“Isn’t it grand to have everyone together and no one dead?” These were the words that a cousin uttered to me at a family gathering the first week of the new year. How right he was, for it is a rare event. Even a wedding now is more restricted in terms of getting the distant cousins into the room, as the parental contribution has fallen relative to the cost of the event.

Our lovely gathering of neighbours, family and friends was convened to celebrate the Golden Jubilee (50 years) of the ordination of my uncle, Monsignor Benedict O’Shea. Fr Benny celebrated mass that morning in St Nicholas’s Church, Windgap, where he said his first mass (nervously, he admitted) that half century ago. Seven other priests, three of whom were class mates of his at St Kieran’s College, concelebrated.

Now while my cousin’s comment was a happy reflection of where we were, it did not unfortunately mean that there was no one dead. The day in question, 7 January, was also the day of the Russian proposed ceasefire in Ukraine. Just two days earlier, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill’s request for a truce in Ukraine, on the Orthodox Christmas Day, was recognised, with Russian President Vladimir Putin instructing his defence minister to declare a 36-hour ceasefire. This proposal was rejected by the Ukrainians and despite the ceasefire being declared, fighting continued. One Ukrainian soldier’s synopsis to the New York Times was that: “It was just public relations.”

When former Pope Benedict XVI died on New Year’s Eve, I asked his namesake, my uncle, if he was abandoning the rest of our family Christmas celebrations to hightail it to Rome? With a smile, he replied he doubted the deceased Pope Benedict would miss him and that he had a Christening to preside over. The funeral at St Peter’s Square was attended by tens of thousands of mourners, with the unusual situation of a pontiff presiding over the funeral of his predecessor. And the first funeral ever of a Pope who resigned, Benedict being the first pontiff in almost 600 years to do so. Looking at the eight priests on the alter in Windgap, all a similar age or older than my uncle, I was glad that his request to retire has been granted by the church. Many of the others are still working in their parishes and communities.

The Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas Day on 7 January because it marks the birth of Jesus as per the old Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar that puts Christmas on 25 December. Another date that is culturally different is that of the Chinese New Year, which is this Sunday – 22 January – and 2023 is the year of the rabbit, the fourth sign in the zodiac calendar, fourth because the rabbit arrived late to the party.

The aforementioned Christening (and party) was for my sister’s baby. A nephew, Levi, born during COVID-19 – as was his sister, Daisy – 14,997km away in Western Australia, unseen by aunts, uncles and some grandparents until their arrival this Christmas. This fact served to make our family celebrations all the more important. Miriam this week responds to a reader letter “I’m dreading ‘surprise’ birthday party”. Although I agree with Miriam’s advice (almost always the case), having last week dropped these two small babies and their parents to the airport, just two days after the departure of the other sister and her four young children, makes me want to shout – “have the beeping party!”

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