My grandfather, Sean Keys O’Doherty, was one of the best writers I’ve ever read, and the greatest I’ve ever known. He died in 1998, but if he hadn’t, he’d have turned 102 last week. He wrote the following poem many, many years ago (long before I was born, I suspect) and its message resonates with me even still — such that I re-read it every year to remind myself of the hardship of the season, and its message of hope. It always makes me cry.

On this Christmas Eve, I share it with you. Keep others in your hearts. It’s a tough world out there for a lot of people. And Merry Christmas.

Christmas Alone

The laughter of children — the whisper of snow,

The dolls in the toyshops, row upon row:

All over town does the magic appear,

Once more it’s December, and Christmas is near.

There’s turkey and tinsel and wondering stares

As the children gaze wide-eyed at fabulous wares.

There are smiles on the faces of folks passing by

With mysterious bundles piled ever so high.


But it’s hard for the man who’s alone on the streets

To share in the joy of the people he meets.

There’s lump in his throat; in his heart, there’s a stone

As he faces the prospect of Christmas alone.

He envies his parents — he envies their smiles

And his mind leaps away for thousands of miles

To a very small girl in a faraway place.

And his eyes wrinkle up and he pictures her face

As she places her packages under the tree:

“There’s a present for Daddy from Mommy and me!”


The solider looks up a the faraway skies

And the hurt in his soul could be seen in his eyes.

His lips make a whisper that no one could hear:

“Merry Christmas, my lovely! Merry Christmas, my dear!”

For Christmas withal is the season for prayer

For hope and fulfillment and surcease from care.

May God hear the whispers of all who must roam —

For peace and goodwill and next Christmas at home.