Focusing on the festive presence of the holiday season

Jen Hogan looks at how we can help our children engage in the true meaning of Christmas by helping others and focusing on presence, not presents.

Baz Ashmawy & mum Nancy with John and Linda McGuinness & daughter Kyra (5), who availed of care by LauraLynn Children's Hospice, visiting Santa.

The decorations are in all the shops. Festive tunes are being played on loop and the wheels of consumerism turn ever more rapidly as December 25 draws closer.

It may be the most magical time of the year but in the midst of such materialism the true meaning of Christmas can easily be overlooked.

Children have a natural capacity for care and compassion and no better time to build on this than the season of goodwill. Involving our children in thinking of others is easily done — and a little, truly can go a long way.

LauraLynn, Ireland’s only Children’s hospice, provides an invaluable service to parents of children with life-limiting conditions through the provision of respite, symptom management, family supports, end-of-life care and bereavement support.

“There are plenty of ways for children to help other children over the Christmas Season,” Breda Cuddihy, Marketing and Communications executive at Lauralynn says. “Hold a bake sale, craft fair, Christmas jumper day or Christmas fair in your school or crèche. Not only will it benefit our special hospice, but it’s also a really special learning experience for children.”

“We’ve had some really inventive fundraising from our young supporters over the years — for example, we had a family of three children who wrote and performed a Christmas play. Admission to their original show was a donation to Lauralynn!” “Gifts of care (which are available from lauralynn.ie/shop) are a really special alternative to cash gifts,” Breda adds. “You will be helping to fund the life changing programme and support services that we provide for little heroes and their families”. A donation of €4 can also be made by texting LauraLynn to 50300.

BUMBLEance, the official Children’s National Ambulance Service of Ireland provides transportation for Ireland’s youngest patients between their home and children’s hospitals, hospices, national paediatric treatment centres and respite centres.

One family for whom BUMBLEance have provided crucial support is the King family from Cork. Their son Adam (3), the youngest of four children, was born with the rare lifelong condition osteogenesis imperfecta. Adam has the most severe form that is compatable with life.

“Adam goes to hospital every twelve weeks, where he gets an IV infusion of a drug that helps to strengthen his bones”, his mum Fiona explains. He also attends several other specialist and doctor appointments.

“While Fiona can manage the Cork based appointments herself, BUMBLEance take Adam to all of his Dublin ones.

“When Adam was little, Adam had to remain in a lie-flat position all the time. As you can imagine travelling in a family car would be so difficult so BUMBLEance was just so fantastic when he was really tiny, because it was so frightening and overwhelming when you had to face the prospect of travelling 3 and a half hours to Dublin, or possibly more.”

While reflecting on the difficulties in getting a very sick or disabled child and the luggage required for a hospital stay from a car park a distance away to Temple Street, Fiona says that “BUMBLEance takes all that stress away”.

Adam’s big sister Katie (8) is leading by example when it comes to thinking of others this Christmas. Adam is on a HSE waiting list for a wheelchair and Katie wanted to write her letter and “ask Santa if he could bring the wheelchair for Christmas”.

It has since been explained to her that Santa cannot bring medical supplies.

Tony Heffernan, founder and CEO of the Saoirse Foundation says that there many ways that children can support the children who use BUMBLEance’s services, including “donating PlayStation 4 games which are in very good condition”.

“A child or family may like to donate a present to us in voucher form or cash and we can use this towards entertaining our children on the road. Children could also fill and donate a “BUMBLEance Christmas Stocking” for boys and girls of different ages and abilities. A take away present for the children who use the services over the festive period. Text donations are also welcomed and can be made by texting STAR to 50300.

St Vincent de Paul says that over 140,000 people across the country will ask for their help with food, fuel and basic clothing this Christmas. Children can help to support the St Vincent de Paul campaign through the collection of non- perishable goods for food hampers in their schools or sports clubs.

“Their “giving tree” appeal meanwhile involves taking a tag from the tree which lists a person and age for which to buy a present. Giving Tree and Food Appeal guidelines and drop off points can be found on the www.svp.ie.

Helping our children to think of others can extend beyond donations too. While Christmas is largely viewed as a time of celebration, it can be a very lonely and isolating time for the elderly, vulnerable and those living alone. Taking the time to pop in to visit a neighbour or even encouraging older children to take the initiative and make the effort to do so themselves, can help to break the sense of isolation that some may feel.

Younger children can make a homemade Christmas card, while older children could stop by for a cuppa and a chat.

A token gift might be very much appreciated too but time is the most generous thing that you can give. After all it’s presence not presents that really matters.


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