Christmas, calendars, and chocolate… Old traditions and new friends
One of the benefits of studying in a country not your own is that you always have the perfect excuse to go out and experience different events, holidays and seasons in a completely new context. As an Irish-born Canadian, I have long been raised with Irish traditions in my own household. However, I have never really been able to experience them here in Ireland, so I have often found myself bridging two worlds – acting as both a tourist for myself and tour guide for my friends. I have heard of a lot of the different aspects of Irish culture and society, so I can explain them to my fellow international students, but I have never fully experienced them until I arrived here last year. Imagine my surprise when it was something as innocuous as a calendar which spurred my most recent fish-out-of-water moment!
Walking the brightly-lit shopping haven known as Grafton Street, you cannot help but get excited, especially during the lead up to Christmas, when there is a general buzz that’s not present (pun intended) at other times of the year. I was wandering down Grafton with my friends when one of them pointed out a series of boxes in a window in one of the bookshops. I mentioned off-hand “Oh, yah, I have to buy one of those Advent Calendars soon” and just kept on walking, because they have been part of my life since I was a child. But when my friend asked “What are those?”, I was caught off-guard. I could only reply, “You don’t know what an Advent Calendar is?!” and stared at her with shock and awe – this was going to be good.
For the uninitiated, an Advent Calendar is self-explanatory when you know what Advent is – it is the roughly-four week period leading up to Christmas in most Christian religions, starting usually around 1 December. An Advent Calendar is a box with 25 tiny little windows, one for each day in December leading up to Christmas (25 December) – you open one for each day and usually get a piece of chocolate, or sometimes a small gift or poem. It is a daily surprise that helps you grow in Christmas spirit – just be careful you do not grow in the waist too! It’s never fun to gain all that holiday weight before the holidays have even begun!
Well, once I had explained this to my friend, all she could think of was “Where are they and how many can I buy?!” Now, when I was growing up, we had Advent Calendars in our house, but they were usually Christmas-themed and fairly basic. Nowadays, there is a lot more effort put into designing the boxes, adding new gifts and creating new themes for the calendars. I was going to go for my traditional chocolate-themed gift, but I am trying to keep the pounds off so kids stop mistaking me for Santa, so I chose a Lego Star Wars theme (I may be old, but I who can resist Darth Vader with a Santa hat?!). Jess, my friend, decided that she needed to make up for lost time – she wasn’t going to be happy with one Advent Calendar. I could not believe all the different types she bought – a traditional Christmas-themed one, a Round-The-World themed one with chocolates shaped as different countries, and of course, a One Direction themed calendar. How I have ever gone a day without seeing Harry, Zane and the gang and getting a chocolate in the shape of one of their faces, I will never know! Needless to say, it was a successful shopping trip.
It is odd to say, but a chance encounter with a calendar spurred a conversation that probably never would have happened. A casual stroll down Grafton Street started a ball rolling which allowed me to share my own experiences growing up and helped us become closer friends. It is funny to think, but this conversation could have never happened for me anywhere else than Ireland, where this aspect of Irish society and culture is so commonplace that it is rarely thought of as unique. These are the best moments to grow here in Ireland – sharing your own experiences, involving others and learning something new that isn’t in your textbooks. It’s the best kind of education that money cannot buy, so treasure it while you can!