I have never been one to get into Christmas too early. I try to resist all jingle bells, decorations, or carols until after my birthday in mid-December. Besides, in our family we have to celebrate Thanksgiving before we even entertain the thought of tinsel. This year’s Thanksgiving was special as we had three daughters home (the eldest is out in Australia). When you have adult children, having all of them home for any of the holidays is no longer a given. It was lovely. A true family gathering with old friends and new. We were ten for dinner, eleven for dessert. I baked two pies, cornbread, and a chocolate roll. Turkey and all the many trimmings were a group effort, and everyone ate too much, as is traditional.
Back in the day there was a nice pause between Thanksgiving and my cue to start feeling jolly. Things didn’t really kick off until December 8 which, as everybody knows, is both the feast of the Immaculate Conception and 10 per cent off day. December 8 was the start of proper Christmas. That was reasonable. After all, we must keep the jolliness going until January 6. One month of Christmas is plenty. I don’t need six weeks of it. Alas, these days, by the end of November it is impossible to avoid the festive season. Thanksgiving was barely over before Christmas took centre stage. In fact, I found myself eating a plate of delicious Thanksgiving leftovers while watching the Toy Show. Then we went into town to see the lights being switched on. The Christmas season is officially open. So be it. I’m ready to get into it.
I love Christmas in West Cork. The sense of community is strong all year round, but it gets heightened at Christmas. We hear a lot about community from politicians and the media, but you can only really understand what it means by living it. Here in West Cork, we are blessed with a sense of community that feels so natural, that I sometimes forget how exceptional it is until I’m reminded of it by visitors mentioning how friendly and kind people have been to them. In a world that sometimes feels quite scary, our community feels like a safe and gentle place.
There were so many times this year that we all came together. My highlights this year have been the wonderful street carnival, the agricultural show, a gathering to celebrate Sinead O’Connor, the guitar festival, and Samhain. But there are also all those other moments of community: the markets, the sports clubs, and of course the music sessions. These and the hundreds of small exchanges – on the street, in a pub, at the school gate – are the threads that tie us to each other and which we weave into a community.
As the winter solstice approaches and we enter the darkest days of the year, coming together is much more precious. Perhaps that is why community is so special at this time of year. We need good company to keep us going through the mid-winter whether it’s sitting around a fire with family and friends, or chatting with a stranger in a pub. We light candles and string up shiny tinsel to counter the darkness outside, and we get together to counter the darkness inside. There is something magical about being together when it’s cold and dark outside. I think that this year we need that magic more than ever.
So, get the tinsel out. Light the candles. String up the lights. Put the Elf on the shelf and decorate the tree. But most of all, let’s do what we do best: reach out to one another, and celebrate together. Welcome the new people and weave them into our community. The world seems full of dreadful news now, some of it close to home. That spreads its own type of darkness. The only way to counter it is to embrace the spirit of Christmas. To be together and to be grateful that we live in a place of peace and good will. I’m looking forward to it all. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas full of hugs and good company, and a very happy New Year.