Children’s wonder at Santa’s gifts, plunging into icy cold water, meeting those old friends for a pint… it’s all escapism
It is the empty seat at the dinner table.
It is the old crooners — Bing, Sinatra, Nat — and that elusive chamber of the heart they locate with their eternal postcards from yesteryear, times of white Christmases, silver bells, silent nights and chestnuts roasting on open fires.
It is the shock of human bodies plunging into frigid sea water, a beautifully bonkers festive tradition, one stretching from Dublin’s Forty Foot to Salthill’s Atlantic swells.
It is laying a wreath at a graveyard headstone, weeping tears of love, remembering how it used to be.
It is the ethereal glow from the Norwegian spruce Christmas tree, a light that somehow illuminates both the home and the soul of all those within.
It is the dining room civil war, Brussels sprouts and their Saipan-like capacity to divide the nation into bitterly opposing camps.
It is turkey and ham and all the memories they evoke, a taste of cranberry sauce, stuffing and lost youth.
It is those gloriously uplifting airport reunions, families made whole again as wandering sheep return to the flock.
It is exchanging gifts, a gesture of giving so powerful it can make the cheapest trinket worth a thousand times its weight in gold.
It is the movies that are immune to the hurtling years: It’s a Wonderful Life; Miracle On 34th Street; Willy Wonka.
It is those who are lonely, forgotten, with no presents to open, compelled to endure another solitary day.
It is the power of community, the spirit of volunteerism that facilitates the feeding and watering of 550 guests at the RDS who, for a few blessed though too short hours, are no longer invisible.
It is the days leading up to the 25th, the soundtrack of carol singers accompanying shoppers on their way.
It is that striking moment of transcendence as you float down a Christmas Eve shopping street, one lit by a twinkling dance of festive bulbs.
It is goodwill as a tangible, living thing.
It is the youngsters and the undiluted rapture of their anticipation.
It is tradition: Meeting family or friends in a crowded, seasonally dressed favourite pub, raising a glass for those who no longer can.
It is becoming more and more like your parents with every passing year.
It is bidding the driver a Happy Christmas as the bus home from town pulls in at your stop.
It is Chris Rea on the car stereo as you drive home for Christmas.
It is understanding your good fortune.
It is falling onto bended knee, heart nervously palpitating, awaiting the reaction to the shimmering ring offered to the person who makes you feel weightless and complete.
It is Zoom calls to sons and daughters who will spend the day on a sun-kissed Australian beach.
It is tins of Roses and Celebrations and USA biscuits.
It is Irish coffees and hot ports and Baileys over ice.
It is eyeing the weighing scales in the corner with increasing terror.
It is dreading the January credit card bill.
It is Xmas FM.
It is the rustle of wrapping paper.
It is Leopardstown or Limerick or Down Royal on Stephen’s Day.
It is that last pint on Christmas Eve, wrapping lifelong pals in a bear hug and telling them how much you love them.
It is the ache at your core when you hear the tune a fallen parent used to sing every Christmas morn.
It is rowing and making up.
It is Noddy Holder, Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl.
It is Del Boy and Rodders, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise, and yes, Mrs Brown and her boys.
It is the butterflies before meeting your new partner’s parents for the first time.
It is the scramble to find a shop that is open when you realise Santa’s elf packed the wrong size batteries.
It is the uncle who hit the eggnog a tad early and is now snoring in the corner, a bowl of upended sherry trifle staining his Rudolph jumper.
It is knowing you can’t afford it, but splashing out anyway.
It is wondering how the Christmas cracker companies get away with charging that much for that little.
It is the hunger to hear just one more time those old family tales you once regarded as maddeningly repetitive, their value only becoming apparent after the storyteller has fallen silent.
It is — even for legions of the non-religious — Midnight Mass.
It is escapism.
It is a wonderland of hope, tenderness and love.
Christmas is a million things to a million people. Here’s hoping yours is as merry and peaceful as it can possibly be.