Well here I am facing into my third Australian Christmas and I have to admit to not being altogether thrilled about it. It’s one thing when you sign on for the big adventure, when you agree to up sticks and travel to the other side of the world and in the bigger scheme of things you are fine and enjoy all that your new place of abode has to throw at you. However, hiding in the seams of the bigger scheme are those times when you just can’t get your head around where you are. Christmas in Australia is one of those times for me. The Aussies love their summer Christmas – as they should but for me it’s just not Christmas.
Christmas for me is so many things. It’s about home, open fires, over the top decorations, seeing family and spending time with friends, wrapping up against the cold, walks in frosty forests or on wind-swept beaches, sharing wonderful food, having a few drinks in the local pub, impromptu sing-songs, fun and laughter. The west of Ireland is an incredibly special place to be at Christmas time. Decimated by emigration over the years it is a time when people come home and it is this that creates an amazing buzz. People are happy to be home and those who are at home are ecstatic to have their family members back even if it is for only a few short weeks. Christmas Eve in any of the west of Ireland towns is a day for last minute presents, picking up “the bird” and joining the old friend you just ran in to for a drink or two.
Later on in the evening most people make their way home and their journey is lit by candles twinkling in the windows of all the houses. This is a tradition that dates back to ancient times and is rooted in the old Brehon laws of hospitality – whereby a stranger knocking on the door must never be refused. In later times it was understood to symbolise the lighting of the way for Mary and Joseph as they searched for somewhere to stay before the birth of their child. Nowadays it is seen as lighting the way for Mary and Joseph but also for those who are returning home.
One of my favourite things to do on Christmas Eve is to stand, in the darkness, at the window of my parents house, high up on the hill, and look out across the island as it twinkles in the night. It’s a beautiful sight and one I’m looking forward to seeing again, just unfortunately not tonight.
Wherever you are this Christmas I hope you enjoy it – Roisin.