John Arnold: A Christmas apart for many... but we are all in this together

The next 12 days will be like no other Christmas we’ve ever had, but hopefully it will still be a very special time for us all. So says John Arnold
John Arnold: A Christmas apart for many... but we are all in this together

WALK ON BY: Masked people walk past a Santa decoration on the window of the Hairy Lemon Pub in Dublin city this week.

FOR more than 40 years, September Sundays in Dublin were major sporting highlights for everyone interested in Gaelic games.

You may say it was the same 50 and 60 years ago. The big difference back then was you could turn up outside Croke Park with money in your fist and in you’d go. Then you needed tickets for the stands only, but with the last decade or so not a shilling, punt or euro was to be seen with All Ticket Finals.

As one walked along O’Connell Street from early morning onwards, you’d hear them outside the Gresham Hotel — and outside Barry’s too: “Anyone buyin’ or sellin’ a ticket?” If you had a spare ticket you’d get ‘face value’ from these ticket hawkers, but if you were trying to buy a ticket in scarcity you could pay through the roof for it — and people did!

September Sundays in Dublin this year saw no flags, hats and scarves for sale, and no tickets either! This crazy Covid pandemic upscuttled everything and so All Ireland Final Sundays in September became Sundays in December, with ‘behind closed doors’ games. No crowds, no tickets, and no hawkers making tidy profits.

A sign of the strange times we live in is that for the next two days, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the shout ‘anyone buyin’ or sellin’ a ticket’ won’t be heard on the streets of Dublin, but outside churches!

The faithful that want to attend masses at this very special time of the year need tickets to gain admission to many churches. Imagine that on these important days for Christians everywhere, we need a ticket to gain admission to the house of God?

With limits of 50 people per church per mass or service, ticketing had to be introduced, an indication of the uniquely strange times we live in.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

in hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

This most famous verse was penned in the 1820s and despite famine, world wars, economic crashes and now pandemic, it’s sentiment and promise still ring true today.

Isn’t that a lovely thought — things come and go, fashion, fads and crazes like ‘pokemon’ a decade ago, but St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Daddy Christmas, Kris Kringle and Père Noël still come to children worldwide — the more things change, the more they stay the same in many respects.

Of course, children are central to Christmas because were it not for the birth of a child over 2,000 years ago, we might be just marking Midwinter’s Day this week in the same manner our Celtic ancestors did.

Many Church historians argue and agonise over the exact date of Christ’s birth, but in a way that’s just trivia as dates are symbolic. All births bring great joy so it’s fitting that one so powerful should have been born in the humblest of circumstances.

Yes, Jesus Christ came into this world quietly and died a terrible death, but then that’s the Mystery of Christianity. As I say, children are central to this time of year, but Christmas is not the sole preserve of those so young.

“Christmas is only for children,” people sourly say

With lights and tinsel and streaming decorations.

Toys, crackers, fun and games, parcelled presents.

But weren’t we all children once upon a time?

Christmas is for everyone, big and small, young and old.

Birthdays are not forgotten when we pass twelve

So why say “We got over Christmas”

As if it were to be endured not enjoyed?

These twelve days should be a time to think

To recollect, to remember, to think of others

Not just ourselves, It’s a time for everyone.

This year will be so different. Old customs and oft repeated traditions will be redundant this Christmastide. For nigh on 30 years we always had a big gathering here at home on Christmas Eve after mass. Family members, young and old, would gather for a few hours to enjoy the company and festive fare and laugh, yes, and maybe sing also.

Regardless of what house Christmas dinner was going to be consumed in, this Eve gathering was always looked forward to.

This year will be different as the family matriarch Kitty Meade, my mother-in-law, died in April. Though close to her 98th birthday when she left us, she will still be dearly missed.

If this Covid thing was gone, we’d probably still gather as before and recall other Christmases and absent friends. This year we all will have time to ponder and reflect, and God knows maybe that in itself won’t be such a bad thing.

Like everyone, I wish the pandemic was long gone and life was back to what we used call normal. Then again, maybe we will just have to accept the new normal. Hopefully the vaccine will soon be available, but it might not be the panacea for all the world’s ills. Covid literally came out of nowhere so the possibility exists of other similar pandemics striking.

Enough of that doom and gloom! Let’s just enjoy this different Christmas.

I know I will dearly miss visiting friends and relation in their homes from now ’til January 6. All year we’ve done things virtually so for this Christmas season let’s all use our phones and other social media to stay in contact. Ring someone you’ve been meaning to call to — maybe a person living on their own or a family bereaved during the past 12 months. It’s amazing how a little chat can brighten someone’s life and we’re going to have plenty time this year.

With social events severely curtailed, family will be central so I hope that for all you readers this Christmas — though it be strange — will bring peace and calm and rest.

As always, I look forward to roaring fires, good books, and hopefully a few long walks. One of the hips is giving me a bit of botheration but then I shouldn’t be complaining. Our health is our wealth and happiness.

I must finish my job of work of indexing and putting order to the accumulated gatherabilia of over half a century. I started the task in April and spent many a night below in the ‘Poultry House’ at the time-consuming but worthwhile project. I’ll try and get it finished before the cows start calving in February.

The next 12 days will be like no other Christmas we’ve ever had, but hopefully it will still be a very special time for us all.

‘Back to basics’ is an ‘oft quoted phrase and when all is said and done, we can control many aspects of our life but not everything. Now and then comes an event or calamity like this Covid pandemic which causes us to stop in our tracks and evaluate what is and what’s not really important to each and every one of us.

As this Holy Season is upon us, I want to personally pay my tribute to what we call ‘the front-line workers’. During this dark and frightening time, they have been shining light. Away above and beyond the call of duty, they have worked tirelessly.

We know things are serious at present as the country fights what seems like a third wave of Covid, but only for the superhuman efforts of so many selfless people things could be a lot worse.Stay close to each other, help each other, talk to each other and pray for each other

May the blessings of the Holy Season come upon you all.

May your burdens be lighter, your days brighter.

May us staying apart bring us closer together

And may we always remain true friends forever.

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