Lights, windows, action! Why we all need extra festive cheer this year

Mary McCarthy looks at why we all needed a bit of Christmas sparkle earlier than usual this year
Lights, windows, action! Why we all need extra festive cheer this year

Aidan Russell from St Lukes watches as Cork city lights up for Christmas. Picture: Darragh Kane

It’s been a lonely old year, with little cause for celebration, so no surprise Corkconians are embracing Christmas 2020 with extra enthusiasm.

On a cold, dark, covid afternoon, flicking on the fairy lights and festive tunes, is a reliable way to lift the spirits and break up the dreary monotony of the past nine months. 

After a coronacoaster of a year you can completely understand why people might go after the festive ambiance with a bit more zeal.

Christmas FM broadcasts every December for a different charity, and co-founder Garv Rigby says listeners in Cork this year are mad for it.

“We are always very strong in Cork, it’s our second most popular listenership, but we can see from the numbers online, and from texts and social media, a lot more people are tuning in listening on devices, they seem to have it on all day on Apple TV or on their Alexa speaker”, he said.

Rosaleen Sheehan, ALONE Service User with Garvan Rigby at the Christmas FM launch. Picture: Andres Poveda
Rosaleen Sheehan, ALONE Service User with Garvan Rigby at the Christmas FM launch. Picture: Andres Poveda

“I’ve been doing the breakfast and evening slots since we set up in 2008, and while there is always a strong reaction from Cork on the texts, this year is off the charts — with people saying it’s cheering them up having Christmas songs on in the background, especially if working from home, and there’s also been really strong support from Cork for our chosen charity Alone.”

Many areas of social life remain under restrictions but no one can put the kibosh on the tinsel and people are decking the halls earlier than usual.

Fintan Riordan, of Cork Christmas Trees Farm in Ovens, (www.corkchristmastrees.com)

“We have had overwhelming demand on Centre Park Road, and for our click and collect there, and people seem extra happy to visit us at the farm - it is something to do and puts them in good form.”

Willy O’ Donovan’s front garden in Union Hall is ablaze with his Christmas Light display again this year, in aid of Motor Neurone Disease and Cancer Research. Picture: Andrew Harris
Willy O’ Donovan’s front garden in Union Hall is ablaze with his Christmas Light display again this year, in aid of Motor Neurone Disease and Cancer Research. Picture: Andrew Harris

He pointed out with fewer Christmas parties and trips abroad people know they will be in their homes more so want to ensure it’s as christmassy as possible.

Trevor Roper, of Inniscarra Christmas Tree farm, (https://corkchristmastreefarm.ie)
confirmed many customers are shunning the fake this year, and with his phone ringing off the hook, he opened up earlier than planned.

“Many people tell me it’s their first real tree in decades and I think the message of buying local is something to do with it and a feeling it’s better for the environment than a fake one from China.

"The customers are enjoying visiting the farm and tell me, for the year that is in it they are treating themselves to a wreath, with the timber reindeers flying out the door, I’ve had to order extra.”

Corkconians can’t go to Christmas parties, but they can get out for a walk, and so Christmas shop windows and sparkly lights outside have an even bigger role to play than before.

The Christmas lights in the window of J. Casey on Oliver Plunkett Street. Picture: Andy Gibson
The Christmas lights in the window of J. Casey on Oliver Plunkett Street. Picture: Andy Gibson

The Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Mary Linehan Foley, is fully aware of the power of blinking lights to brighten up tired souls, old and young, so she made the decision to switch on the lights in villages and towns in mid-November — two weeks earlier than usual.

“I was sitting at home in lockdown wondering what could I do as Mayor to give people a boost after such a low year and it occurred to me turning the lights on, early is within any restrictions that could be implemented and would give everyone more of a sense of something to look forward to at a time when there was little enough to be excited about”.

“I would be quite traditional myself and usually wait until the 8th to put the decorations up but this year is like no other. I have grandkids, and I remember as a child I loved the Christmas lights, and that feeling stays with you as an adult, so I thought let's go for it, it can only do good and it worked. So many have contacted me to say it cheered them up,” she said.

 Some of the illuminations on 20 trees organised by the local development committee in the picturesque village of Crosshaven. Picture: David Creedon / Anzenberger
Some of the illuminations on 20 trees organised by the local development committee in the picturesque village of Crosshaven. Picture: David Creedon / Anzenberger

Adding to the available sparkle this year is the BT Christmas window which has gone for the nostalgic with an interior of a train with a carriage from the orient express and one from the polar express with escapism and fantasy the themes — very timely stuff indeed and one that has been received so well this year. (www.brownthomas.com)

With a reported 7km of lights draped around the streets, it’s a treat to get a hot chocolate and wander around an illuminated Cork city and Brown Thomas has certainly responded to the need for extra sparkle with a glowing profusion of lights surrounding its nostalgia-themed window display.

Hilda Hennessey, creative manager at BT, says the idea this year was to transport the onlooker away to better times with each window a carriage on the orient or the polar express.

“It does feel like there are more people coming to have a look this year and the feedback has been lovely. We have more child mannequins as we wanted the display to be a wonder for everyone, but especially for children.”

 The Glow Cork Ferris wheel on the Grand Parade. Picture: David Creedon / Anzenberger
The Glow Cork Ferris wheel on the Grand Parade. Picture: David Creedon / Anzenberger

“The windows are hedged with special lights we had made in Poland — there are thousands of them — it’s a tradition for people to take a trip into town and check out the display, and with the panto and other events off, it was so important to us to make an impact and we're just so happy to see people enjoying it.”

While it won’t be as social as previous seasons, it feels this Christmas we will be getting more from the little things — like walking around looking at Christmas lights.

Psychiatrist Brendan Kelly says after a year of very little socialising, this has impacted our relationships and even a Covid Christmas will bring much-needed cheer with the escape route of a vaccine adding to our buoyed mood.

Lord Mayor, Cllr. Joe Kavanagh and Lady Mayoress, Stephanie Kavanagh watch as Cork City lights up for Christmas. Picture: Darragh Kane
Lord Mayor, Cllr. Joe Kavanagh and Lady Mayoress, Stephanie Kavanagh watch as Cork City lights up for Christmas. Picture: Darragh Kane

“The magic of Christmas is that we spend much of it with our own households anyway, so even a Covid Christmas was always going to have much to offer. Relaxing the restrictions also gives everyone an opportunity to do some shopping and go out and about that little bit more.”

“Most of all, though, the promise of vaccines in the new year has given real hope the pandemic will end sooner than we might have expected. After a year of suffering and loss, there is - finally - something to celebrate - and Christmas is no better time to do that."

Ho, ho, ho to that; Christmas decorations can’t solve all problems but they make people feel a bit better and in January if Corkconians are not ready to take down the tree then they should leave her standing.

It’s not been a normal year so the normal rules don’t apply.

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