This week we received probably my favourite ever gift from home. Amongst the usual chocolate and crisps, encased carefully in bubble-wrap lay two wine glasses embossed with the signature Gibney’s of Malahide script we know only too well. Gibney’s probably won’t miss them, but it meant so much to us. “To be used when homesick on Christmas Eve,” the enclosed card read. While we wouldn’t be able to spend the festivities with everyone packed into the pub like sardines, at least we could feel close to home while on this side of the Atlantic with a goblet of prosecco in our hands.
This will be my second year spending Christmas away from home. At this stage, I’ve been absent for my sibling’s confirmations, graduations, birthdays and debs. I’ve missed the celebrations of my mum getting her dream job: even when they FaceTime me during these monumental moments. Those poignant times were certainly harder than the thought of missing December festivities.
This is probably because it’s been a while since I enjoyed a traditional Christmas. Since the age of 18 I’ve always had hospitality jobs that required me to work Christmas Eves, Stephen’s Days and New Year’s Eves. Nothing like silly season spent serving the masses to make you question your faith in humanity! Christmas 2013 I was in sunny Australia with my extended family and December 25th 2014 was spent working in a newsroom (the news never sleeps.)
Of course, there are things I am pining for: the infamous 12 pubs carnage with my childhood friends, sewing even more tinsel and bells on to novelty jumpers, selection boxes, advent calendars, tins of Roses, your granny telling you, “Go on, you’ll have another mince pie” – as if your arm really needed to be twisted. Christmas FM in the car, nostalgic festive hits in the bar, the smell of having a real tree at home and the fact my family neglect to take it down until the end of January and then it stays in the garden turning brown until April! The mishmash of ornaments and the half broken train set that we still insist on laying out around the tree, which itself is always inevitably lopsided and a few foot too big for the corner we put it in. Seeing my siblings in their school plays (one year my sister Maia proudly bagged the role of Sharon Ní Bheoláin aka the narrator of the nativity – does it get anymore Irish than that?!) and the anticipation as they write their Santa letters. Visiting relations who I don’t get to see often enough, the Brown Thomas windows and the Grafton Streets lights, my dad’s incredible cooking and the magic of the witnessing my siblings waking up wondering what the big man in red brought them.
The beauty of traditions is that now I can begin to make my own. Starting with the tree now tacked to the living room wall that Ruth fashioned from wrapping paper and the wreath we “borrowed” from Smith and Wollensky. When it comes down to it, I’m lucky to live here with some of my best friends and a wide circle of fellow Irish expats: I’m sure someone will make a haims of the turkey but you can be guaranteed we will eat, drink and be merry somewhere on December 25th. Who knows, it might be our own Fairytale of New York.
(A version of this post appeared in the December issue of Stellar Magazine.)