Dermot Bolger: Christmas - a time to pause and take stock of what home really means
Getting home for Christmas is no foregone conclusion. Ask the Mexican student who spent Christmas week in 2010 alone and bewildered at Dublin Airport after a Swiss girl invited him to visit her family in Zurich. As his flight from Mexico approached Gatwick Airport - where he was to catch a connecting flight - it was diverted by snow to Dublin, where he became stranded. Viewers kept glimpsing him in the airport terminal during reports about the snow-bound travel chaos that gripped Europe.
I remembered his ordeal this year because, for the first time, I have a son flying home. I'll take my place, like thousands of Irish parents, at an airport's arrivals gates before Christmas and at departure gates afterwards. Homecomings make Christmas special and for those of us with children living abroad, Christmas now has a different sense of wonder from their childhood years, when the magic came from their pent-up anticipation on Christmas Eve. Now it comes from simply being together, because Skype and Snapchat cannot replace the pleasure of being with those you love.
In the 1950s, my mother tried to ensure that her seafaring husband would get home to Dublin for Christmas when stranded in a foreign port. She wrote to him, care of the harbour master in the port he was sailing to, explaining how she was sending a fake telegram to help him get leave. Unfortunately, the telegram - which read: "Father dying. Come home" - arrived before her letter. He boarded a Dublin-bound ship but instead of hastening to Finglas (where she had a fire lit in the parlour for his arrival) he rushed to his native Wexford to find his father alive and well. Recognising my mother's mischievous desperation to have him home for Christmas, he managed to catch the last train from Wexford on Christmas Eve and reached Finglas just before Santa Claus.