On Wednesday I found myself in town making a start on the Christmas shopping. Getting into town at all is a rare treat, but on a workday and sans enfants, it had the makings of a great day. The lights are up. The Christmas market is in full swing. It all looked so beautiful.
Finding a parking space wasn’t too tricky though and the queues in shops, while longer than on your standard Wednesday morning, were far from hellish. I had a list and got off to a good start.
A few shops in I decided to get into the Christmas spirit and grab a non-alcoholic punch at the Christmas market, only to be barked at by the girl in a santa hat at the counter that she only served, to order I’d have to buy a coupon at the counter across the way. I headed on to the next shop where the assistant stared into the middle distance as the tapped my purchases into the till. So much for treating myself to buying fancy wrapping paper in the fancy stationers. I might as well have picked up a few bargain rolls with my grocery shop for all the Christmas feel I got out of that. In the last shop on my list, I went overboard and did a spot of self-gifting, arriving at the till with more than I could comfortably carry. The shop assistant chatted to her colleague as she scanned my shopping, stopping only to tell me the sum.
Weighted down, mostly by my purchases but partly by the lack of Christmas buzz, I gave the Christmas market another try. A friendlier santa-hatted mulled wine seller sold me a glass of something hot, wine-coloured and Christmas-scented. I stood and drank and I thought back to Decembers past.
To the bustle of Grafton Street and the way you’d pass through various buskers’ airspace as you’d make your way from Trinity to St. Stephen’s Green. To the winters I worked in McGill’s, where the scent of Gloria Jean’s coffee mingled at the door with the combined aromas of Gorgonzola, chorizo, olives, and cloves, where customers came in with stories and chat,how you kept your smile on even though an icy gale was blowing in the door and you’d been asked for the fifteenth time about pickled walnuts or candied ginger. To the day I walked into the students union shop and asked for Panadol and tissues to be met with a smile and chant of “Tis the season to feel shitty” by the friendly fella behind the counter who knew the look of someone who’d had several too many and not enough sleep. To the times when there was standing room only in the Butler’s Chocolate Cafes but you went in anyway because – hello – hot chocolate made with real chocolate (!) and everyone was jolly and merry and yes it was full and there were bags everywhere but sure it is Christmas and we’re all in this madness together, aren’ we? To the days when hot port took the place of a coffee after an afternoon walk on Bettystown beach and the barman would say how wasn’t it just the day for the hot port with that chill in the air and the wind down on the beach.
And as I stood with my still-warm, empty glass and looked at the trappings of Christmas – wooden huts bedecked with greenery and ribbons, carved nativity scenes, twinkly lights and rustic signs – I realised it is all worth nothing when the one essential element is missing. The bit of banter. They may do Christmas beautifully on continent but the Irish do it with craic and there’s no copying that.