The empty place setting
The Poles – those lads who helped build this country in the 2000s, whose home country’s economy will grow by 4% this year, where debt:GDP is 57%, where Dell relocated to, whose train facilities are like something from the 21st century, which is hosting Euro 2012; but enough, it’s Christmas – have a rich treasure of traditions. Some are superstitions like sitting down and standing up if you are going on a trip and have had to return to the house to get something you’d forgotten; or if you meet a “one for sorrow, two for joy” magpie, you must bow and ask the magpie how it is today. They give sweets as a gift if you were going on a trip, they throw water at each other at Easter. They celebrate a “name day” in addition to your official birthday. So if your name is “Justyna” the 26th September is your name day, and you get gifts that day in addition to your “official” birthday.
Today is Christmas Eve and for the Poles, it is the second biggest day of the year, only surpassed by New Year. And today is rich in tradition: there is fasting – you can have a cup of tea, but that’s your lot! – until the sun goes down; but then there is a fabulous meal with a standard 11-dishes. Now some of the dishes mightn’t be too palatable to our tastes like the jellied fish but then again our sausages and black pudding aren’t very popular with Poles either. When setting the table for this evening’s feast, the Poles will set an extra place at the table.
The meaning of the extra setting might be different in different Polish households: in some, it’s for the ghosts of the dead, particularly the recently dead; in others, it’s for a guest that might, or might not, turn up. But generally it’s for those that can’t be with us this year, for whatever reason.
In Ireland today, and particularly tomorrow, there will many missing; sons, daughters and in some cases whole families who have had to emigrate to find work and an income to sustain themselves.
But having reflected on those missing this year, it is to be hoped that in 2012 this country gets back on its feet and creates the conditions needed to sustain the nation. Thankfully politicians are no longer talking of emigration as a positive feature which releases the pressure on unemployment. And forced emigration is beginning to be seen for what it is – a fundamental failure in leadership to provide.
We live in God’s own country, with a climate which is almost by design, an average of a couple of degrees below what is comfortable to the human body; so we’re always provoked into consciousness; a country where the rain gives us an ever-changing art-gallery of skies. And where the communities of people make this a most special place. I hope there are less empty places at the table next year.
It’s hard to know the appropriate time to acknowledge those that bring this blog to life, Christmas or New Year. But given recent comments and messages on Twitter, perhaps now is a good time to say “thank you” to the commenters that inform, educate and entertain. Whether it’s the new Wild Geese (or should that be “Wild Tigers”?) or those at home making sense of the mess, all have enriched the debate and I hope fostered understanding of what is a traumatic national experience. Thanks also to those who have sent private messages to the blog – using the contact form at the bottom of the About tab – messages which have generated stories, insights and exclusives. Thanks to Japlandic for providing images (which will be featured in a review next week).
And whilst not strictly gratitude and recognising this has something of the Skibbereen Eagle about it, it seems the decent thing to acknowledge the cast that shapes the reality reported on here – at NAMA, the owlish Brendan, the hawkish Frank and the aquiline (see below) John and beyond, the redoubtable Mr Justice Peter, the sometimes-bohemian Sammy, the underrated Vincent, the Jack Russell Professor Patrick and of course Noddy and Big Ears.
For the last couple of years, December has seen a hotbed of activity in terms of NAMA and the banks. Remember the clandestine court hearings last year, to which journalists had to hoof through the snow in Dublin at top speed following tip-offs, only to be turned away by the judge? And the previous year, NAMA was created on 22nd December. This year, we’re still waiting for the Department of Finance to publish its review of the €3.7bn error in the national debt, the Anglo HQ in north Dublin Docklands might change hands and speaking of Anglo, the courts will remain open in Kiev next week – they celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar on 7th January – so we might find out the identity of those behind Lyndhurst Development Trading SA – the company which emerged on the scene this week with a massive claim against a Quinn shopping centre – if Anglo can successfully get access to the diplomatic back-channels opened up after 9/11.
So there may be a few news stories over the next few days, but in the main there will be reviews of 2011 and a look forward to 2012. Commenting will remain open as normal, but please bear in mind the commenting guidelines, particularly if you are a new commenter.
I wish you all a safe, peaceful and happy Christmas. Nollaig shona dhuit (and for good measure, Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia)