Living here in San Diego, California, for the last twenty-five years and visiting Ireland quite often, gives me, I suppose, a unique perspective on the merits and otherwise of each country.
I come home to my mother and father (93 and 95 years old respectively and both, remarkably, in wonderful health) at least twice a year. I try to make the All-Ireland football final in September and if at all possible Christmas.
There is nothing like an Irish Christmas.
In many of those years, I have not been able to make it home for the Christmas and it breaks my heart when I cannot get away from San Diego for the warmth of an Irish Christmas.
San Diego is a beautiful city with a wonderful climate and a great lifestyle. I love living and working here, but man, when it comes to Christmas they don’t have a clue how to celebrate it.
Christmas is one day- Christmas Day- and that is it. You quit work on Christmas Eve and you resume on St. Stephens Day. If you blink in America, Christmas is gone. Life goes on as though it was just another Sunday. Americans put up a lot of gaudy lighting on their homes for Christmas and then pay no attention to the season at all.
In fairness to Americans, their real holiday is Thanksgiving, which occurs on the last Thursday of November each year. Usually the country shuts up shop on the Friday as well, thus providing the opportunity of a decent break. Thanksgiving is a lovely time as it is very family oriented. People travel from all over to be with their families during Thanksgiving and it is the closest thing to what I perceive as Christmas in Ireland.
Nothing however, beats the feeling of stepping off a plane at Dublin Airport a week or so before Christmas and breathing in the atmosphere that prevails.
There is a buzz and aura of happiness and joy about everything that you wish you could bottle and keep for the rest of the year to stimulate you in the down times.
I am from a village called Collon in County Louth about 45 minutes north of Dublin. In Collon, they know how to celebrate Christmas. The festivities kick off on the 22nd and go on through to about the 6th January. Try telling that to some American grey-suited corporate executive and he would have a seizure! Two weeks to celebrate Christmas is something that cannot be comprehended over here. They barely take two weeks holidays for the entire year. It is a case of all work and no-play in the good old United States.
In Ireland we get our priorities right. Christmas is a glorious cocktail of family and friends, laughter and love, drinking sessions and music, horseracing, shopping and any excuse for a party.
It is a time when goodwill really does exist in a tangible way. It is two weeks of craic. It is two weeks where we suspend reality and put the daily grind of work and all the associated problems of the year on hold. We may be in the middle of an economic crisis, but by God, it is not going to interfere with our Christmas or New Year enjoyment.
This year, I cannot make it home for Christmas. I have my lovely family here of course and I will enjoy the season with them. But, on a wider scale, Christmas here is a bit like trying to have a party in an operating theatre; there is no warmth or depth to it. It is cold and clinical – just another day.
I will truly miss the Christmas in Collon. No amount of spurious replication over here will substitute.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all you lucky people who are enjoying it! Mick Ward