. Some are still with us and we share those memories together, others are long gone to God and recalling them with love and affection is so much a part of the gift of this holy time. I was struck recently, when turning 60, by the realisation that my mother was with me for the first 30 celebrations of Christmas and this year she is 30 years gone from us. Like Kavanagh I can recall with great clarity the way she shaped our Christmas preparations, decorating the house, shopping for gifts, assembling the many and varied flavours for the dinner. I guess she was the generous one behind the buying of gifts and certainly she had pen in hand recording who sent what and later overseeing the writing of thank you notes to grandparents and relatives who were “far too generous!”

Both parents, long gone, played their part in ensuring that the Christ child was at the heart of celebrations. In books bought to tell the story, music chosen to bring beautiful carols into the house, in the setting out for Mass, at midnight or dawn. We were sent out with gifts for neighbours living alone and aware of their support for the charities they held dear.

Then and now, parish played a central role in our experience of Christmas. The faith community takes this responsibility seriously, we have been blessed with this gift from God’s abundant love, we receive Christ with all the love that every new born baby brings and we renew our pledge to keep faith alive in our hearts, to live with Christian hope and love and to share this wonderful, wonderful news with all we meet.

May God bless you and all you love, keep you from all harm and fill your hearts with joy this Christmas Day and in the year to come.