Another fleeting fortnight, another last-ditch scramble, and just like that – the final Byline of semester one is hot off the (digital) press. It’s truly, truly mad to think we’ve ploughed through seven of these – or six-and-a-half I suppose, thanks to the Freshers issue’s brevity – and found ourselves at the Christmas season already.
The holidays, in any normal year, feel like the culmination of something. Thinking back on my last few Christmases, I arrived at them wrecked from the academic/working months gone by; In the nicest possible sense, Christmas carried the air of a destination. Another calendar year wound down, with the dizzy promise of firelit hedonism and pint-nursing nights to close us out. But what happens when an entire year takes on the formless disarray of that much loved Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day twilight zone? What does Christmas mean then?
Preparing for this issue of Byline – our last before the big day, and so our Holiday issue by default – the above question was one I had to wrestle with. Had I become so jaded by our current circumstances that Christmas was now something which felt alien? Hardly – I’m an absolute fiend for this time of year, however you want to label it. The merest whiff of clove or spiced beef is enough to bust any assumed nonchalance; the slightest mention of Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (unequivocally the grand daddy of the series) casting any ounce of humbug right into the chestnut-roasting open fire. But things would be different now, surely? A year like 2020 couldn’t just be wrapped up with seasonal ribboning… could it?
The answer to my question arrived in bundles, soon to be put on shelves across Cork in early November. Over the span of almost two lifetimes, the Holly Bough has been cogitated and laboured over each year, sewn together from threads of Cork spread like confetti across the globe.
In this issue, I talk with John Dolan, who’s been Editor at the Bough for almost two decades now. Speaking with him, I got the comforting sense that despite living in times which demand novelty – in the ways we socialise, in the ways we work and in the ways we think – there is always space for tradition, as long we keep it.
This Christmas, aside from making that extra effort to be a bit more pleasant and a bit more comforting to whoever’s alongside us on couches or barstools, I think it’s definitely worthwhile holding some space for the things we know. Whether it’s an after-dinner round of charades on the big day, a dip in the December sea, or a fireside flick through the Holly Bough – hold what you know close to you this Christmas; God knows we’ve had enough ‘strange times’ for one year.