Christmas ‘cannot grow old’ but incongruously bursts forth each December – a sparkling light in a desolate winter world, bringing promise to the young as well as youthful hope to the not so young, writes Tom McParland.


Christmas is the only holiday in which it’s hip to be old-fashioned.

It’s a time when Ireland and the rest of the world pause in a mixture of reverence and nostalgia to celebrate a real event that happened over two thousand years ago. Since it took three wise Kings twelve days to visit, discover and present gifts to the Saviour, and for the Christian church 336 years to bother celebrating God’s birthday, I’m sure He’ll overlook our Irish tardiness in only hearing of the Infant between AD 400-1000. Before then we were too adrift in Druidic darkness and, like the other 194 celebrant countries of the world, we’ve been playing catch-up ever since.

That’s probably why, regardless of 2023 years of Yuletide, like the fallen war heroes in Robert Binyon’s poem, Christmas ‘cannot grow old’ but incongruously bursts forth each December – a sparkling light in a desolate winter world, bringing promise to the young as well as youthful hope to the not so young.

Contrary to popular belief, Xmas is not a trendy attempt to take Christ out of Christmas. As far back as 1100 X, or Chi – the Greek first letter of Christ – served as a symbolic stand-in at the time. In 1551, the holiday was commonly called Xtemmas. Thankfully for us it was later truncated to Xmas.

And over the years, Christmas has thrown up a myriad of feel-good stories. So much so that if they didn’t involve lost kin or lost dogs you’d be forgiven if you took them with a pinch of Pal or Pedigree.

On 21st December 2018 Daisy, the UK’s unluckiest rescue dog, had all of her Christmases come early. The nine-year-old mastiff cross first arrived at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in 2010 as a young and energetic dog where she stayed for just 15 days before being adopted. After her owner’s demise and as a much older dog, Daisy was returned to Battersea in 2018. This time her residence lasted more than 100 days (allegedly six months in doggie years) but this time no one came forward to offer a new home.

Thankfully, Daisy caught the attention of Louise Daily and her two children after they spotted her story online and thought that she was the perfect dog for them. After 124 days in the care of Battersea she went to join her new family in the Hertfordshire countryside.

On November 16, 2020, an adult female northern saw-whet owl was found dehydrated and hungry within the branches during the installation of the annual 78-ft Norway Spruce Christmas tree at Rockefeller Centre New York. The feathered stowaway renamed Rockefeller (Rocky), endured a 270km, three-day road trip from Oneonta, to New York City. She was taken to a wildlife centre and nursed to full strength before being released by the facility in Saugerties, New York.

The Rockefella Plaza tree started life as a 20ft balsam fir decorated with strings of cranberries, paper garlands and a few tin cans in a depression-hit 1931 Christmas Eve. Italian-American construction workers who pooled their money for that unlit tree, planted it to give cheer to passers by. Two years later another tree appeared in its place, this time draped in lights. It just kept getting bigger annually.

From its beginning the tree became a gathering place reflecting what was happening in the world around it. During WW2, three unlit trees were substituted. Once the war ended, three ultra violet lamps picked out the tree giving the illusion that its white orbs glowed in the dark. After the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks the tree was lit in patriotic colours. Today and since 1931 the majestic tree bears more than 25,000 twinkling lights and has seen millions of selfie-takers each season.

Continue reading in this year’s double issue