First Christmas

It’s December and we are heading into our first Irish Christmas in 17 years. Yes, we have not spent a Christmas here since the last century, when the punt was still in circulation. It is one of the reasons we came home from Sydney. Christmas is for our children. Warm hearts and hearths provide a refuge from the cold. Flickering lights brighten the dark.

To be frank, I feel the pressure. Will the ideal we have fixed in our minds be matched by the real experience? The signs are mixed. With the big changes and unexpected upheaval this year, Christmas has rushed upon us again. ‘Twas ever thus.

Everything at home is still settling down, still somewhat unfamiliar. We’re trying to find our rhythm with Ireland, our personal and family life, our feelings, our relationships and our interactions. Seemingly small differences have a larger impact than expected.

But there is hope. In the newness lies the opportunity to have the best of both worlds this Christmas, to combine old, familiar traditions with new experiences, to treat it as an epic adventure. And what does everyone do when travelling? Plan. Then explore.

If you’re like me, you might even make a list and check it twice. So it’s time to get my project manager freak on. I’m making a list of old and new experiences and scheduling them. After all, “not scheduled” means not prioritised. I’m going to imagine what the best possible Christmas looks like, then I’m going to make it happen.

Here’s what I have come up with so far: The 12 feelings of Christmas.

The old stuff…

1 The comfort in Christmas Eve hugs with Nana and Grandad at our childhood home.

2 The wonder in the kids shouting up the chimney to let Santa know they have been good.

3 The calm of a late Christmas Eve building toys. Thank you IKEA Santa!

4 The feel-good factor of children’s Mass and Christmas Day with family.

5 The nostalgia of visiting cousins, aunts and uncles playing Christmas games.

6 The scent of a real pine Christmas tree and baking a Christmas cake.

7 The satisfaction, and slight overindulgence, of the post-dinner Christmas Day movie.

8 The simple pleasure of a pint with Dad on his birthday — because, this year, I can.

9 The peace found in a quiet Christmas night out with my wife Anne-Marie.

10 The reboot from putting aside time to relax and switch off distractions. Lock. It. In.

11 The gratitude and hope in finding time to reflect on 2016 and embrace 2017.

12 The anticipation and joy of spending time with the kids. I’ll be finding my inner child and enjoying the moments that will seem fleeting looking back.

Some new ones, for us at least…

1 The atmosphere from Christmas lights and Christmas markets.

2 The magic in the Christmas windows of Brown Thomas and Arnotts.

3 The simplicity of the live Christmas crib at the Mansion House.

4 The refreshment of a hill-walk in the brisk air of the Dublin Mountains.

5 The invigoration of a Christmas Day swim at Low Rock beach in Malahide.

6 The novelty of snow. We will find it somewhere.

7 The serenity when cousin Sarah takes the kids to the panto.

8 The culture of the carols at Christchurch or the theatre.

9 The family time of Christmas movies at the Lighthouse cinema.

10 The risk and reward of shopping at the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre followed by a pint in Kehoe’s on South Anne St.

11 The fun of ice skating and the Winter Solstice festival at Smithfield in Dublin.

Last but not least, there is one experience that is new in some ways but old in so many others.

12 We will raise our glasses to our family and friends who are not here. We will cast our mind’s eye in your direction. We will send our love. We will remember you and how you feel. We miss you enormously. But, I for one, am grateful every day that I feel that way. Because that melancholy is the price of loving and being loved.

As someone once said, “If you cannot get someone out of your head, maybe they are supposed to be there.”

Merry Christmas, peace and love to everyone in Ireland and abroad.

James now helps emigrants settle in Ireland, as a launchpad for designing the life they want. Check out our Returning Emigrants Programme here.

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