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Remarks at the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

Áras an Uachtaráin, Saturday 7 December 2019

Céad míle fáilte romhaibh go léir ag Áras an Uachtaráin.

Sé bhur mbeatha uilig. Thar ceann Sabina agus thar mo cheann féin cuirim fáilte ó chroí romhaibh anseo inniu agus muid ag cur tús le ceiliúradh na Nollag 2019 in Áras an Uachtaráin.

[Sabina and I are delighted to welcome each and every one of you here today as we celebrate the official start of Christmas 2019 in Áras an Uachtaráin.]

The tree lighting ceremony is always a very special day here in the Áras – a day when we invite people from every corner of this island to celebrate the beginning of Christmas by gathering around the great Christmas tree and joining us in song as we turn on the lights for the first time.

The turning on of lights has always been an important part of the Christmas tradition. Here in Ireland it was once the custom to place a candle in our windows on Christmas Eve to light the way for Mary and Joseph on their way to find the stable in Bethlehem.

Gathering to celebrate the light, sharing the light’s emergence from the darkness, gives a sense of sharing life itself in all its circumstance.

In the midst of the Christmas celebrations, it is important that we remember that its core meaning, which is about shelter, our continued obligation to offer hospitality, welcome strangers into our midst and the joy that such a welcome for the stranger brings. In contemporary times, it means reaching out a hand of friendship to those who have travelled to Ireland from far away countries, and have arrived on our shores in need of refuge and shelter.

In doing so we stand in solidarity with all those across the world who are forced to leave their homes and their friends in search of a life free from fear and danger.

This time of year is also a challenging time for those who may be living far away from the country of their birth, and who depend on the kindness of new friends and neighbours as they celebrate Christmas in a new country, and a new home.

For most of us, it would be impossible to imagine Christmas Day without our families, the people with whom we have built so many Christmas traditions and who will always, in years to come, be central to our memories of Christmases past.

We continue to write the story of Christmas with new members of families and friends, sharing and continuing the stories that started with our parents and grandparents and will continue to be written by our children and their children.

In years to come, and wherever we may find ourselves in the world, it is those memories that will sustain us, enrich us and continue to define the essence of Christmas.

Christmas, while a season for rejoicing, can also be a season that is tinged with sadness. It is a time of year when some must recall family members and friends no longer gathered around the table, names that are absent from this year’s Christmas cards. Time will have, we hope for many, created a space where a loved one can be recalled and remembered with joy and with appreciation for all that was shared together.

So this Christmas, as we light the Christmas tree in Áras an Uachtaráin; we will remember the bereaved who are finding this Christmas difficult; we will remember our new Irish community as they recreate precious family traditions here in their new homeland; we will think of those in our society who are homeless, marginalised or vulnerable; of all those who are sick or lonely or feeling sad or worried.

We will extend our thoughts and good wishes to our emigrants, especially those who cannot make it home this Christmas; we will be sending our warmest appreciation to members of the Irish Defence Forces who will be absent from home this Christmas due to peace-keeping duties abroad; and we will remember all the other wonderful people who will be working this Christmas to keep us safe and well –the Gardaí, the fire service and all the medical staff who will ensure that the sick and the elderly continue to be cared for while the rest of us are enjoying our family celebrations.

Let us also this evening, and through the Christmas season ensure we do not forget the friends, neighbours, colleagues or relatives who are not as fortunate as we are, finding Christmas a hard season. Let us make a special effort this Christmas to reflect on the true spirit of Christmas and ensure that we seek, in the coming year, to light their way and welcome them into our gatherings and celebrations.

Thank you all for coming here this afternoon and for helping to make this a special and memorable Christmas. I hope you all have a wonderful time and that today will become a joyful Christmas memory for you all in years to come.

Ba mhaith liom Nollaig shona, síochánta agus sábh oraibh go léir. Agus do na páistí anseo uilig, tá súil agam go mbeidh lúcháir agus áthas ag Daidí na Nollag díobh, agus go mairfidh an Nollaig seo in bhur gcuimhne sna blianta romhainn.

[I wish each and every one of you a very happy and peaceful Christmas. And to all the children here today, I hope that Santa will bring smiles and joy all round and that today will become a joyful Christmas memory for you all in years to come.]

Indeed, may I thank Laura and the Áras Team who have worked so hard to make the place so festive and enchanting, and work hard to make all feel so welcome. May I also thank our friends and colleagues in the OPW who did such a magnificent job of decorating our Christmas tree; it is truly a wonderful sight to behold! I thank our first aiders from the Civil Defence. Thanks to our friends at WALK.

And, of course, míle buíochas to our talented entertainers:

The Dublin Youth Choir, The Fanzini Brothers, The Dublin Brass Trio, Niall de Burca, Sarah, Oisín, Eoin, &  Cara (Maguire Family & Friends), Iseult & Esme (Becker), Alicia (Heaphy), Jack Wyse and Hozier.

Nollaig faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise daoibh go léir. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.