Tag: Christmas

The Wran is here!

Photo source: www.dinglephoto.com
Photo source: http://www.dinglephoto.com
After the peace and quiet of Christmas day, when the only outing is Mass and the main activity is eating, St. Stephen’s day shakes the quiet off and rouses the village from their turkey stupor.  Visitors are in for a treat when a loud group of musicians and dancer’s dressed up in wild masks and colorful motley clothes pound into your house, play music, dance and then shake a bag at you looking for money.  The Wren (pronounced Wran) is a brilliantly mad Irish Christmas tradition here in West Kerry where groups of men originally hunted a wren bird, and then paraded it from house to house in a straw cage or else killed it and nailed the body to a tall pole they carried. The origins are not totally clear but probably pagan as the Wren bird was associated with treachery.  Money was collected and then used to host local  dance where the bachelor wren boys would hope to meet a wife.  The Wren has died out in most parts of Ireland but had been revived in some parts as a parade or in pubs.  Dingle has a large parade and has made it an attraction for people from around the county and Ireland for a big party.

The tradition remains largely the same around here (minus the dead bird and wife hunting) and the Wren still goes from house to house early in the day and then moves to the two pubs before heading up to the village around six for what turns into a rowdy night out.  While most of the money goes to a local charity, there is still a Wren Ball before New Year’s which when I first was here for Christmas was in the old derelict school-house.  The school has since been commandeered by one of our neighbors and bordered up so the mayhem is confined to one of the two  local pubs.

Although a little confusing and hard to explain for a two-year old, the kids love trying to identify their friends and neighbors in masks and join in the afternoon revelries in the pub.

The traditional Wren Song (I’ve never heard this but it could still be sung by some Wrens)

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give him a treat (pronounced ‘trate’)

Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
And give us a penny to bury the wren (pronounced ‘wran’)

Are there any mad Christmas traditions where you are in the world?


Shop local makes sense – and makes me sweat.

So far my well-intentioned plans for buying local Christmas gifts this year have failed.  I did very well last year between a very good Christmas market in Dingle and an Original Kerry http://www.originalkerry.com/ holiday shop trip.  Please check out the link for some great Irish craft & design that comes from Kerry and see my recommendations below based on last year’s shop local success.

This year my attempts have amounted to showing up at the Original Kerry pop-up shop in Tralee that was advertised as open every day before Christmas only to find it closed for the afternoon. I had two hours to get all my Christmas shopping that can’t be done with two pests in tow and shopping local falls into this category so I raced across town in the pouring rain carrying a pirate sword only to find a cheery hand-written sign telling me the store was open only until 1:30 that day.

Second attempt was walking through a local Christmas Craft fair in the village hall and buying the kids a piece of pizza to split between them after ushering my son away from a ‘magician’ trying to wow him into buying an assortment of magic tricks by showing him a jumping $50 bill in Ireland where there are no dollars and Mr. Magic was English and had a long grey pony tail and swirly patterned vest.  My son was a little bit wowed – I was not.

Third attempt was a big Christmas market that I went to last year and found some great presents.  This year I convinced my husband that it would be a nice family day out in Dingle.  The venue was changed the day before and I only found out by chance from a neighbour and the most appealing stand turned out to be Cookie Monster and reindeer cupcakes.

These failures, along with the well-meaning Christmas Shop Local campaigns, have made me defensive about my online mega store shopping this year.  The brow beating tone of Shop Local campaigns have always made me feel pointlessly rebellious because of the inferred obligation  to buy from local sellers. But what if there gluten-free pie is horrible or what if it’s your neighbor who whose dog poops in your yard or what if you don’t feel like apologizing 5-10 times for having small children around their ‘art’?  Let’s be honest there are HUGE personal (selfish) benefits to shopping with large merchandisers that have nothing to do with prices.  Here’s are some problems for me – a mother with two small children who is not going to hire a babysitter to go shopping.

Problem #1 with ‘Shopping Local’ – Logistics

Are you ever going to turn up at Toys R Us and find them closed at 4 pm on the second Wednesday of December? The laid-back informality of local producers that is supposed to be so charming to shoppers translates into shops having random hours (not advertised online), crappy websites, no one answering the phones and events or markets being poorly organised, stocked or cancelled.  This is not the norm but I don’t have the time or energy to risk it.  I don’t think spending money should require a massive energy input on the consumer’s end. If it does, than it feels like a pity purchase and that is just ridiculous outside of school bake sales, gift wrapping fundraisers and lemonade stands.

Physical logistics are a problem, especially doorways. The doorways to lovely local boutiques are not wide enough to get in a stroller. One hundred year old buildings were not designed for buggys with all-terrain wheels that fit 5 children and two shopping bags   My general rule is that if I can’t get a stroller in without requiring someone to swing open an extra door, another person to try to lift the front wheel up wet granite steps and my bag falling off my shoulder and either knocking over a display or else dumping all my contents out, then the shop is not meant for babies or toddlers. Once you get in the logistics will be a nightmare.  Getting to these shops is also not easy because they are in quaint down towns where you have to circle for parking and then walk through winter storms to these tiny doorway shops.

Problem #2 – Face to Face contact

Is it always a good thing to ‘get to know” the crafts person or owner? Is it just me that feels terribly uncomfortable looking around when I know the owner or even worse when perusing at a market and then walking away with nothing after making chit-chat with the woman who lives up the road and makes dream catchers, or worse, angel art? ugh.  Or entering any number of small boutiques in the Old Port and being greeted by an appraising look by a well-groomed woman who is more interested in modeling the merchandise than customer service.  Amazon doesn’t care if you shop in your holy slippers stuffing your face with gingerbread covered in frosting with your bra slung over the couch (hypothetically of course).

(I worked in one of these shops years ago and I could actually see the discomfort in shopper’s faces when they looked at the price tags and then mimed to each other via eyebrows and glances “Holy shit $50 for a baby tee-shirt” until they could politely back out of the tiny store and say out loud “Holy shit $50 for a baby’s tee-shirt!”

Problem # 3 – Quality Assurance

I’m sure it’s pretty clear now that I am not a good shopper so if I am shopping than I want to buy something. Craft markets and local produce shops too often feature knitted tea-pot covers, beaded jewelry, jam, felt flowers and lately paté and olives.  There is just not a granny nice-enough to make me buy a tea-pot cover.  No matter how deserving the makers are, if their products are crappy than why should their community feel obligated to buy them? There are also high-quality natural skin care lines, beautiful jewelry, flower arrangements, chocolates, knits and great foods at most markets but they need to be the majority and easier to buy.

I think campaigns need to focus on raising the standard of local producers and shop keepers.  Someone needs to start saying no to that lovely lady Agnes or to Mr. Magic at a Christmas market. Local producers need to regulate themselves to ensure quality for the shoppers. Consumers can spend money where ever they want.  It’s great to have a reminder that buying locally keeps small businesses alive and hence rural communities or down towns thriving but I am not going to feel guilty for shopping with a glass of wine in front of The Desperate Housewives of New Jersey!

I will put my recommendations for great local Dingle or Kerry products in a post later this week.

In Pursuit of Christmas

“Pat, come-in, come-in, do you read me?” Ryan asked into his radio. ”Silver Transit van backing up into the woods at the Torc car park”, he continued in a whisper. “Yes, the Torc waterfall car park. It’s 11 pm the night before Christmas Eve, I don’t think it’s tourists.”

He crept behind a tree and continued, “Not sure how many there are yet. Ok, the van’s parked but lights are still on. One suspect out, two, three…I think there’s three men. They’ve gone around to the back and opened the doors. Are you on your way? Did you call it into the station?” Ryan asked.

He was about 100 yards away from the van. The moon was covered in thick clouds and a fine mist shimmered in front of the van’s front beams. Good thing he’d bought those night vision goggles. Deirdre was bitter that he had spent €200 of their money before Christmas. There was no way those plastic ones the department bought would have cut it tonight. Not in these conditions.
He squatted and rested his shoulder against an oak trunk and put the radio to his ear again. They should really have ear pieces too. He didn’t fancy ending up in the back of a transit trundling to Tralee, or worse, Limerick if these guys heard him. €200 wouldn’t seem so important if he ended up bashed and hanging over Ladies’ View.

Ryan shook his head while listening through the static. He depressed the talk button and shouted, “What, they’re not sending anyone?” He continued in a whisper “I don’t care what’s going on outside the night club. This is supposed to be a priority. How long will you be? Ah Pat…. No, having a pint in the Lake House bar does not count as patrolling. Forget it. I’m on my own. Over and out.”
Ryan unclipped his official uniform cap from his belt and pulled it on. He shoved the silent radio into his belt, pulled out his flashlight and took a deep breath. He headed towards the van. Seconds into his march, a roar smashed the night’s silence and bounced around the trees. A chainsaw!
He broke into a run but as he neared the van the roar was replaced by the sounds of crashing and crunching. As he neared the van he saw three shapes emerge from the dark dragging two full holly trees.
“Stop! Killarney Park Ranger. You are breaking the law. Put down the holly!! “He shouted towards the men. They hesitated long enough for Ryan to hear laughing before throwing the trees into the back of the van. Slam. Two more slams and the van took off into the road as Ryan reached the clearing.
“Fa la la la la, la la la la” his phone trilled over his heaving breathing.
“God damn, what?” he barked.
“Hi honey, just me. I’m here at Niamh’s house and everyone is very intrigued by your special patrol. Is it very exciting tonight?” Deirdre giggled above tinkling glasses and music.
“Special and secret, Dee. It’s a secret patrol.” He crouched down and picked up a broken holly twig.
“Sure it’s just Niamh and few others. Anyway let me finish. She was saying how fabulous the holly looked on her neighbour’s front door but she forgot to get some in town. She was delighted when I said you could bring her back a nice big bunch tonight. You don’t mind do you, ‘tis the season and all that…Honey? Ryan? Are you there? Why are you panting?”