In has long been an Irish Tradition to place a candle in the window at Christmas time. The popular story is that this is done to guide Mary and Joseph on their journey to Bethlehem, a beautiful sentiment. However, the tradition stems from a darker, sadder story; of a time when to be a Catholic in Ireland was to be a criminal and to be a priest or shelter a priest could result in being sent in chains to Barbados. The candle was a sign that a brave family was willing to take that risk and give shelter to a priest and welcome their neighbors to share Christmas Mass with them. Today, the Christmas candle should remind us of the sacrifices and risks our forebears took to maintain their faith and heritage in the face of unspeakable oppression and how grateful we should be for the liberties we enjoy as Americans.
Sadly, recently the light of that candle has begun to flicker; political correctness and sadly apathy threaten to accomplish what the one time most powerful empire in the world could not. No other heritage is called upon to justify their history the way the Irish are: that the wholesale transportation of tens of thousands was an ethnic cleansing, that the indifference of a government that allowed a quarter of Ireland’s population to starve was a genocide or even something so easily provable as the innate racism of signs that said “No Irish Need Apply” existed. The Irish stand as a proud enigma that we still exist; we should not let those who are frustrated by their inability to explain us to simply dismiss us or cheapen our history.
Heritage is not a gift we receive; it is a gift we give.
Christmas is a time of joyful remembrance and renewal. Let us this Christmas give the gift of heritage to our families. Let us invite the older members of our families to share their stories and speak the stories of those who can no longer speak for themselves. Those stories are far more valuable and lasting than a DNA test. If we do not speak them, they will die. Heritage is not a gift we receive; it is a gift we give. Let us vow not to let the candle go dark on our watch.
Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a New Year of Prosperity.
Nollaig Shona Daoibh!