Holidays, Ireland, Travel

Santa’s Sub-Contractor Wraps Up the Holidays at O’Donoghue’s, Dublin

A pox on you ‒ yes, you up there with the fake snow machine!

Here’s how to lose the Christmas spirit yourself in 1 day, after advocating it to everybody else for 1 month.

Overly warm and windy weather has dogged me this entire 25,000 kilometer journey and caused all kinds of mechanical and morale problems this Christmas season. Strikes didn’t help, either, and elicited a common response from fellow citizens: derision, not sympathy.

(Case in point: London Tube operators who, due to holiday pay grievances, messed with the post-Christmas, annual-for-decades-if-not-centuries football matches. They already get 42 days of paid vacation per year, not counting national holidays, which is exorbitant even for Europe. They’re deservedly on everybody’s black list now, even Santa’s.)

Despite everything, on December 24 we ‒ Team North Pole ‒ were 99% on schedule, subtly delivering a few final gifts around Ireland while families were away from home attending Midnight Mass.

(Nine Lessons and Carols at St. Patrick’s, Dublin’s Anglican cathedral, is earlier, so if you traditionally open your gifts on Christmas Eve, folks, honestly that’s a time crunch for me.)

All in all, it was a stellar holiday season. If my customer satisfaction surveys come back positive, maybe I’ll be asked to reprise my role next year.

So, I rested on Christmas Day and let other people do the driving ‒ and the cooking ‒ for once.

But come December 26, I’m in a really bad mood. Some guy with a sick sense of humor sets up this dry ice machine right off Grafton Street, generating what looked at first glance like real snowflakes!

Except it was 10C and, strangely enough, wasn’t snowing on the next block over.

He was blowing this snow-like substance from this retail store ledge above the street (and was up to no good because when I tried to take his photo later, he ducked behind his truck), which made it seem so real that after-Christmas shoppers were looking up in the sky in confusion, even tasting the flakes to be sure.

Then, frowning, started looking around for the Candid Camera.

That’s aggravated holiday cruelty, getting our White après-Christmas hopes up like that!

Faiche Stiabhna, St. Stephen’s Green, runs along downtown between Grafton Street and Trinity College. St. Stephen’s Day ‒ called the Feast of Stephen in the King Wenceslas carol I wrote about from London ‒ in the Republic of Ireland, Boxing Day in the UK, and Day-After-Christmas in the USA are all the same thing.

And it used to be a day of fasting, although not for religious reasons.

On one unforgettable 1990s family trip around Great Britain over Christmas, we nearly starved to death Christmas Eve onward, not realizing that outside of London not even grocery stores would be open for most of the following week.

(Some Christmases, I give my brother-in-law a package of McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits, a joke that to this day he does not appreciate.)

But times, and economies, are different now. St. Stephen’s Shopping Center’s floor-to-ceiling banner proclaims “OF COURSE we’ll be open!” on our namesake’s day, starting at 11:00am.

Sure doesn’t seem to me like there’s any recession in Ireland…ka-ching, ka-ching…and the newspaper headlines the next day screamed, “Holiday Spending Off The Charts.”

With this much consumer optimism, the Irish economy can’t be as bad off as France’s Nicholas Sarkozy and Germany’s Angela Merkel claim…unless the Irish government itself spends every day like it’s St. Stephen’s Day.

Smiling all the way, because “we’re a happy lot,” says Oliver O’Donoghue.

When I arrive at 15, Merrion Row, I call Carol O’Donoghue, Oliver’s daughter, on my mobile. Wait on the street, I’ll come down to you, she yells over the din. (The family lives in the building.)

I’m staying overnight 2 floors above one of the happening-est (and arguably loudest) pubs in Dublin, in my favorite neighborhood: right down the street from St. Stephen’s Green and the Shelbourne Hotel, which I didn’t realize was quite so lovely and expensive until Bill G. was no longer paying for me to stay there, with a steep corporate discount.

I’ve parked the sleigh at the airport for 5,50€ a day. Not bad for an “oversize vehicle.”

O’Donoghue’s is open on St. Stephens Day, too, lunchtime onward. Then it’s standing room only ‘til at least 2:00am the next morning, everyone letting their hair down after a day of family Christmas traditions, which I suppose can be heaven or hell, depending on your family.

“Oh, we had a few people ‘round,” says Oliver, 3rd-generation pub owner and master of the understatement.

“You’ll find the Irish don’t take much to pubs and when they do, they don’t stay long,” says a regular, ordering just “a cup of tea, please, and a slice of toast,” having rather over-enjoyed Christmas.

Another name for St. Stephen’s Day: the Morning-After Blues.

So, a little over a month after leaving the North Pole to bring holiday cheer halfway across the globe, I’m at 35,000 feet heading NW, with a tail wind for once.

The reindeer know the way to carry the sleigh, as another carol goes (kind of), and as we pass over Greenland, they pick up speed.

Because it’s starting to look like home.

Thanks for keeping me company during my 2011 Christmas travels. May the New Year 2012 bring you the best of everything!


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