Let It Snow?

Some people may find this surprising, but I like the weather in Dublin better than the weather in Los Angeles.  In Dublin, it never gets very hot and it never gets very cold. In summer, if the mercury hits 70 that’s considered a heat wave and in the winter it rarely snows.

Snow was actually a big topic of conversation with my work friends in the time leading up to our Christmas break this year.  Most of my co-workers are from Ireland and the UK and, therefore, not used to snow.  Now, being from Buffalo, New York, I grew up with snow – and they seemed to be fascinated by this.  I showed them pictures of what would be considered a “light dusting” at my parents’ house and they couldn’t believe it.

I have never been a fan of snow.  I don’t ski or snow board, and driving in it can be a nightmare.  Sure, we had the beloved snow days when we were kids, but as an adult, not so much.  I didn’t miss the snow when I moved to Florida and California.  And I was pleased to learn that Dublin doesn’t get snow (the freakish winters of a couple years ago notwithstanding).

But my friends’ fascination has made me rethink snow.  Maybe it isn’t so bad after all.  It is kind of pretty, isn’t it?  Now, a white Christmas is not a given in Buffalo.  Winter doesn’t usually kick into high gear until January or February.  But this year, for the first time in a few years if my memory serves, it did snow for Christmas.  And, looking at it with my new found appreciation, I kind of loved it.  It was just so… Christmasy.  It made me smile.  It made me happy.

Now, if I were still going to be in Buffalo in February when the novelty has worn off and the snow is brown and muddy and slushy, I’m sure I’d be singing another tune.  But for these few days, I have enjoyed the snow.  And I don’t think I would have if not for my colleagues.

This is yet another plus of being an ex-pat.  Living somewhere else can help you appreciate what you used to hate.  Seeing something from another’s point of view can give you a new outlook on something familiar and mundane – in this case, the powdery white stuff.  And so I say, at least for now, “Let It Snow!

The view from my bedroom on Christmas Eve.  One friend asked if I lived in Narnia.

The view from my bedroom on Christmas Eve. One friend asked if I lived in Narnia.

 

Fa-la-la-la-la…

This is my second December here in Dublin, however, last year I was new to the city, new to my job and a bit of a basket case so I don’t think I really “noticed” the Christmas season here in Ireland.  But this year, I really got to enjoy it.

And this year, I’ve become more aware that there are some differences between the way Dubliners do Christmas and the way we do it in America:

Christmas Eve vs. Christmas Day – This doesn’t necessarily hold true for all Americans but it does for my family and most that I know: Christmas Eve is bigger than Christmas Day.  Christmas Eve is when we have the big to-do with the entire extended family and when everyone opens their presents.  We still celebrate on Christmas Day but it’s quieter. For me and many members of my family, Christmas Eve is our favorite night of the year. My Irish friends seem to place more importance on Christmas Day, having their big celebration then and going more low-key on Christmas Eve.

** Side note** A more recent Christmas Eve tradition here in Dublin has Bono (yes, Bono) appearing somewhere on Grafton Street during the evening and busking for charity.  Last year, Glen Hansard and Sinead O’Connor joined him. I kid you not.  This has happened for the past four years and I’d be willing to NOT go home for Christmas one year in order to experience it.

Kris Kringle or Kindle? – The traditional workplace gift exchange over here is known as a Kris Kindle.  I’m not sure why.  Personally Kris Kringle or Secret Santa makes much more sense to me.  With the Kris Kindle, you pick a name, and buy that person a gift.  And that’s it.  Everyone opens their gifts at once and you’re not even supposed to reveal who the Kris Kindle was. It’s fun but I am used to going a little more all-out with this thing.  I’ve done Kris Kringles in many forms, but lately what I’ve done with co-workers and friends is that everyone buys a gift of a certain dollar amount for no particular person.  And then we have this wonderful game where people steal gifts from each other.  Sounds mean but it’s actually loads of fun.  I may need to introduce Dublin to this tradition next year.

No Heat Miser! – When I was a kid, the animated television specials really signified that Christmas was coming.  Unlike today, they were on ONCE a year and it was an event complete with popcorn and hot chocolate.  There were the traditionally animated Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which I loved.  But for me, it was the Rankin Bass stop motion animated specials that really rocked my world.  There was Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and my absolute favorite, The Year Without a Santa Claus.  That’s the one with Heat and Cold Miser!!!  I’d sing the song for you right now if you could actually hear me!  But sadly, my Irish friends have not seen these specials.  I work in ANIMATION and most have never even heard of them.  Apparently Irish kids have something called the Late, Late, Toy Show that is a yearly televised event with a talk show host, a bunch of singing kids and lot and lots of toys.  Irish kids get to stay up late to watch it, and most hold off on their letter to Santa until after the show, in case they need to add any toys. Sounds nice, but still, no Heat Miser?!!!  I’m making it my personal mission to introduce my Irish friends to these little gems by next Christmas.

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out! – I said that the other day in the office and no one had a clue what I was talking about.  A Christmas Story, a movie that has become such a tradition in America that one network shows it for 24 straight hours, never really hit it big over here. The big Christmas movie over here is, wait for it… Die Hard!

Happy, happy – People tend to say “Happy Christmas” over here rather than “Merry Christmas”.  Oh, and they are actually allowed to say “Christmas”.  When I asked if it was okay to call our office party a Christmas party rather than a Holiday party on the invitation, I just got strange looks.  It’s completely fine to say Christmas anytime, anywhere.  In fact, I’m told that some people get quite offended if you say “Happy Holidays.”  I’m not sure how I feel about assuming that EVERYONE celebrates Christmas but I must admit, I’ve enjoyed saying “Merry Christmas” and not worrying that I was going to be chastised for being insensitive.

Now, these are just casual observations on my part.  No one is right or wrong – we’ve just grown up with different traditions.  And they are what makes Christmas Christmas for us.

So, whether it’s Kringle or Kindle, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” or “Yippee-ki-yay mother-f***r”, “happy” or “merry”, I wish everyone who has taken time to read this blog the very best “insert holiday you celebrate here”.

Take some time to celebrate…

Tomorrow is what is known as a “bank holiday” here in Ireland, which means most people, especially I suppose, those who work at banks, have the day off.  When I asked friends and co-workers why we have tomorrow off, the summary of answers I got basically amounted to “because we do.”  And that’s fine.  I’m not going to question a Monday where I don’t have to get up to my alarm.

But this is a definite departure from what I am used to regarding holidays in the States.  In America, all of our holidays are holidays for a reason:

  • January 1 – To celebrate the New Year.
  • Martin Luther King Day – To honor the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Presidents’ Day – Most think this is to honor all American Presidents, but technically, the only Pres. officially being honored is our first, George Washington.
  • Memorial Day – To honor our war dead.
  • Independence Day – To celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and our freedom from British rule.
  • Labor Day – To celebrate the achievements of workers and the labor movement.
  • Veteren’s Day – To honor veterans of American wars (sadly, fewer and fewer Americans now get this day off).
  • Thanksgiving Day – Kind of self-explanatory, to give thanks.
  • Christmas Day – well, of course.

And there are certain things one is supposed to do on each of these holidays.  On MLK Day you should volunteer your time, on Independence Day you watch fireworks, on Memorial Day you lay wreaths at the graves of your family’s war dead, on Thanksgiving you eat turkey, etc.  Of course, people don’t necessarily do these things.  Mostly our holidays are excuses to go shopping or have a picnic and very little thought is given to whom or what we are honoring or celebrating.  But there is indeed a reason behind each of these days.

In Ireland, other than New Year’s Day, all the named holidays have religious connotations: St. Patrick’s Day, Easter Monday, Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day.  And then there are these bank holidays – the first monday in May, June, August and October.  Four days off for no apparent reason where I’m not expected to do anything other than not go into work. If I want to volunteer, I’ll volunteer. If I want to have a picnic, I’ll have a picnic.  If I want to watch fireworks… well, that one may be kind of hard. But the point is, there isn’t any prescribed activity that I am supposed to take part in tomorrow so I don’t have to end up feeling guilty for not doing it. The time is mine to pass as I please.

They could be on to something here.

Grafton Street, The Musical

Those of you that know me know that I absolutely hate crowds and shopping.  Places like Times Square or the Champs-Elysees make me break out in hives.  So, imagine my surprise as I find myself falling in love with Dublin’s main shopping and tourist thoroughfare, Grafton Street.

I walk through Grafton Street every night on my commute home and instead of stressing me out, it calms me.  I love that it is pedestrian only.  I don’t have to worry about any wayward cars or buses, and I don’t have to make sure that I am looking the correct way when I cross the street.  I love that it is home to Irish institutions like Bewley’s, but that there is also a McDonald’s (not that I am eating there!) and a Tim Horton’s – these little reminders of home put a smile on my face.

But most of all I love the music.  As one walks the length of Grafton Street you get the privilege of listening to a stunning variety of music as various buskers try to earn a few euros.  The line-up changes everyday.  One recent commute started with an aboriginal throat singer, segued to a trumpeter doing some selections from the American Songbook, then a few steps further on a couple truly fantastic guys singing with an acoustic guitar, then a bassoonist (yes, a bassoonist) and finally, under the beautifully lit up Christmas Tree, some carolers.

How can someone who strives to lead a creative life do anything but smile when hearing and seeing these artists?  Yes, some are better than others – the throat singer was a little freaky while the guys with the guitar seriously need a record deal.  But they are all out there and, at least in my head, they are doing it because they love it.  They are doing it because they are artists and they have to.   And I’m down with that.  And Grafton Street, I love you for it.

Grafton Street, all gussied up for the holidays.

Grafton Street, all gussied up for the holidays.

Christmas in Ranelagh

When it became clear that I would be moving to Dublin, I knew that choosing the neighborhood I would live in was going to be one of the most important decisions of the entire move.

I chose the village of Ranelagh for many reasons – it came highly recommended by people who know Dublin, I only have to go three stops on the Luas (tram) and I’m at St. Stephen’s Green (Dublin’s centre), it has everything I could need within walking distance, and frankly, it’s just adorable.  Ranelagh is the type of neighborhood in which I have always wanted to live but could never afford.  Here in Dublin, the perfect neighborhood is attainable for someone like me.

Last night was Ranelagh’s Christmas Tree lighting.  Normally, I would stay away from anything involving a crowd, but this sounded like fun – Christmas-y, village-y, fun.  And it was.  This wasn’t some Disney-esque tree lighting ceremony with a laser light show choreographed to Mannheim Steamroller.  It wasn’t even as elaborate as some of the Griswold-worthy house decorations one can find on any given neighborhood in the Greater Los Angeles area.

There were 200 people there, tops.  There was free mulled wine for the adults and hot cocoa for the kids, as well as mince pies.  I’m not sure what a mince pie is, but they must be delicious because by the time I got there, they were all gone.

There was a children’s chorus that sang just slightly off-key, the Ranelagh Singers who were really quite good, and of course, good old Santa Claus.  We counted down from 10, the lights came on the tree and that was that.

I loved it.

    Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas!