It took a trip to Dublin Airport to welcome our daughter home for Christmas to be infected with the festive spirit. In contrast to other times of the year, Terminal 2 (T2) is a joyful place to be these days, with beaming parents, brothers, sisters and friends greeting loved ones returning for the holidays.
Over the next week or so, more than 650,000 passengers are expected to travel through Dublin and Cork airports in what is the busiest travel period of the year.
The majority will be Irish emigrants joining in the massive annual homecoming party. Kitchens and pubs all over the country will be buzzing with chatter and great tales of adventures and experiences of living and working abroad. There is deep pain associated with going away, especially when it is forced. But this is forgotten in those first precious moments when you get to hug someone you haven't seen for several months, or in some cases years.
I was particularly taken at T2 with a middle-aged couple who didn't hold back in their excitement at welcoming someone home. Wearing garish santa jumpers and reindeer horns, they giddily waved a huge hand-made sign which said: "Ho ho ho. Welcome Home Siobhan". It brought tears to all eyes as they practically threw themselves over the barrier when their daughter came through the arrivals doors, the happiness oozing from them. A choir of five-year-olds from a local primary school singing carols added to the atmosphere.
Christmas is a time for families. Let's be honest, they might drive us mad sometimes. That grumpy brother, jealous sister, overbearing mother, or demanding father. But it's the one time of the year when we yearn to be together and most of us manage to park tensions and disagreements to live in harmony – at least until the turkey is finished on St Stephen's Day!
Emigration has meant that lots of families won't get to share this Christmas together, to laugh or to fight. An average of 3,000 Irish are leaving the country every month; 46,500 Irish people left the State in the year up to the end of April. This compares with just 12,000 who emigrated from Ireland in 2007 – just before the country went bust.
Britain attracted 19,000 of our people, while 8,600 went to the US and 35,600 to "rest of the world" destinations including Canada, Australia and New Zealand. That's a lot of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents left behind with lonely hearts.
We often hear the expression "losing people to emigration". But this is not the case. Because if someone moves away it doesn't mean, thankfully, that they are "lost" to us. During past periods of mass emigration in our history we didn't have Skype, Facebook, texting, emailing and cheap flights.
Thankfully there will be thousands of happy homes around Ireland this Christmas with returned family members filling empty chairs around full tables. Sadly, all this will be followed by tearful departures when the holidays end.
But at least we can stay connected. And heart breaking and all as it can be, it is nice to know that there is a strong sprinkling of Ireland all over the world.