Christmas is over… now the leaving begins again



What most likely marked this Christmas past was that for the first time since 2019 those nearest and dearest to us, who live abroad, in far-flung countries with fanciful names — family, friends and former neighbours — made it home for the first time since that rogue microbe came to live among us. And we felt blessed to have kith and kin surround us as we tucked into the turkey and unwrapped yet another pair of fluffy slippers. But it was good, so good. Palpable. A truly memorable Christmas.

After two years, those plans, now mere memories, of the coming home for Christmas were back up and running. Our loved ones abroad having long put in place those plans to come home for the festive holiday; fares were booked, pressies bought and bags packed.

I vividly recall my first Christmas away from home, as a young journalist in war-torn Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, summer time, murky and hot. The wire woman I got to know, through whom I sent my dispatches back to the Irish Press group, kindly invited me to spend Christmas Day with her and her parents. She was kind. Her family nice. But it just wasn’t the same as an Irish Christmas, the murky and hot summer notwithstanding.

By 9pm I was back in my poky, dismal flat. Alone and a little drunk on Castle beer. I got into bed, grabbing yet another beer, and listened to the radio playing requests for the soldiers fighting in the bush. Then the radio host played Danny Boy. I was drunk. Emotional. To the strains of Danny Boy the tears welled up, and I thought Christmas would never be the same again.

I was wrong of course. Just being silly and nostalgic, something Christmas throws up to us all each year. Suffice to say, normal service was resumed when I finally returned to Ireland.

For so many, this Christmas, after two of Covid, tugged at the heartstrings. The Empty Chair aside, happy families reunited around a cozy Christmas Day, everyone happy and blessed to be together — a family laughing and smiling while stringing Christmas lights together or carving the Big Bird. That’s how entrenched being home for Christmas is in our psyche.

Now, between the days of turkey soup and a week into the new year, so many have said goodbye to loved ones heading back to those far-flung places with strange-sounding names. Yes, those who have flown the nest get to see the world – is that not, after all, what we reared and educated them for? To try new things, meet new people, fall in love, visit amazing places, learn about other cultures? The long goodbye is never easy, though. Never. I know that.

Driving home for Christmas is simply wonderful and part and parcel of what Christmas is. But just about now, the goodbyes are difficult. You know they are coming. For those loved ones leaving us, again, all of these sad goodbyes have been bolstered by the week or 10-day reunion with family and friends we have pictured in our heads for so long. And most certainly since the prohibitions of the pandemic.

Our loved ones return home, have their reunions, spend the first weeks meeting with family and friends, catch up, tell stories, and reminisce. Have the craic. And then it all just… just seemingly goes away.

I would venture that your (grown-up) child, your sibling, may well, between Christmas and now, have found themselves sitting in their childhood bedroom and reflecting on the ghost of Christmases past.

Perhaps I am being sentimental because that cocoon of festive-induced stupor between Christmas and the New Year throws up many moments for reflection — which is not necessarily always good for the soul. Though each year brings its own surprises — and who knows what this new year will bring — in some ways, the more things change, the more things stay the same, particularly at this stage in my own life, each year having a familiar feel to it, like growing into an old, well-worn favourite overcoat.

When you’re young, it’s hard to envisage getting old. Now, another year — and another Christmas — is gone

If we still had the kids around, if we didn’t have to keep letting go, over and over again, I imagine we wouldn’t feel so redundant.

That said, having regrouped, recharged and given thanks for each other this Christmas, the days will soon get longer and brighter. There is hope.

We will endure…at home and abroad

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