Roslyn Dee: 'Bells ring out to stir joyful memories of Christmas'
Every year there's a moment. Maybe it's the first glimpse of the swirling snow as it falls softly across the land in that haunting Guinness ad.
Or the first time you hear the radio ad for Barry's tea, the one with the train set and that distinctive voice-like-chocolate narrative, courtesy of the late actor Peter Caffrey. Or maybe it's the appearance of selection boxes in the supermarket, or the lights being turned on in your home town, or perhaps it's just the opening strains of Bing Crosby or Shane MacGowan on the radio.
Whatever it is, there's always a moment - one particular moment - when you know Christmas is here.
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For me it happened last Saturday. At precisely 4.40pm. That was when the actors on the stage of Dublin's Gate Theatre brought the matinee performance of 'A Christmas Carol' to a close with a gentle bell-ringing rendition - one chime at a time, first from one actor, then another, then another - of a Christmas tune that's as old as time. And spellbinding as that was, it wasn't the actual chiming that delivered the magic.
That arrived, completely unheralded, when as the sound of each hand-rung bell cut like crystal through the air, slowly and quietly the audience began to hum the tune. Softly at first, and then, as momentum gathered, it grew louder, so that, in the end, there was nothing else for it but to give voice to the words.
And that's exactly what we did. In a Dublin theatre on the first Saturday afternoon in December, there we all were, gently singing the beautiful words of 'Silent Night'.
It was the most magical experience - moving, joyful, and uplifting. And Christmas began for me right then, in that prayer-like moment last weekend.
Such moments matter. Why? Because they bring joy; joy that we always remember. And joy, after all, is the very essence of Christmas. It's there in those moments that stop you in your tracks. In the year-in, year-out rituals. In the generosity of seasonal spirit. And in the power of family.
This is my fifth Christmas as a widow, and my first as an 'orphan'. While that might seem like a strange word for the mother of a 30-year-old son to use, it is nonetheless the truth. For following my mother's death back in March, this is my first-ever Christmas with no mother or father to embrace, to choose a gift for, or to simply wish a "Happy Christmas".
Does that make me sad? Yes, of course it does. But the memories of myriad happy family Christmases will carry me through. I have always treasured Christmas because my parents treasured it. And who could blame them?
They married on December 23, 1942, still kids, really, my mother having turned 22 that summer and my father celebrating the same birthday four days after their wedding. Christmas, therefore, was always a time of joy for them - albeit a joy that originally lived in the shadow of fear.
For just a few days after they married, my father returned to the cauldron of World War II combat in North Africa, and so they parted that December, uncertain of their future. Would Jim survive? Would Marion be a widow before she turned 23? In their 72 years of marriage they never talked openly about the trauma of that Christmas parting.
What they did, however, was always embrace Christmas full-on, complete with special moments and rituals, as if Christmas was a celebratory symbol of their love and their survival.
Moments matter. Memories matter. Joy matters. And for me, this Christmas of 2019, the poignant joyfulness of last Saturday's 'Silent Night' moment will stay with me forever.