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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 10 December, 2018
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An American Christmas in Ireland: 'My ancestors could have said 'Amen' in this cathedral'

Three generations ago my family lived on this island and now I’m celebrating my first Christmas here, writes Justus Flair.

Justus Flair

SNOW SWADDLES MY hometown in the central United States every Christmas, the metre of fluff often hiding slick ice. Lights on trees and houses cast rainbow-coloured rays on the white snow, camouflaging when it darkens with dirt.

It’s the type of cold that explains the saying “Jack Frost nipping at your nose.” Temperatures fall as low as 25 below zero. Painful freezing turns to numbness after just minutes outside, no matter how thick your mittens and hats are. It is frigid and plain, but it’s home and where I’ve spent the past 22 Christmases.

Magic moments

Iowa and Ireland — the two places I have called home —have a similar sound, but vastly different feels during the holidays. What has made Christmas in Ireland wonderful so far is the extent to which the country celebrates.

Even those who are not religious or do not celebrate Christmas seem swept up in the magic. To have an entire region come together to enjoy something is an experience I have never had and doubt can be replicated.

The glow of the main streets in Dublin can be seen from blocks away. Every shopping centre has sparkly snowflakes trailing from the ceiling, animated Santas endlessly climbing chimneys, snowmen smiling up at browsing shoppers. Buskers on Grafton Street sprinkle Christmas carols into their usual sets.

The outdoor events have undoubtedly been a highlight. Being outside around Christmas without losing all feeling in my toes is new to me. I’m not taking the mild winter for granted. Outdoor markets, tree lightings, and the Live Animal Crib have all been checked off my list. The markets here, in particular, are uniquely Irish, festive, and inspiring.

Blarney Stone Justus kissing the Blarney Stone.

Seeing people pour over small works of art that took countless hours to make, all searching for the perfect gift, makes it impossible not to think of your own loved ones and which knick-knack they’d like to unwrap on Christmas morning.

I flipped through watercolour images of the Dublin skyline and handmade four leaf clover earrings, imagining everyone back in the States that would love them and that would love the experiences I am able to have here in Ireland.

Weight of Irish history

One of the most incomprehensible happenings around Dublin this season is, for me, the events in the churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The oldest church in Iowa was founded in 1832 and is no longer standing; when I attend mass on Christmas Eve in Dublin, I will be in a cathedral that’s nearly one thousand years old. Kings have celebrated Christmas on those grounds. Millions of people have filled those pews and sung to those rafters. For all I know, my ancestors could have said “Amen” in this cathedral.

The weight of the history that permeates the country, and particularly Dublin, is what first drew me to it. As an American, knowledge of my lineage is hazy at best, but I know that just three generations ago — and for centuries before that — my family lived on this island.

Seeing €5 coasters emblazoned with “Enright” and “O’Donnell” below the family crest reminds me that, although they’ve dispersed all over the world, they all used to be right here, walking the streets that I walk. When I sit writing on the Howth pier or hike the Wicklow Mountains, I wonder if my great-great-great-great-someone did the same.

Irish lights

Locals made me a bit nervous about Christmas in Ireland when they first started discussing it. They warned me it would be cold, dark, and dull. After years and years, it may seem typical to them, but — as much as I hate to disagree with the Irish on anything — I suggest they take a second look at these common occurrences.

The sun sets early, but that means more time to admire the Christmas lights. Rather than feeling dreary, the evenings feel perfect for an Irish coffee or hot cocoa surrounded by the glowing warmth of the decorations, the palpable energy of shoppers devoted to finding something just right.

This is my first Christmas in Ireland and though I truly hope it won’t be the last, if it is, at least it’s one for the ages.

Justus Flair arrived in Dublin in June after graduating from the University of Iowa with degrees in Journalism, English, and Theatre Arts. The move was made to expand her understanding of culture and the arts, the primary focuses of her writing. Blog justusflair.com, Twitter @justusflair and Instagram @justusflair.

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Justus Flair

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