There’s a week to Christmas and there’s no better way to capture some of the magic than to forget the shopping and the drinks for a while and enjoy some of the wonderful traditions that make Christmas so memorable and special.
1. Indulge in Christmas baking
Nothing else smells quite like Christmas baking. Nutmeg and cinnamon and cloves and ginger, porter for the cake, sherry for the trifle, chocolate for the rum log, icing for the cookies.
Take time out to get the kids together and make gorgeous Christmas cookies, like Michelle’s family.
Or bring them around to your Mam’s house and make Christmas Cake and Pudding. Give everyone a stir and breathe in those fabulous Christmas aromas.
Google the best recipes for homemade Cranberry Sauce or Truffles or Cucumber pickle (delicious with cold ham) and make a big batch, pop into jars, tie on a Christmas ribbon and deliver to the neighbours. Everyone feels better for some Christmas baking.
2. Visit the Moving Crib
If you’ve never been, the Moving Crib in Parnell Square in Dublin is a classic: kitsch enough to be cool and full of surprises. We spent hours there as kids trying to match the puppets’ faces to people we knew, with hilarious results.
Photo credit: Moving Crib website
As the name implies, its a series of tableaux, except the characters move (per the name), and it has a lovely nostalgic Christmas feel to it.
Plus its free! Donations gratefully received.
3. Soak up a carol service
If you’re looking for the real meaning of Christmas and you’re not finding it in the jingle of the cash register, then take an hour out to soak up the beautiful atmosphere of a carol service in a church.
It doesn’t have to be a huge cathedral or a fancy choir, but the acoustics and the crib and the candles are the best setting for the carols we’ve known since childhood.
4. Volunteer to spread the Christmas cheer
In the tradition that it is better to give than receive, give the thing we’re all most pressed for – time.
There’s no shortage of options, from the Knights of Columbanas annual Christmas Day dinner to the famous Cork Penny Dinners Christmas spread. It’ll make your own turkey and ham taste all the better.
Most parishes host a Christmas dinner for older people or those with disabilities, so check the notices and offer to help out.
You could also bring the kids to visit a retirement home to play music or put on a magic show, which also gives them the gift of spending time with older people.
Think about friends and neighbours you have that might be on their own on Christmas Day, and have them around for dinner. For anyone who is lonely, that would be the best Christmas present of all.
5. Get to a local panto
Panto is such a Christmas tradition, but the local panto is a joy to behold. Put together on a shoe string, they usually feature some amazing talent, and sharp, witty scripts that often outdo their more professional competitors.
You get to sing along to power ballads, and shout at the baddy (Oh no you don’t ), for the cost of a coffee and doughnut, plus you’re supporting local talent and enterprise. They are also genuinely inclusive with everyone from the mesmerised toddler to the dancing granny featuring and having great fun, which is exactly as it should be.
If you want a belly laugh and a sparkly fun time, get to the local panto.
6. Go to Midnight Mass
There’s something especially beautiful about Midnight Mass. Wrap up warm and shiver in the seats until the church fills up, the candles are blazing, the carols ring out and you suddenly have a lump in your throat at the telling of the most famous Christmas story of all.
It all comes together at Midnight Mass. Then afterwards there’s a giddy rush of good will and a flurry of Christmas hugs and best wishes. before its home for hot port and mince pies.
7. Keep up the gorgeous old traditions
Traditions usually become so because they are worth preserving. Instead of wasting even more time on Netflix, take the time as a family to keep these alive. Here’s three of the best but you’ll all have your own.
1. Light a candle in the window to welcome the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. A red candle is best. All the flickering lights are a message of hope.
2. Get the youngest child to put the Baby Jesus in the crib. He is born, the reason for the season is here. Celebrate Him.
3. Ask the neighbours or the family in for a sing song Christmas day. Don’t bother with telly, this is far better, will bring you all together, and create the kind of Christmas memories you’ll never forget.
Mairín de Barra lives and writes from Dublin