It’s that time of year again. The days are the shortest. The nights are longest, and we counter the darkness by filling our lives with light, love and laughter. Those of us lucky enough to live in West Cork need only to step outside into the community to get into the festive spirit. West Cork does the holidays like few other places. We have our tacky tinsel, and cheap fairy lights. We go overboard buying presents we can’t afford. We eat and drink too much. Just like everywhere else. But beneath all the commercial bling, is an authentic sense of community that is the true spirit of Christmas.
Nothing warms my heart more than to go into town on Christmas Eve. If you could bottle the Christmas spirit that one finds in the pubs, on the street, and in our homes- you’d make a fortune. Lucky for us, it’s it’s free for all to enjoy.
It often surprises visitors to find so many businesses closed around Christmas day. I remember being caught out the first Christmas we spent in West Cork 25 years ago. Most shops, restaurants, and hotels closed for several days.( I managed to get milk and bread from a friendly pub owner on St Stephen’s day.) Coming from an urban lifestyle, it took me a moment to figure out that people had better things to do than make, or spend, money over the holidays. Things like getting together with friends and family, and welcoming far flung relatives home. Things like slowing down and enjoying each other’s company. Things like reaching out to others who might be alone, or less fortunate. Things like craic agus ceol. These days many shops and businesses stay open, and I thank them for the last minute shopping, but I love the feeling on Christmas day when everything shuts down and the whole community can stop and be together (and grateful to all those working in essential services who continue to serve and care for others!).
It’s a strange time in the world. The news is often disheartening if not downright terrible. It can be difficult to feel festive, when the world seems on the brink of yet another disaster, yet another revelation, yet another threat. Peace and good will seems in short supply. So I am grateful to live in a place where it is still plentiful, and I thank my friends, my family and my neighbours for making West Cork such a peaceful and inclusive place to live. May you all have a wonderful Christmas time.
I’ll leave you with a present. It’s my favourite Christmas poem from the great Scottish poet Edwin Morgan. See you next year!
Coming up Buchanan Street, quickly, on a sharp winter evening
a young man and two girls, under the Christmas lights –
The young man carries a new guitar in his arms,
the girl on the inside carries a very young baby,
and the girl on the outside carries a chihuahua.
And the three of them are laughing, their breath rises
in a cloud of happiness, and as they pass
the boy says, ‘Wait till he sees this but!’
The chihuahua has a tiny Royal Stewart tartan coat like a teapot-holder,
the baby in its white shawl is all bright eyes and mouth like favours in a fresh sweet cake,
the guitar swells out under its milky plastic cover, tied at the neck
with silver tinsel tape and a brisk sprig of mistletoe.
Orphean sprig! Melting baby! Warm chihuahua!
The vale of tears is powerless before you.
Whether Christ is born, or is not born, you
put paid to fate, it abdicates
under the Christmas lights.
Monsters of the year
go blank, are scattered back,
can’t bear this march of three.
– And the three have passed, vanished in the crowd
(yet not vanished, for in their arms they wind
the life of men and beasts, and music,
laughter ringing them round like a guard)
at the end of this winter’s day.