There is this countdown that’s been taking place on my wall for the last few weeks. Unlike basically everyone else in the world, my countdown has not been for Christmas, but for December 28, 2016.
The day I go back to America for 2 weeks of vacation.
It might seem weird to be counting down to going to America because it seems contrary of my overarching life goals: 1) Moving to Europe and 2) Avoiding Michigan winters. In fact, the last time I left Ireland (at the time not knowing that I’d be back so soon), I basically sat in St Stephens Green eating froyo and crying for a few hours. So it’s very counterintuitive for me to actually be excited to go back to America.
But of course the reason why is Christmas.
There is something about this time as year that, despite my perpetual restlessness, makes me crave home. I want my mom’s homemade pecan rolls and ribbon jello. I want to run down the stairs on Christmas morning and feel like the child again. I want to laugh as my sister finds a way to exhaust every role in our church’s Christmas pageant. I want the comfort of my memory foam mattress, my dog and my bunny, and the way that family lets you be 100% yourself. Christmas just goes hand in hand with family and home.
Which probably explains why Christmas has felt thoroughly un-Christmas-y this year. There is something about the holiday that just needs home to fit right. I find that when I think about it too much I can fall into a deep sadness at being separated from my family for Christmas day this year. So in my usual stubbornly optimistic fashion, I’m thinking instead about how grateful I am for the experience I’ve had of spending Christmas in Ireland.
Irish Christmas has brought many wonderful discoveries. After years of reading Christmas books and watching Christmas films set in Ireland or the UK during Christmas, it was exciting to finally discover what those books were talking about. I was introduced to the culinary oddity that is Christmas pudding. I learned that here they say “Santy” instead of “Santa,” “Happy Christmas” in place of “Merry Christmas.” I got to witness two primary school carol services that certainly melted my heart. I got to learn a new array of Christmas Carols I’d never sung before, including The Wexford Carol, which comes from this very county. I got to see city streets not just in Wexford, but in Dublin, London, and Zurich decked out for Christmas. I got see Eoin Colfer’s amazingly heartfelt new musical Noel, which premiered in Wexford’s Opera House this week. Most importantly, I’ve become acquainted with the cult Christmas masterpiece that is “Stay Another Day” by East 17.
|Probably one of the weirder Christmas discoveries was a tree full of singing children in Zurich|
All of these amazing wonders would have been missed if I had spent Christmas at home. The reason I love to travel so much is because I love to learn about different stories. I love to learn about what life is like in different parts of the world. What is Christmas abroad if not the fullest version of living that out?
|Embracing the culture and eating an Irish breakfast on Christmas morning|
(instead of my mom's usual ham & eggs)
Furthermore, I got to enjoy the rich hospitality that comes from Ireland. So many friends of our program, our parish, and our community reached out to welcome and embrace my housemates and me this season. Whether it was Christmas morning breakfast at our friend Ruiri’s house, Christmas dinner at our parish priest Father Dennis’ house, or any of the countless Christmas parties we attended this season- I never felt lonely this holiday season. And if that doesn’t speak to the kindness of our friends here, the 14 boxes of chocolate and 17 bottles of wine we received certainly do!
Christmas this year has been different. It’s been difficult at times, but genuinely heartwarming at others. There have been moments where I’ve hid under my covers wishing I was home in my bed, but plenty more where my heart has soared with warmth, gratitude, and love for where I am now and the people who surround me. It’s these unique and precious moments that make this Christmas not just unusual, but extraordinary.