When visiting the center of Dublin at this time of the year we all know we can expect crowds, and we have been told that after two years of Covid restrictions there will be a great swell of people converging on the city. This was in my mind when I went in last Saturday, not to shop but to attend a gathering outside the crib on O’Connell Street.
Organized by the Legion of Mary and others the purpose was to say the Rosary by candlelight and sing carols in between. This was to be a reminder in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of what Christmas is really about. There were about 150 people in attendance for the prayers. Shoppers rushed by some casting curious glances in passing, others were oblivious, interested only in their own affairs.
Christmas is a huge event, celebrated worldwide but the real focus of it all is something very tiny indeed, a newborn baby in the crib at Bethlehem. However, it is certain that He has been swamped by the tinsel and the ornaments, the drink, the turkey, the tree, the gifts, and party hats not to mention the TV shows where Christmas Specials ‘celebrate’ who has been unfaithful to whom and the fallout from that.
On the radio, there were tips for last-minute shoppers. They were advised to prepare a list of people they wanted to give gifts to, beginning in order of the most expensive. This would ensure that the really important ones would be safely purchased before the big day. I couldn’t help noticing how people were almost defined in terms of what they are deemed to be worth. The more money you fork out on someone, the more ‘worthy’ they are.
The pressure of giving presents is an unnecessary burden in so many ways. Many cannot afford it and leave themselves in debt; many others do not want what they have been given and end up passing stuff along to other people or donating it to charity.
There is so much to choose from now in the world of merchandise and food products that it often feels like we are drowning in ‘stuff’, which has us in its relentless grip. It is the opposite of freedom when we find that our possessions are in possession of us. I read recently that someone said it sometimes seems as if the Late Late Toy Show has taken the place of the real baby in the Manger. The message is made of plastic; it is no longer the real flesh and blood that touches the heart.
This is the week also when a lot of companies and firms book their Christmas parties. Pubs and restaurants that would otherwise be quite accessible are suddenly inundated with groups who want to celebrate the holiday season. There is a downside to this as a friend of mine pointed out to me recently. He goes to a restaurant in the city center restaurant once a week and has been doing so since his wife died 10 years ago. He is known there and greeted in a very cordial manner on every occasion. The staff knows his name but never engage him in any conversation which suits him perfectly, as he just wants to read his newspaper as well as being quite a shy individual.
Last week he arrived at the restaurant on a Thursday evening, which people say is the new Friday, and opened the door as usual. He had not put one foot over the threshold when the waiter, shouted out, “We are booked out”. Somewhat taken aback my friend, who is not in the first flush of youth, stumbled back out onto the street.
What struck me about this was not only the abruptness of the waiter but also the sense of people being dispensable. There were a lot of Christmas parties that evening so a loyal customer could be discarded. This is what happens when money becomes a priority, as happens in times when there is an expectation that people will spend more than they would during the year. He has said he will not return. To be realistic this will be more his loss than theirs, but it shows all the difference that would have been made if the waiter had left where he was, come to the door, and apologised for the situation, rather than just barking rejection from behind the counter. No room at the Inn goes on and on!
Well, let’s end on a positive note. In my cynicism and after the rosary I wandered down Talbot Street to Guiney’s, planning a look in the window and presuming that like so many other stores, theirs would be just another secular window display, completely disconnected from what this beautiful season is really about. I was surprised and humbled to see a lovely scene with Joseph, Mary, and the baby.
Truly the truth of the Christmas message will never be silenced.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan