AROUND THIS TIME every year, I’m asked the same question by colleagues and friends: “Are you going home for Christmas?” For the first several years I lived in Ireland, the answer was always yes. I typically boarded an Aer Lingus flight to Boston on the Saturday before Christmas for a couple of weeks of enjoying the festivities and spending time with family and friends.
That streak of spending Christmas in Boston ran unbroken for seven years until 2008 when two life-changing events – one tragic, the other fantastic – coincided. My mother passed away. And I met my wife. That made it much less important to me to return to Boston in late December every year. It became far more important to remain here in Ireland with my wife, my stepson and my in-laws. The truth is that you can’t beat a family Christmas in Ireland.
But looking back on more than thirty years of Boston Christmases, a few things do stand out for me. Some of these are personal. Others are more generally applicable to Christmas time – or to use the grating terminology of the politically correct, “the holidays” – in the US, as compared to in Ireland.
On the personal side of things, reflecting about Christmas in Boston invariably makes me think of my mother, who brought her love of all things Christmas with her to Boston when she emigrated from Glasgow in the 1950s and never lost it. This was no easy feat, given that my father was, and remains, a rather Scrooge-like figure, to put it euphemistically! My wife and stepson are of the very same ilk as my mother was and their glee at this time of year provides a pleasant reminder of her.
Also on the personal side of things, because I don’t come from a large family and have a fairly small extended family that seldom gets together, Christmas was as much a time for friends as it was for family. This became even more the case after I relocated to Ireland. My wife remains baffled at parties at friends’ houses that run until 6am on Christmas morning and then get-togethers with the guys from my neighbourhood on Christmas night at the Black Rose pub on State Street in Boston’s Faneuil Hall. I recall them fondly, however.
At a more general level, the biggest difference between Christmas in the US and Christmas here in Ireland is the time off work. Even now, despite having been told innumerable times, I don’t think some Irish people can get their heads around the fact that Americans tend to get, at most, two or three days off.
This is a by-product of three realities:
1) America is a wholly secular society with a number of different religious and spiritual traditions, not all of which celebrate Christmas.
2) Americans get far fewer holidays per year – a lot of jobs provide 10 days as a starting point.
3) Thanksgiving, for which most Americans get two days off, is just a month earlier. Unsurprisingly, I like that we get more time off here, but I wonder whether the long Christmas break enjoyed by so many will last forever, given that Irish society is becoming more secular. Stated another way, will those advocating for a more secular society like the US want “to take the bad with the good” that comes from a clean break of Church and State?
On a lighter note at the general level, there is the matter of snow. Another question Irish people often ask me is whether there’ll be snow in Boston for Christmas. In the past, they always exclaimed how lovely that must be and looked at me in disbelief when I told them that I hoped there wouldn’t be any. The Christmas of 2010, however, has changed the opinions of many Irish people about the white stuff. I’ll never forget how quickly the widespread delight of people here when looking out at the snow that covered much of this country that year dissipated when they tried to walk or drive in it. And I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t wear an ear to ear “I told you so” grin whenever they complained to me about it.
It is with these thoughts of Christmases past in my mind that I anticipate Christmas 2012. I am more eagerly anticipating this December 25 than any other though. My wife and I received an early Christmas present on the November 2 when our son, Baby Larry, was born. There are no words that can describe just how special a present he is.
So, celebrating the first Christmas of my Irish-born son’s life with my Irish family must mean that Ireland is finally now “home” for me? Maybe, but wait a second. As I recently said to my wife and stepson, we are taking baby Larry to spend Christmas “home” in Boston next year. I’m sure that some people might think it confusing or frustrating to not be able to decide where “home” is, especially at Christmas. Not me. I think I’m lucky.