'This year will be very different': How five people will spend their first Christmas in Ireland

This year has been like no other and we’ve all had to adapt to a changed world. Donal O’Keeffe speaks with some people who are celebrating their first Christmas in Ireland.
'This year will be very different': How five people will spend their first Christmas in Ireland

Amanullah De Sondy

Amanullah De Sondy 

Christmas is very different for Muslims, but it’s a joyous time.

Until now, I’ve always spent Christmas in my native Glasgow. For the last 20 years or so, I’ve sat at the Christmas table of my friend and mentor, a Methodist minister.

It all started when I was a trainee religious education teacher and I asked him how Christians spend Christmas, so he invited me to lunch. My first Christmas, I even went to his church and asked if I’d sit next to him and he said that might be difficult because he was conducting the service!

It was a huge learning curve for me and probably much of the inspiration for why I believe interfaith or mixing with the other is so important for us to bloody well get on and enjoy being different. He’s now retired.

This will be the first year I’m not in Glasgow and I’ll be in Cork with some dear friends, Namita and Gaurav. They’re Indian, Hindus with close Sikh connections.

I learn about Hindu and Sikh festivals from my friends. They send me Muslim greetings at my festivals. At Christmas, we will all learn traditions together. Or Cork traditions! Cork traditions are a little different from Glasgow traditions.

My friends and I respect the Christian rhythm of Ireland. We hold our beliefs, but we are able to celebrate and rejoice at Christmas. That’s special.

Amanullah De Sondy is Head of Religions, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam, and Chair of Race Equality at University College Cork.

Carla Olea 

The Rod Olea family from Mexico. Yerik (dad), Alana and Darian, Carla (mom).

The Rod Olea family from Mexico. Yerik (dad), Alana and Darian, Carla (mom).

We’re a family of four from Mexico, living in Carrigaline. We’ve lived in Ireland for four years, but we’ve always travelled home. This year we can’t fly because of Covid-19.

Christmas is very important in Mexico and it’s a mostly Catholic country so, in some ways, Christmas in Mexico is very similar to Christmas in Ireland, but in some ways it’s very different. We have our own twists. Some families are more traditional and religious —  instead of Santa coming to the house, the Baby Jesus brings the gifts.

On the night of January 5, depending on where in Mexico you are, the Three Kings can also bring presents to kids. They are the kings who visited the Baby Jesus — Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior. The American influence in Mexico is huge and Santa is everywhere.

One big difference for us is that the big family meal is at night on December 24. People bring presents to the meal, before Santa comes that night with his presents — or the Baby Jesus, depending on the family.

This year we will have a family Christmas in Ireland for the first time and we will speak with family in Mexico across the internet. It won’t be the same, but it will still be Christmas.

Jane Willow 

Jane Willow

Jane Willow

Normally I go home for two weeks at Christmas, but this year I can’t get home thanks to the pandemic. Home is Breda, in the south of the Netherlands, very close to Belgium.

I tend to arrive on Christmas Eve and my family goes to church together. We’re not religious, but my mom sings in the choir. Then we have Christmas with the whole family on Christmas Day and the day after, which we call Tweede Kerstdag or Second Christmas Day. My sister and her husband and their two kids come to visit and we go for long walks or sometimes ride horses and we might visit my grandma.

On First Christmas Day, we have something we call gourmetten, a tradition like an indoor barbecue, where you grill different types of meats. It’s an evening meal and everyone has their own pan and you can make whatever food you want. Then we play card games into the night.

New Year is a big thing in Holland and I’m going to really miss the fireworks this year. I’ll be seeing my family on the internet, but it won’t be the same. I’ll spend Christmas with a Dutch friend and her family.

Jane Willow is a Dutch singer-songwriter based in Dublin. www.janewillow.com

Benjamin Gearey

David and Benjamin Gearey

David and Benjamin Gearey

I’ve been living in Ireland for seven years and, although I am settled here and (as of last year) have an Irish wife, I have travelled home to spend Christmas with my father in Manchester for the last 20 years.

This year will be very different, thanks to Covid-19, and I’ll be staying in Ireland. I imagine it’s going to be rather strange and difficult, but I’m trying to focus on the positives. In many ways, it’s a year to count blessings: my dad won’t be on his own, as other folk will be. I should get the chance to see him in the New Year, while many other families have been separated for months on end and might not be able to meet up for some time longer.

I suppose if nothing else — and at the risk of sounding like a bad novel — the nightmare of 2020 has at least reminded us of the importance of keeping our loved ones as close as we can.

Benjamin Gearey is the editor of the Journal of Wetland Archaeology and a lecturer at University College Cork.

'Jessica' (not her real name)

This will be our first Christmas in Ireland. I arrived earlier this year with my daughter and son and we sought asylum here. We are living now in two rooms in a direct provision centre in Munster. We have moved four times since we came to Ireland.

We fled our home in South Africa because my children are considered “foreigners” in the land of their birth as they are mixed race and they have suffered a lot of racist prejudice and violence. My daughter has also suffered this abuse, but she has been subjected to gender-based attacks too.

Christmas is usually very big in my family. We’re Christian and, on December 1, we would put up our tree. This year I am so depressed not to have a tree. My daughter says: “Why are you sad? It is only a tree.” I find life in direct provision hard and it is hard on the kids too. You must eat at set times and the food is very monotonous. Time is very slow. I get €38 a week and the kids get €29. You cannot go far with that money.

Christmas Day was always our big day, with our extended family getting together for a big family dinner. We would have turkey and duck and Biryani dishes and lovely desserts and trifles.

The other residents in this centre say that last year there was a party, but this year we don’t think there will be one because of Covid-19.

Our prayer is that we get our papers and get out of here. I want to get a job and a proper place to live so we can feel like a family again in our new home in Ireland.

Please God, our Christmas dreams will come true.

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