The chocolate Santas were in the shops in October. The Advent calendars arrived in November. It seems as if Christmas gets earlier and earlier each year. For some, this is great. It stretches out the festivities; for others, it just prolongs the misery.

Kids write their lists for Santa, asking for stuff that will help them fit in, keep up with their classmates, be cool. Parents scramble for the money to make it all happen. Office parties, fuelled by booze and boisterousness, might be a little tamer this year as the consequences and confusion surrounding unwanted advances make people just a little more cautious about what they say and do.

Shoppers crowding city streets might not be quite as relaxed as usual as, deep down, on some unconscious level, they see their fellow shoppers as a target for some marauding mad (wo)man bent on causing death and destruction with their weapon of choice: a gun, a car, a bomb.

Those attending religious services might add an additional prayer to the litany of asks and thankyous they offer to their god, a simple prayer that they might walk out alive and make it home to enjoy that turkey dinner, that julbord, or that suckling pig.

2017 has been an unforgettable year on so many levels, one that has been predicated on fear. ISIS and its protégés continue to target innocent victims at random throughout the world. Lone gunmen in America are giving a new take to not knowing the day nor the hour. We don’t have to travel far to see how fear can be fomented by propaganda and political spin. Cyberwarfare is making its ugly self known, as the relative peace of the online world is being disrupted by ransomware and debilitating viruses. People in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Yemen, Greater Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Mexico, Israel, Palestine and many other places continue to live in uncertainty, watching the lives they have built being systematically destroyed as armed conflict rages. And nightmares are being relived as the Harvey Weinsteins of this world are unveiled.

Yes, 2017 is a year that many will want to mark “over”.

But in the few weeks we have left, the season of Advent is upon us, that time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity. Yes, it’s a Christian observance, but it’s one that’s made to be borrowed. My Advent challenge to you:

December 3 Make your Christmas shopping list. Think about giving the gift of experience this Christmas, rather than stuff people neither need nor want. Our time is one of the most precious gifts we can give.

December 4 Pay attention to the shop assistant or the ticket collector or the postman or whomever when you interact with them today. Look at them. Focus on them. Smile. Let them know you see them.

December 5 Pick up some litter off the street – even one piece. Someone might see you do it and do the same. You could be the start of something. And if not, your world will be a little cleaner.

December 6 Stop and say hi to a homeless person – ask if you can buy them a coffee or a bowl of soup – and then take the time to do it.

December 7 Buy a bunch of flowers from an old néni on the street or the metro and give it to your neighbour – or anyone – just because.

December 8 Visit a church you’ve not been to before and make three wishes. You don’t need to believe in God to enjoy the grace and quiet.

December 9 Donate some clothes you don’t wear to a shelter or a charity shop. How much stuff do you really need?

December 10 Pay for a coffee for the person behind you in the café. A random act of kindness can go a long way.

December 11 Send a Christmas card to someone who lives alone. Better still, go visit them.

December 12 Stand back and open the door for someone and do it with a smile.

December 13 Pick a charity and start saving your coins for a cause. Give it a year. Then donate the money.

December 14 Leave a big tip somewhere – just because. If they’ve given great service – they’re worth it. If they haven’t, you might inspire them to next time.

December 15 Pay someone a compliment, and mean it. Cheer them up.

December 16 Send words of encouragement to someone who might need it.

December 17 Tell someone special what they mean to you – a lot of times, we take close friends and family for granted and just assume that they know what they mean to us.

December 18 Leave a book in a public place for someone else to read and enjoy.

December 19 Walk down the street, nodding, smiling at, or saying hello to everyone you meet. So, they might think you’re mad, but it could catch on. And how much nicer the world would be if it did.

December 20 Treat a friend to something – a coffee, a cinema ticket, a beer. Just because.

December 21 Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, just to say hi.

December 22 Spend some time outdoors in a park, in a forest, or walking the streets. Embrace the cold.

December 23 Let someone go ahead of you in a queue.

December 24 Thank someone for something – and do it consciously.

Gratitude can make a difference.

Nollaig shona daoibh go léir | Boldog karácsonyt mindenkinek | happy Christmas to you all.

Mary Murphy is a freelance writer, travel blogger and public speaker who is warming up to Christmas. Read more at |

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