The novelist Edna Ferber said: “Christmas isn't a season. It's a feeling”. However, that ‘feeling’ can be subject to circumstance, context, and inner disposition.

Christmas, 2002: My circumstances were very comfortable, a property owner, an academic, working in a reputable third-level institution in Dublin city and earning a comparable salary. In context, I was a single woman, catapulting towards fifty with an adult daughter who had flown the nest and was completing a master's degree, in social work.

My daughter was spending a few days with me over Christmas and the plan was that we would both spend Christmas Day with my father and other members of my family in my father’s home in County Meath. A family Christmas.

However, my inner disposition was kicking violently against yuletide festivities. I wasn’t feeling any of the dazzling, high-pitched, ‘Merry Christmas’ cheeriness. Christmas had been magical when I was a child and I, in turn, created the same magic for my own daughter when she was a child, but I had landed in a place where I had no role and felt out of sync with all things ‘Christmassy’.

When I dragged my head above the duvet on that Christmas Eve morning, I felt a dull psychic and corporal ache, a reluctance to embrace the day. I had spent the previous evening drinking wine with a friend in a wine bar in town, bemoaning the fact that ‘So this is Christmas and what had I done?’ I had left my car on Ormond Quay and had to pick it up before 7. a.m. to avoid the clampers.

I hauled myself out of bed and got dressed while attempting to comfort the roar in my head by plastering my forehead with tiger balm. I was grateful that my daughter had stayed with friends the night before so didn’t witness this maternal wreck.

Outside the rain was bucketing down and the bus was late, so I hailed a taxi. My new red coat had taken a battering. ‘Mohair is sensitive to rain’, I had been warned by the boutique owner when I bought it two days previously. The taxi man was full of good Irish cheer and gave a good monologue about Christmas and just about everything else! I asked him to stop talking and just focus on driving. He skidded to a halt at Christchurch and insisted I get out of his car, suggesting I was a ‘Stuck up bitch’. I may have countered with ‘Gobshite’?

When I finally reached my car, it wouldn’t start and I came out without my mobile. I battled down the quays clutching my AA (Automobile Association) car insurance number and found a telephone booth with a working phone. Evidence of the season of goodwill presented itself everywhere. I felt colorless, alone, and totally bereft of good cheer. Outside the telephone booth, I almost tripped over a discarded bottle of wine, I aimed a kick at it but missed.

While I was calling the AA a homeless man knocked on the booth glass. ‘Hey Miss’, he shouted, ‘Is this yer wine?’ I shook my head. He gave me the thumbs up and staggered off gratefully clutching the bottle. Mine or not, he could just have grabbed the bottle and scuttled off. I marveled at his honesty.

Father Christmas had clearly arrived for him. As I returned to my car, I passed the same man and his two mates as they huddled in a doorway sheltering from the bitter wind and rain. They were passing the wine between them. ‘Hey Lady in Red’, he shouted after me, ‘Happy Christmas’.

‘Lady in Red’, I wasn’t invisible. Like a voice waking me from sleep, it nudged a crack in my cynical armor. Their physical circumstances were pitiful, exposed to the cold and lashing rain. In context, unlike me, they had no home or family, to go to. However, spiritually they shamed me. They shared what they had and found it in their hearts to acknowledge me and wish me a Happy Christmas.

I needed to cop on. I turned back, thankful that the rain camouflaged my tears, and offered my unwitting saviors all the change in my purse, five euros…’This is our lucky day lady’. ‘Mine too’, I whispered and the three of them serenaded me with the Chris de Burg song.

That rainy Christmas Eve, in Dublin, 21 years ago was my deliverance from yuletide consumerism and self-absorption and imbibed an enduring philosophy that Christmas ‘goodwill’ requires a common acknowledgment and acceptance and a mutual, bestowing and receiving, and if your heart is open those nudges towards ‘goodwill’ surround us all and allows us to pause, reflect and accept.

“Christmas isn’t about candy canes or lights all aglow, it’s the hearts that we touch, and the care that we show”.

~ Mickey’s "Once Upon a Christmas".

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