An Irish Christmas, Past and Present

Was Christmas more exciting for children and more satisfying for adults in days gone by? In my humble opinion, the answer at so many levels is an emphatic “No”. But it was different.

Part 1 – Present Day Christmas, A Time of Giving, A Time of Partying
Today people across the world of all religions and none joyously celebrate a secular Santa Claus rather than a religious Jesus Christ. It has become a season of lights, of work parties and most importantly it is the season of the child. The gregarious Santa the bearer of gifts, worshipped worldwide by pre-teens of all religions and none, becomes king of the festive season and the cold dark winter nights magically transform into bright multicolour light shows (though less so this year due to the energy crisis exacerbated by Putin’s brutal destructive invasion of Ukraine).

The spirit of caring and helping is symptomatic of a modern day Christmas with tens of millions of euros being collected for good causes every December in modern day Ireland. There is a wonderful emphasis on volunteering and taking part in fund-raising events to support those who are disadvantaged both at home and abroad. Inclusivity and diversity takes centre stage with children of special needs, disabilities, different ethnicity and faiths being given respect and prominence in the media such as on the Late Late Toy Show and other festive television delights. In Ireland the renowned generosity and openness of our people is there for all to see.

Colourful pop-up Xmas markets are hosted in every city enticing the visitor with amongst other things, live entertainment, an array of Irish handmade produce, fair trade gifts, mouth-watering craft beverages and tasty homegrown organic foods. Post-Ukrainian invasion, Irish towns and villages across the country are still decorated with colourful sparkling bunting and lights, and the gardens and buildings of some private houses look like Las Vegas at night-time.

Over the last few years, the Irish people have been encouraged to Buy Irish, Buy Local, Buy Sustainable, Buy Organic and support jobs and innovation in Ireland.
Thanks to online shopping and special festive product releases, the selection of toys for children as well as electronic gadgetry, clothes, toiletries and jewellery for adults has never been more wide ranging. A guilt-free happy consumerism ‘for good causes’ (family, friends, country, the economically disadvantaged and oneself) takes centre stage.

Post COVID, all age groups thankfully are once again celebrating at Christmas with their peers, from work parties for adults, to school concerts for children and parents, and clubbing/pubbing for the youth (& young at heart!). I myself enjoy organising a very special annual alcohol-free end-of-year multicultural party at my research institute paying homage to the rich culinary and other homeland traditions of our members. The cinemas, streaming and online media libraries such as Netflix as well as music services explode with much anticipated seasonal movies and music blockbusters. Though truth be told, the almost complete absence now of nightclubs in a Galway city famed for its ents is hard to believe.
Children happily write cards to Santa and more likely than not in Ireland he delivers their requested and oftentimes very expensive gifts. Boys and girls wake up early on Christmas morning to rush down to the tree to be overwhelmed with an array of toys. Thank you Santa!

But the most welcome characteristic of Christmas 2022 is the reappearance of the extended family coming together for Christmas. For the first time since 2019, parents, children, uncles and aunts are returning home from distant lands to spend the festive season with mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, sons and daughters. In our case, our own youngest son Dáire came home to Ireland from Barcelona where he is studying medical science and in a few days I will travelling to the home of my youth in Carrickmacross to spend a few days with my brother Michael and to hopefully met a few friends from school days.

In times past.
Christmas during my childhood was more frugal, more serious, more religious, less bright and less festive than that of the 21st century. But it was nevertheless magical and wondrous for children then as it is for today’s young generation. But in a different way. In our household we try as with many other Irish families try to keep in 2022 some of these often millennia old traditions alive which have almost evaporated in the last few decades or where their true meaning has been for forgotten.
Part 2 to follow.
Part 2 to follow.

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