Here we are on the other side of December and I wanted to (finally) write an update post about life here. The last few months have been spent largely at home as we got through our second Level 5 hard lockdown and now we’re back in lockdown for our third, and hopefully final, hard lockdown that will last until at least 31 January. The festive season, even with restrictions and masks, was joyful and magical so it’s nice to write a post reflecting on our first Christmas in Ireland as well as nearing the end of a full year here.
Firstly though, Christmas!
We spent December enjoying the ramp up in delicious treats and twinkly lights everywhere. Seriously, everywhere! One of our strategies for getting through the shortest days of the year was candles, candles, and more candles based on this article with the overall goal to stay positive and embrace this cosy season. Our late October/November lockdown was scaled back on December 1 just in time for the city to be properly decked out and a growing atmosphere of excitement for the season with people wandering around the streets with a Christmassy drink in hand. As new locals, everything has very obviously been a complete discovery for us so we tried to enjoy things as much yet as safely as possible. Getting bundled up to walk around our neighbourhood, spot lights and soak up pockets of winter sun made the lead up to Christmas especially wonderful. The sense of anticipation was palpable and now that we have a sense of what a ‘normal’ Christmas is like over here, we’re very much counting down to when we can visit markets in mainland Europe for the full advent season and all of the glühwein…hopefully this will be possible in 2021. An equally noteworthy aspect of ‘the season’ was European Christmas treats from local Cork specialties through to the Aldi, Lidl and M&S accoutrement. We are loving this and in the present tense are still working our way through chocolate truffles like actual truffle pigs…
One thing we’d done here and there over the years is a ’12 Dates of Christmas’ with small dates planned out for spending extra quality time together during such a busy time of year. This year, these dates were more of a distraction to find a way to have things to look forward to as we’re still erring on the side of not socialising with people, unless it’s distanced and outside, so this was a nice way to make things feel special particularly when we naturally had some wobbly times due to uncertainty etc. We matched our dates up around merry things like watching a beloved favourite podcast’s Christmas Special at home through to writing snail mail cards for loved ones. We do still have some things on the list – like learning to play chess together – so we’ll be ticking dates off into the new year, too.
We also got a projector as an early joint Christmas present and it has made life pretty magical to say the very least. We are working our way through the ‘roaring fire’ YouTube channel and relishing a pseudo-big screen that is probably the most grown-up appliance we’ve ever owned. A solid investment and worthwhile present that’s made nights (and, frankly, the now entire months) at home much more pleasant.
For Christmas Day, the O’Sullivan family blessed us with an epic hamper of everything we needed to make our own traditional feast. This surprise was so incredible and stunned us completely. Rob, Kathleen and Paul thought of absolutely everything down to relishes and brandy cream which has kept us going from 18 December through Betwixtmas and the new year.
Simon stepped up as head chef for the meals with a glazed ham that didn’t last 24 hours and a spiced beef that similarly barely made it past the 30 hour mark in our house… Spiced beef is traditional Cork Christmas fare and we devoured ours in hoagies on St Stephen’s Day with plenty of mustard and enmental cheese. From the above, we are still working through the Biscoff spread and we have a second Christmas pudding that we’ll tuck into any night now. We spent Christmas Eve facetiming with family then on the day itself, we opened presents with a Baileys coffee before going on a long walk in a stunning blue sky winter day. We came home for more ham, more Baileys and our Christmas movie of Die Hard 2 chosen for its Christmas Eve timing and setting in an airport…needless to say, we really miss those…
Overall, Christmas was a quiet and peaceful day that filled our hearts and bellies, and then some! We actually really don’t miss the summer heat at all although we do yearn for the beach and our traditional getaway to Wooli for a week over new year. All in all, while things feel very different, as ever the main thing we miss is loved ones as our sense of ‘home’ rather rather than actual places. It might not have been what we dreamed of 12 months ago however we’re where we want to be, family and friends are all safe and healthy, and life truly is good.
Some reflections on our first year here and 2020…
After nearly a year here, it’s strange to think that this time in 2019 we were finished packing up and selling things and in the transit phase of getting over here. We often discuss the parallel universes of what might have happened if we’d delayed the move by even a few weeks or if we’d known what the majority of this year would hold. It’s obviously impossible to know for certain but I know that I speak for both of us in writing here that we wouldn’t have been able to stay the course without support in all its myriad forms. We always knew that this year would be a state of flux without a community around us like we had back home and this has become even more profoundly true as all community went remote even with the people we know here. Then, when it became apparent that meeting people, building a community and ‘setting up a life’ would be on hold somewhat indefinitely, it reinforced just how important it is – no matter the circumstance – to prioritise staying connected with loved ones is. We see how vital it is for all of us and know we wouldn’t have made it this far without connection with loved ones.
It’s meant so much to us to have you check in on us, play remote quizzes and Catan and Hearts with us, drop us voice messages and video messages, and send us postcards and care packages. You’ve shown us again and again what truly loving the people around you looks like and we have new reference points for what caring for one can be. Learning this lesson and feeling that connection of humour, concern, interest and friendship is something that we treasure above everything. Even though 2020 is going to look so weird on all of our ‘résumés’, figurative and literal, this is the important stuff that I will carry on in all the years ahead and for every single thing, we are immensely grateful.
Thank you so much and all our love, Aoife & Simon xx