Written by Fiona Fay, illustrated by Kirsten Todd.
Snow started to fall one winter’s evening in December. Christmas was fast approaching with just five days to go. As I stared out of our cosy sitting room window, watching the world go by, silver wafts of snowflakes gently drifted past. A blanket of snow appeared on the ground and sparkled like an acre of diamonds, with the trees glistening as the light shone from the nearest street lamp. There was a lot of hustle and bustle outside on the street with people all wrapped up in their warm hats, scarves and gloves, carrying home their big bags of Christmas gifts. People were busy preparing for the Christmas festivities and buying boxes of food as if it was going out of fashion! I did wonder to myself, `Why do we buy so much at Christmas time?’
Mummy and daddy came home with a huge fresh pine tree sourced from the local market. It was Christmas tree decoration night. Hooray!!!!!! I just loved this night. We were going to dress the tree up to become our very own tailor-made `Baker Family Christmas tree. This night always felt special because it really got us into the spirit of Christmas. Well, I guess for us it marked what Christmas was all about – people coming together, having fun and sharing in the experience of Christmas.
The tree went from being draped in green prickly pine kernels to being dressed in lots of tiny white fairy lights that glistened and shone as if there were fireflies or glow-worms hovering in between its branches. We had angels all over the tree. They were gold, silver, red, green and blue, and each angel had its own name and a specific job to do. The angel I loved the most was Angel Raphael. He was the angel of healing; and then there was Angel Michael, the angel of keeping our home safe and protected. There was also the Angel Adundantia – she was the angel of abundance and blessings.
To complete the event, we placed Merlin the Magician on the very top of the tree. We believed he would sprinkle his magic on our home and on all people at Christmas time. Merlin was dressed in purple with golden wings. He wore a pointed purple hat with gold spots on it and held a magic wand. The tree looked `magical’. As a ritual every Christmas, mum burns some frankincense and myrrh incense, and this mysterious smell wafts through the air really getting us into the Christmas spirit. You feel like you are whisked away into a winter wonderland. It’s heaps of fun.
After pottering in the kitchen for some time, mum came in with a tray full of yummy, scrummy home made mince pies and piping hot chocolate. As we scoffed back our goodies, we heard a loud knock on the door. We went to the door and standing in the doorway was a little girl dressed in brown rags. She looked like she had not had a bath for weeks and her eyes were very puffy and swollen from crying. Her hair was tattered and yet she still looked very cute and perfect, even in her dishevelled state. Next thing an older woman appeared. It was this little girl’s mother. They asked for help, just some food, a warm bath and some shelter for the night. My mummy did not hesitate for a moment and said `well if you cannot help the less fortunate than you at Christmas, then who can you help?’
In they came and it turned out they were from South America. It was so dangerous in the city that they lived in, that they had to escape. You could not go outside the door after 5 o clock in the evening. They had to leave the country and somehow ended up in Ireland. We could not believe that places like this existed in the world as we felt so safe in Ireland.
That night by the crackling fire and over lots of wholesome food, we swapped stories of what life was like in their country and what life was like in Ireland. I remember falling into my own bed that night feeling very grateful for everything I had – my bed, food in our cupboard, a roof over our heads and caring parents. I said a little prayer of gratitude-`thank you God for giving me everything – I am so grateful and also, please look after those less fortunate than ourselves, especially those who have no food or shelter at this time.’
The next evening the very same thing happened. We were all sitting around having dinner, swapping stories of the day when another knock came to the door. It was another child and her mother looking for shelter for the night. They were Irish and this woman has been looking for work for a long time and could not get any. She seemed scared and needed a little bit of love and reassurance.
My mum thought it very odd that the same thing was happening again. She asked her how she found our house. The woman looked bewildered as she replied, `well, I just saw the advert in the local paper offering food and shelter for those less well off who genuinely need help’. She then pulled out a newspaper clipping.
Food and shelter available at 18 Cherry Hill.
`Oh my God, the paper has made a mistake! There is a shelter for the homeless at 18 Cherry Mountain, we are Cherry Hill,’ my mum explained. `However it’s a good 10 miles from here and it’s snowing heavily outside, so come on in’.
The newspaper rang us the next day apologising for the mistake. I turned around to my mummy and said, `what if it was not a mistake and this was meant to be?’ Then mum let out a cry and said, `Oh my god that’s right! Just the other day I said to myself and Paddy – my biggest wish for Christmas this year was that we help people who are less fortunate than ourselves. This would be the most fulfilling thing we could do and share our wonderful gifts of love, food, and more than anything our home with others. That is exactly what has happened!’ We all laughed and smiled and said `so you got what you wished for then’. I secretly knew that I had also said a little prayer the night before asking that people be cared for. That day I realised that if we ask for help, we get it.
This became the tradition in our home every Christmas there after. Every year mummy would bring people from afar into our home, giving them food and shelter. On some Christmas Days, we would have about twenty to thirty people for Christmas dinner. They became known as the `extended Baker family’. We learned about people from all walks of life, different nationalities, customs, and histories. It was just wonderful because we made so many friends and, more than anything, we were able to help.
Here I am today. I am now age 34 and I run a shelter alongside my mum for the homeless in the north side of Dublin. My mum set up the shelter some years after that unforgettable Christmas evening when we answered the knock on our door. Mum felt, well why would we just do this for Christmas? Why not do it all year round? So here we are, twenty years later, and we have such a great time with so many wonderful people and all this happened because the newspaper printed `hill’ instead of `mountain’!