Sunday, December 15, 2013

24 Days to Christmas: Day 14

Day 14: Favorite Christmas Memory

I have three favorite memories from spending the Christmas season in Ireland and Scotland the year I graduated from college.

Memory 1: 
Traditional wren boys.
As I mentioned a few days ago, one of my favorite Christmas books when I was young was called The Book of Christmas. It described winter holiday traditions from around the world, including the "hunting of the wren" in Europe. Traditionally, a wren would be hunted and killed and then "wren boys" would put the wren on a pole and parade it through town, asking for money or treats - a little like trick-or-treating but with a dead bird. It's thought to be a tradition descended from druidic rituals, with the wren symbolizing the old year.

Anyway, years later, I was in a pub in county Sligo with my friends a couple of days after Christmas. We were at a "session" which is a traditional Irish jam session. My friend Kelly had just spilled a whole half-Guinness with black currant on the table. A couple of folks came in with what looked like soot on their faces, banging pots and pans and asking for money. They kept saying they were "wrenning." The landlord didn't take too kindly to them panhandling in his pub, but I realized that they were using the old tradition to try to rack up some coin. Despite the fact that it didn't work out for them, I was excited that I was seeing the old tradition play out (albeit in a somewhat mutated form).

Memory 2: 
A day or two later, we were driving through the Gap of Dunloe, and we came across a little cafe called The Strawberry Field. From their website, it looks as though they do a brisk business when the weather's fine, but this was a rainy winter day and we were the only ones there. The family that owned the place (I think they were Danish) were burning the remnants of their Christmas tree in the woodstove, so the place smelled of pine. We ate scones and cream, with coffee and strawberry tea, talking to the owners while the father braided his daughter's hair. It was just a little step out of time when everything was still and pleasant, and strangers were friends for a few moments.

Memory 3: Partway through the trip, a couple of friends flew to Italy while those of us who were a bit more cash-poor took the night coach to Scotland; my friend was an exchange student there and we stayed in her apartment at the University of Edinburgh. One day we took the train over to Glasgow. It was a chilly day (this whole trip was very cold) and we walked and walked, heading up into the city's Necropolis - a vast cemetery that borders Glasgow Cathedral. We stepped into the cathedral to get out of the cold, to find that they still had a sparkling Christmas tree, and that the organist was practicing carols. Another moment where time stopped, and we enjoyed the last moments of the holiday season.

It didn't look exactly like this, but close.
Photo of Glasgow Cathedral, Carola Ceballos (Creative Commons License)

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