Daylight savings, for me, has had the curious effect of compressing time. In the last few weeks, the hours of sunlight in Ireland have shrunk, so that I wake up to blueish-gray dawn, and leave the community school in the pinkish-purple of dusk. Time itself seems to be slipping away faster than usual, too; recently it occurred to me that I have less than four weeks left in Ireland, and this came as a genuine shock. When I relayed this information to the students with whom I have become quite close, they responded with an aghast, “No, Miss!” Leaving them will be bittersweet in the extreme.
With the shortening days comes the sense of the holiday season fast approaching. Already the windows of shops and houses lining the streets of Clifden are collecting tinsel and other such decorations–walking around, I overhear chatter about Christmas shopping and visiting relatives. Being abroad for the holidays is strange. It makes me miss my own friends and family, of course, but it also draws me closer to the web of the Clifden community, as many families offer me a place at their dinner tables. Only now do I realize how much dinner with my family at home and with my friends at Vassar has meant to me. Over the clinking of cutlery, the stories, and the laughter, we share our days with one another. Meals are one of the first things that pop into my head when I think about “family.”
I’ve had the good fortune of meeting two lovely Oberlin graduates here–one of whom happens to be Jewish, like me. The fact that we celebrate both Hannukah and Thanksgiving while no one else in Clifden does has drawn us together, and we have spent many happy hours making and eating food, reminiscing about the things from home that we miss and wish we could have taken with us. It’s funny what ends up becoming important to us when we travel. Usually, I put so little thought into celebrating Jewish holidays because, well, it just happens around me, whether I think about it or not. In Clifden, where the Jewish population, including me, is two people, I suddenly find that I care very much about lighting the menorah, playing dreidel, and eating delicious latkes (potato pancakes). Doing these things feels like sending a tiny message across the ocean, a little connection to those in the U.S. who are celebrating together in ways I’ve taken for granted.
On the flip side, being welcomed into school Christmas preparations has made me feel very much at home, though I have no real ties to those traditions. I’ve been taught Christmas carols–and even stumbled through one in Gaelic–and learned how to make mince pies and fruitcake. These moments make me feel like a part of the community in ways that I hadn’t anticipated.
Recently I had a conversation with my students about the value of religious rituals in general. We ultimately agreed that whether or not you “believe” literally in a particular doctrine, the value of these acts lie in the connections they create between people, and between past and present. As I find myself enveloped in the warm welcome of the Clifden community through Christmas preparations, and as I momentarily transport myself home by celebrating Hannukah, I know this to be true.
I hope you all have holiday seasons filled with people and traditions that take you home.