St Stephen's Day isn't just about the sales, it's about those all-important traditions too which help to make it one of the best days of the festive season
Christmas Day is most certainly the pinnacle of the festive period, but for me, it's St Stephen's Day that takes the crown. The stress of the big day has disappeared, the worry about whether your brother will like the Lynx Africa set you have bought him (again) has disintegrated and that heinous feeling that you might explode after eating half a turkey and a box of Celebrations isn't quite as strong.
Most importantly, however, it's a day for traditions. Mine is heading to Jet Caroll's pub in Listowel with the entirety of my extended family to watch the horse racing. We park ourselves on a corner seat, drink copious amounts of hot ports, place bets on horses that sound like they have half a chance and inhale endless packets of bacon fries to help us through the marathon. It is by no means glamorous. The port is as fancy as we get, but it's ours. And it's the only day you can get away with heading into a pub at midday and not get odd looks.
The day is about reunions too. After pretending I'm Ted Walsh for the day, it's time to meet the 'girls from home'. Life is a non-stop rat race and a continuous rerun of saying "let's catch up next week", but we never do. Complications don't have time for reconciliations. However, for one night only, we are together unconditionally. Friends forever, sisters in arms and bonds unbroken.
The St Stephen's night out is particularly great if you are a nosy neighbour. You socialise with people you may not have seen for months or even years. There is the usual lazy small talk but underneath it, everyone just wants to know what you have been doing with your life; where you're working, is there a special 'someone' in your life, followed by "Bejaysus can you stick the cold and/or heat wherever you are? Because bejaysus boy I couldn't do it."
There are sob stories retold with new afflictions. Childhood sweethearts rekindle romances for one night only over a packet of salty chipper chips. Broken friendships are reconnected over the endless wait for a taxi on the side of the street. Non-smokers puff their way through a packet just to have long conversations with old friends and remember the good times when we only ever went out with each other and thought it would never change.
But it does, and we won't be together always but for one night it seems like we can. And not one of us have grown up and we can stay 17 forever.
This is what makes this time of year so wonderful. It's like an annual school reunion on December, 26 each year. Everyone is a little brighter and shinier, with stories to tell and heartbreaks to anguish over.
These types of traditions happen all over the country, all as important as the other.
However, there are other St Stephen's Day traditions that we need to cling to in case they fly away. St Stephen's Day is otherwise known as 'The Day of the Wren'. For years, our grandparents and parents took part in this ritual of music, song and dance which were followed by a party that sometimes would go on for days. The Wren, though a dying tradition, still takes place in many parts of the country. The act is an art form in itself. Dingle in County Kerry holds the annual "Wren's Day" with parades and music played throughout the town, and it is never a let down if you are a looking for a solid St Stephen's night out.
And still, in some parts of the country, you will see a cackle of children and teenagers walking the country roads dressed in tinsel, doused in glitter and covered in red blush shouting 'The Fields of Athenry'. There is immense and unbridled joy in seeing those revellers, playing traditional Irish music while dressed like human Christmas trees. It's a tradition we need to keep alive, even in small amounts, because unlike many others, it's one that will be forgotten.
And then there is the grand old St Stephen's Day tradition of just lazing in your Christmas pyjamas, with a cup of tea and a selection box in hand, while you watch every Harry Potter film under the sun and wait in anticipation for round two of your Christmas dinner. Quite possibly, that is the best tradition of all.
Christmas is one of the only times where it's totally ok to do the same thing every year without fail. It's comforting knowing that some things may never change, and in a world that becomes more unstable by the day, latch onto that little luxury.
Whether you go out on the town or do nothing at all; enjoy and relish it. Soon you'll be back in the swing of the rat race and yearning for that familiarity.
That soothing sense of tradition.
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