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Hello and welcome to my December newsletter.
I will start with a joke that maybe you have not already heard :
A man goes into an optical shop for his eye test . He sits up in the chair and the optician lowers the eye exam machine and askes the man to look into the lens.
” what can you see ?” says the optician . Says the man “all I can see are locked up Pubs, empty football stadiums, a sky without airplanes , people wearing face masks “
“Hmmm ” says the optician, ” , you have 20-20 vision “
Well, who would have guessed that 2020 would have turned out this way ; how our lives have been turned upside down, and how this pandemic has effected every one of us.
However , with developments regarding the vaccine, there is hope on the horizon, and I believe this is great news.
We will have lockdown restrictions eased for the festive season, and it will be great that families and friends can celebrate – albeit with safety in mind – during the Christmas holiday.
In Ireland we take a really long break ; most factories and offices will close on December 23rd, and re open on January 4th.
In my neighbourhood I have never seen so many brightly lit homes and Christmas trees -I believe that the brightness of the lights is a signal to ward off the virus and to show our resolve and courage during the darkness.
Traditionally candles and light play an important role in the Irish Christmas and on the first Sunday of Advent, the first candle of the Advent Wreath is lit, and so begins the countdown.
Kitchens all over Ireland will be busy gearing up for the big day . Christmas pudding and cake are made as much in advance as possible. Traditionally, the pudding was hung from the ceiling in a bag to “mature” and the Christmas Cake was also “fed” with a weekly drop of whiskey as it had to last the full twelve days of Christmas . Plum Pudding has been a favourite in Ireland for centuries and a good Christmas couldn’t be had without one.
In our home we always serve the pudding blazing ; I will pour a generous measure of brandy over the hot pudding and setting it alight is always a great show stopper !!
One of the most enduring images of Christmas in Ireland is the candle in the window on Christmas eve. This symbol of welcome to the Holy family is believed to be an adaptation of a much older custom dating back to the winter solstice that lit the way for all travellers on the longest night. During her term of office, in the 1990’s President Mary Robinson famously re-introduced this custom when she said “There will always be a light on in Áras an Uachtaráin for our exiles and our emigrants”. Thanks to her, now we have a permanent candle lit in the window at Áras an Uachtaráin as a symbol of welcome for Irish emigrants and their descendants.
The Winter Solstice will occur on December 22 and will mark the shortest day of the year. Crowds will gather at the ancient Newgrange monument to celebrate the event – and a lucky group of 20 will be able to enter the monument and witness the sun’s rays illuminating the chamber itself ! Also, did you know that the solstice was called “Yule” in Scandinavia and in much of northern Europe. In Ireland, burning Bloc na Nollag – or the Yule log -was a tradition that continued up until very recently. Fathers and sons dragged home the largest log they could find. It had to be burned whole at the back of the fire and was supposed to last for the entire 12 days of Christmas. A small piece of the Yule log was kept by to use as kindle for the lighting of the next.
So, as December begins there are a few short weeks to go until the winter solstice, and this will mark the turn of the season, and the certainty of brightness to come.
I believe that this ancient midwinter celebration combined with the joy of the Christian message of Christmas gives us hope and brings us another day closer to the end of this Crisis and to happy days ahead.
With best wishes from Ireland, Stephen

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