I’ve been looking forward to Christmas in Dublin since I first touched down in Ireland. Dublin’s cobblestone streets and old Georgian buildings look like they were designed specifically to make all my Harry Potter Christmas fantasies come true, so I have been eagerly anticipating the city’s explosion into fairy light madness for months. Since Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in Ireland, the end of fall is marked by Halloween, starting open season on all the material and/or spiritual trappings of Christmas cheer a month earlier than in America. I had high expectations, and I haven’t been disappointed. Even though the end of the semester was busy and stressful, every time I wandered through city center I reverted to wide-eyed childlike wonder because the lights and Christmas market stalls reminded me of just how extraordinarily lucky I am to live in a city as beautiful as Dublin.
One of my favorite things about Ireland is pub culture. A twist on cafe culture, pub culture lets people of any age meet for leisurely conversation over a few pints at any time on any day. The best pubs are “old man pubs,” where elderly gentlemen in tweed caps gather for drinks and banter, something I like to imagine they’ve been doing for decades with the same friends in the same pubs. The Mitchells in Dublin have made it a mission to find our own pub home, and I think we’ve made good progress on narrowing our list down to a few strong contenders. To be clear, it’s the people that make pub culture great, not the pints.* Pub life means you don’t need to schedule in socializing because it’s natural to linger after class or dinner with your friends, even if you all just end up ranting about how much work you should be doing.
I think pub life and the community it fosters is a large part of why I feel so content with my Dublin life. When I first started school, I thought it was weird that all my Irish friends would go home for the weekends because the college experience in America is so centered on campus life. Now, I think it’s wonderful that Irish students maintain such close ties to their families and hometowns. There is a recognition that home is more important than fun college parties, and realizing this difference has made me reconsider how I invest in my relationships with family and hometown friends when I live so far from home. I think the relationships, new and old, that have grown during my time in Dublin are the source of my contentment. Contentment is a strange feeling for me to recognize in myself because I am so used to planning, thinking, reaching, but now I simply feel like the hard work of achievement doesn’t have to be incompatible with happiness.
I wasn’t able to return home for Christmas last year, so I was especially thankful for the chance to go home this year. I haven’t been homesick at all during my time in Ireland, mostly because I have been so content with Christmas pub life, but my time in Ireland made me look forward to going home and being home in a way that I haven’t felt before. Now, I’m so excited to return to Dublin, but my wanderlust is now less about searching for things and more about embracing things. Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Duit! Slainte! (Happy New Year! Cheers!)
*As a public health nerd, I find it important to say that a culture of binge drinking is dangerous and harmful, and this love letter to Irish pubs does not mean that I endorse the normalization of excess alcohol consumption.