December 8th was a special day in Ireland when I was growing up, marking the beginning of the Christmas season. This school holiday was welcomed, even if it was a holy day of obligation. We trudged into Mass through sheets of driving rain, still happy because we knew this day heralded the upcoming festivities of Christmas. In my mind, I have recorded this date as eternally rainy, or maybe I have indelibly seared rain into all of my childhood memories – definitely a possibility for an Irish childhood.
Dublin has always been an Irish shopper’s paradise. On December 8th our country neighbors arrived en masse to sample Dublin’s retail delights. Buses, trains and cars packed with happy, chatty shoppers, wound their way to Dublin Town in search of gifts and stocking stuffers. This date was and still is the biggest shopping day on the Irish calendar.
Black Friday marks the biggest shopping bonanza in the US. The occasion always reminds me of December 8th. I confess, I have never shopped on the day after Thanksgiving. Every year I toy with the idea, but never seem to find the courage to join throngs of bargain hunters. My true American evolution is probably dependent upon at least one Black Friday experience. Maybe next year, I’ll take this necessary step towards Americanization.
My fear of shopping in crowds probably dates back to my girlhood years. We never went shopping on December 8th, because everyone was “up from the country.” It’s not that we didn’t like country people. We weren’t real Dubs ourselves, my parents being transplants from County Cork. On the contrary, my mother believed the city belonged to our fellow, rural shoppers on this special day. Out of deference to their shopping needs, she convinced us we owed them some space.
“The crowds up from the country only have a few hours to get their shopping done,” she explained. “If Dublin people pack the shops, they’ll never have time to find what they need. We have the city on our doorstep every other day of the year.”
“But we want to see Santa,” we squealed in reply.
“We’ll see him in a few days,” came her sage response. “Today is one of the few days farmers’ children have off school, giving them a chance to see Santa. No point adding to their long queues to see him.”
And so, we waited until later that week to see Santa in Arnotts, or Clerys. Our Santa visits were always to a store on the North side of the city. A South side Santa visit involved far more crowds. The lines at Switzers on Grafton Street always wound through the store aisles and tumbled out onto the street.
But we didn’t stay out of the city all day and night on December 8th. When night-time fell, and the crowds dispersed to the pubs, or their cars for their long journeys home, our grandaunt packed us into her little Mini Cooper.
We reclaimed our city as we drove through O’Connell Street. We “oohed” and “aahed” in chorus, admiring the lights and sights, as peace once again returned to the city we loved.
Today I wish all of my fellow Irish men and women safe travels, successful shopping, bargains by the score and a sense of fulfillment, despite all the doom and gloom of the current recession. Always remember, you don’t need money to create memories.
Slan agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom