Speech at the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
Áras an Uachtaráin, 8 December 2018
A Dhaoine Uaisle,
A Chairde Gael,
Agus a pháistí ach go háirithe,
Fearaim fáilte romhaibh go léir chuig Áras an Uachtaráin tráthnóna don ócáid speisialta seo. Tá súil agam go bhfuil sibh ag baint taitnimh as bhur gcuairt orainn.
You are all very welcome here this afternoon. This is always a very special day in Áras an Úachtaráin, the day when we officially mark the beginning of the Christmas season by lighting up the big Christmas tree outside in the garden. All of you have travelled to be with us here today are representing the Irish community in all its diversity and are sharing this special occasion on behalf of all the people of Ireland.
The lighting of a tree may be, relatively speaking, of modern times but the placing of a light in the window is an old and enduring custom. Light is, of course, a symbol of welcome and for many years the sight of a candle flickering in a window in the deep mid-winter was a very comforting one for travellers undertaking long, cold and difficult journeys.
It was a sign that they had reached a place of warmth and security, a place where they would be happily received and given shelter from the cold and the dark. The light at Christmas said ‘Come in stranger, you are welcome’.
It is very important, therefore, when we light up our trees and our houses and our gardens that we remember the original meaning of Christmas lights and that we consider all those who may be in need of welcome and friendship this Christmas.
For many of us it would not be possible to imagine Christmas day without our families and without all the traditions that we associate with it and may have built up together over the years. So many of us are greatly fortunate to be part of families who love us and communities who care for us, making Christmas a time of enjoyment and excitement as we continue the rituals that have been handed down from one generation to the next.
However, as we enjoy the warm glow of Christmas that lights up the darkness of mid-winter it is important that we remember that Christmas can also be a very sad time of year; a time when people can feel especially lonely or sad or under pressure. Some people may be mourning the loss of a loved one, some people are far away from home and are probably missing their family. Others are without the security of a home and will wake up on Christmas morning in shelters, in cramped rooms or even out on the bitterly cold streets. We call to mind in a special way all the children in temporary shelter or in hotel rooms for whom we must care at this time.
Therefore this Christmas as we enjoy all the good things that the festive season brings, let us also remember and make a commitment to shine a light into the lives of our fellow travellers who may be experiencing a particularly dark and difficult point on their life’s journey. There are so many small ways we can extend a hand of welcome and friendship to others. We can invite them to join us around the Christmas table, we can write a card to someone who may not receive many Christmas greetings and good wishes, or we can simply visit a neighbour who does not have any family and remind them that they have not been forgotten in the midst of all the business of Christmas.
And so this evening, as we light the Christmas tree in Áras an Uachtaráin, let us remember all of the people for whom it is being lit – we will remember the lonely, the ill and the homeless, the bereaved for whom this Christmas will be a particularly sad and difficult time, our emigrants, particularly those who cannot make it home for Christmas this year but will be with us in spirit ; and those who have come to Ireland in recent times to make a new home here, including all those in direct provision, and who will be bringing their own special memories to their Christmas celebrations.
We also remember all those who will be working this Christmas to keep us safe and well - members of the Irish Defence Forces who will be absent from home this Christmas due to peace-keeping duties abroad; and we remember – 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.
We also, of course, remember our own families and all the other families across Ireland who will be together this Christmas, whether in body or spirit, feeling again the specialness and preciousness of belonging with each other.
Finally, I would like to thank you all for coming here this afternoon and helping to make mine and Sabina’s Christmas in the Áras such a memorable one. I would also like to thank the Áras staff who have worked so hard to decorate the house and to provide the fare you have been enjoying. Thank you also to our first-aiders and, of course, our talented entertainers the Arís Celebration Choir, Nuala Hayes,
Claudia Scanlon, Sarah Condon, Jack Wise, Marcela Toomey, Gomolemo Tsagae and our wonderful MC Charlie Hughes.
And, of course, a very special thank you to Santa and his helper who have travelled all of the way from the North Pole to be with us here today.
Finally, I hope you all have a wonderful time here and I wish each and every one of you a very, very happy Christmas.
Guím Nollaig mhór mhaith oraibh ar fad, agus athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise.