Everyone is a traditionalist at Christmas writes Rory Fitzgerald
Each parent is entrusted with their child’s Christmases. It is no small responsibility, indeed it is a sacred task. For in creating Christmas magic for children, parents try to ensure their children feel the same sense of wonder, warmth and love they did as a child.
This, perhaps, is why everyone is a traditionalist at Christmas. We do things precisely as we have always done them, for fear that, by changing them, we might somehow alter the potion, dilute the Christmas magic and that the Christmas spirit might tragically fail to materialise.
I can still remember standing alone in the hallway as a small child, gazing up at the sparking Christmas tree, breathing the pine scent, and thinking it the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Yet it was not the mere sight of it, but the feeling it engendered that I recall most vividly: a sense of warmth, joy and magic swelling in my heart to overflowing. Even now, I can recall that sense of peace.
It is that feeling to which all the paraphernalia of Christmas aspires. The megawatts burned in lights and decorations all over the world are, ultimately, intended to light a feeling in our hearts. Billions of tons of plastic, acres of wrapping papers and millions of cut trees are all just icons to lead us, mind, body and soul, into the most precious and elusive aspect of the season – which cannot be manufactured, for it is a state of mind and heart: the Christmas spirit.
Through the Christmas spirit, we are given permission to be happier and more warm-hearted than usual. Suddenly, it is acceptable to smile and wish happiness to complete strangers on the street, or to the lady at the cash register. We try to think of those in need, and to give a little more. We think of family and friends and give them some sign of our love – be that a belated phone call, a smile, or a gift.
Patrick Street in 1980s Cork was ordinarily a grey and busy street where, for some reason, it always rained. Yet, each year it was transformed by means of giant tinsel and coloured bulbs into an open-air cathedral of Christmas. The ordinary is turned extraordinary at Christmas in many ways. Yet decorating our towns and cities with light is perhaps the most striking form of alchemy to the child’s eye. And so one night we brought the children out after dark, as a special treat, to see the lights of Dublin. As we walked through the streets, they were aghast, pointing in awe at row upon row of lights sparking through the night. They ran in every direction, beaming and looking upwards in wonder.
Christmas would not be Christmas without children. No wonder it has long been the time of year that they are most cherished, given that the season’s very purpose is to recall a child, lowly-born, poor and lost, who lit the world with messages of love, forgiveness and joy, which we try to emulate in our flawed ways.
And if all the merry-marking, shopping sprees, gifts and the rounds of parties seem like a battle, there is quiet in remembering that we do these things, in the end, for the same reason that men like Dublin poet Tom Kettle went to war: “for a dream, born in a herdsman's shed, And for the secret Scripture of the poor.” And every year we sense that, in ways large and small, the first animating spark of the Christmas spirit is with us still.