What the Irish in Australia miss at Christmas: the cold, the full fridge and the roast potatoes
"The harsh fact is that if I leave Australia, there's always a chance I can't come back. The worst part is that after two years, I still don't know when I'll see you again."
First, just let me say, I know it’s been a while, I’ve been meaning to get in touch. I reckon we’re all sick of Zooms at this point. How have you been? What’s the weather been like? There’s great drying weather here at the moment, honestly, I’ll never get my head around the fact that we have opposite seasons.
Just last week I was in a shop buying a handbag and the cashier who clocked my accent said to me:
“And how long have you been here now?”
“Two years, sure I can’t come and go, it’s a disaster really!”
“Oh that must be so difficult for you, not seeing your family and friends for so long, even your mum can’t come over for a visit?”
Her eyes are big and sincere, as I flash my card, making it clear I’m not really up for the conversation.
“Ah yeah, not the easiest no!” I meekly offer a thin smile to signal that I’m not being rude, I just don’t want to talk about it.
“Gosh you poor thing, and with Christmas coming up, that must be so difficult for you.”
I find myself outside the store with tears streaming down my face. Blinking them away, I know it’s time to write you this letter. I don’t think I let myself realise how much I miss you.
I miss “silly season” lasting for two months of the year, one pint always escalating and everyone committing to being bloated, drunk or hungover at all times. Productivity goes down but the craic is up to ninety.
I miss the purchase of skimpy sequin dresses that will be hidden behind big coats and thick tights but we buy them anyway. The sheer joy of sparkly red nails and a festive red lip.
I miss walking down Grafton Street when the lights go on for the first time and we all look up in wonder before posting to our Instagram and going into Bewleys for a special treat.
I miss bringing my younger siblings ice skating and for whatever diabetes-inducing snack they want after. It’s the payment they get for me teasing them about the boyfriends and girlfriends they don’t have yet.
I miss listening to 15 minutes of chaotic voice notes about my best friend’s Christmas party. I get every detail at 8am, to get excited for a verbal, in-real-life unpacking at prinks that evening.
I miss wrapping up and sitting down outside Clement and Pekoe, drinking coffee and spilling the tea. Between story exchanges we people watch, and deliberate over which lingerie set we would choose from Miss Fantasia across the road if we had to.
I miss being cold because it makes sense to be cold at Christmas. I miss the steamy windows from so many people jammed into one room, the walls sweating as our voices ring through the house. I miss gloved hands, blushed cheeks and a red nose on the long walk up the beach.
I miss taking on more than I can chew – it makes sense to plan every conceivable reunion with every friend group in two weeks.
I miss the texts from nana ahead of me coming down from Dublin: “Can’t wait to see you. God bless. X” I miss nana making me eat a slice of apple tart even though I really, couldn’t possibly. I miss her gushing over my setting the table as if I like her, the saint, also got up at 5.30 in the morning to do Christmas dinner prep for a big family.
I miss the full fridge at “home-home”, the familiar smells of my childhood bedroom, and the unspoken timetable of movies and shows that will punctuate those two weeks. I miss my mom and I taking up our unspoken places on the couch, the weight of a sleeping cat on my chest and moving only very slightly as not to disturb them, reaching for the glass of wine or chunk of chutney-drenched cheese cracker as Graham Norton welcomes his next guest to the red couch.
I miss deliberating whether we’ll go to Midnight Mass even though we haven’t gone to mass since I made my confirmation. We just like to have the conversation before we tell Netflix that we’re “still watching” to overcome the ingrained Catholic guilt.
I miss the “Jesus you’re looking AMAZING and where are you working now? God we need to catch up for a coffee, I’ll text you!” in the local pub on Christmas Eve and Stephen’s Night. It’s a yearly conversation that never results in a coffee but we love to have it anyway.
I miss coming home from said local pub at 3am, insisting on one more gin and telling my mom all my secrets while eating random combinations of everything in the fridge.
I miss doing the Christmas swim, a tradition we love to hate. We nervously comment that it’s the coldest it’s ever been. The tide is always out, we peel off our layers as we bounce from one foot to the other, before running full force at the charcoal-coloured icy waves. The beach is awash with red Santa hats and blue thighs. The strong, sugary hot whiskey (at 10am) is the only way to confirm you haven’t died.
I miss the good crockery and the nice cutlery and the special glasses that only come out at Christmas.
I miss the sound of RTE news playing on the loudest possible volume throughout Christmas day as Grandad tunes in, to that and his new book about Michael Collins simultaneously.
I miss eating and drinking the things that only make sense at Christmas; prawn cocktail, crisp, cheese and relish sandwiches, devilled eggs, pigs in blankets, brussel sprouts and brandy cream. I’m kind of vegan now though, which is probably the only thing I’ve ever done to disappoint my nana. “You definitely won’t have a slice of turkey, no? What about a sausage?” I eat about six crispy, thick, golden roast potatoes to make up for it.
I can’t even tell you how much I yearn for the communal family nap in the front room after we have all eaten too much, painfully bloated but knowing that we’ll be making a triple-decker sandwich and enthusiastically milling through the Roses in about an hour.
I miss sitting in front of the fire, blissfully unaware as to what day or time it is, reading my new book and wiggling my toes in my new fluffy Christmas socks.
Ireland, my love, I don’t think I understood how painful it is that we can’t go for a swift pint on a Wednesday after work. It’s probably been too hard to acknowledge it. The harsh fact is that if I leave Australia, there’s always a chance I can’t come back. The worst part is that after two years, I still don’t know when I’ll see you again.
Of all the things I miss the most, it’s the people you contain. To see them from afar, smile wide, grab onto each other, sway from side to side and gently rub their back. I have a physical ache in my chest for that embrace and it feels like heartburn. I write about love a lot, and I know that true love looks like my people, and, of course, the aforementioned Irish roast potatoes, because they’re simply not the same over here.
Can you believe that it’s normal to have a barbecue on Christmas day here? A BARBECUE of all things? I’ll probably be at the beach but let me know when you’re free for a call and I hope we see each other again soon.
Take care. God bless. Slán go fóill. Bye bye bye bye bye bye,