'Tis the season to remember No we're never far from home Merry Christmas, everyone
--"Merry Christmas, Alabama" by Jimmy Buffett
Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,
Our seven Christmases in Ireland, we could never bring ourselves to participate in one of Ireland's quirkiest festive traditions, what the Irish refer to as the "Christmas Day swim."
On Christmas morning, from beaches, piers, and coves around the country, people of all ages gather to immerse themselves in waters of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (maximum).
"Swim" is a bit of a misnomer. There is no particular distance that you need to cover, nor any agreed-upon duration you must stay in the water. You simply join the crowd of people running toward and then into the water (cheered on by well-wrapped-up spectators), screaming as their bodies hit the ice-cold sea. A quick splash of the arms and legs, then back in to shore to dry off, wrap up, and enjoy a hot drink or a shot of whiskey.
Wetsuits have appeared on the scene in recent years, mostly among the kids, but it remains an unspoken rule among the hardy adults taking part: Traditional bathing suits only...
Our four Christmases in Paris were all about the lights. Each year, starting in November, Boulevard St. Germain, just a few blocks from our apartment in this city, is strung with tiny white lights. The trees, the building facades, they're covered with them. Each morning and again each evening as I'd walk Jackson, aged 4 through 8 at the time, to and from school, we'd linger at the intersection of rue du Bac and Boulevard St. Germain as long as possible, looking up and down, up and down, slowly, working to fix that magical view in our memories. "It's a fairy land," 4-year-old Jack declared it one morning. I see it still.
Twinkling lights and decorated shop windows. This time of year, storefronts throughout Paris are draped with pine garland, and shop windows are decorated with green trees flocked with white and trimmed with red and gold baubles. No one does shop windows like the French do shop windows, and no others compare with the shop windows of Paris at Christmastime.
This year, we're in Baltimore, celebrating the season with my family, remembering all the other parts of the world where we've found ourselves this special time of year in years past, and wondering where the coming New Year will lead us.
On behalf of the entire far-flung staff of Live and Invest Overseas, please accept our warm and heartfelt wishes for a Merry Christmas, wherever you're enjoying it this year, and our sincere hope that 2013 is the year your far-flung dreams of adventure overseas begin to come true.
All the best from our family to yours. We so much appreciate your coming along with us for this ride.
"Dating from the 1800s, early celebrants would have hunted a real wren, killed it, and tied it to a holly branch or pole to parade around town. From door to door these 'wran boys' went, wren on display, begging for money to bury the 'evil bird.' The funds were then used to hold a dance for the whole town.
"Why the lack of mercy to one of the most innocent birds?
"Stories from Irish folklore fail to present the wren in a good light. The most popular tale (that's believed to have started the tradition) goes back to Cromwell's invasion of Ireland. On one occasion, as Irish troops prepared to advance on Cromwell's sleeping soldiers, a wren perched on one of the soldier's drums made a noise that woke the sentries just in time to save their camp.
"Today, no birds are harmed in the celebration of The Wran. A fading tradition, 'wran boys' gather in only a handful of places around the country. But, for the town of Dingle, County Kerry, Dec. 26 is a major date on the social calendar.
"Starting Christmas Eve, and often right up to noon on the big day, men gather in local pubs to hand-weave their traditional straw costumes ('rigs') in a process that takes hours.
"Come Wren's Day, thousands of spectators line the streets of Dingle to watch this spectacle of men, dressed in rigs and brightly colored costumes, take over the town.
"Starting at noon and going on until the early hours of the following day, The Wran is a blaze of color and a lot of noise, thanks not only to the accompanying musicians' fife and drums, but to the collection boxes the wran boys shake. Rather than paying for a dance for the whole town, today's funds go to local charities.
"Be warned. Innocent by-standers will often get swept into the parade or chased down side-streets.
"'It's like Ireland's version of Carnaval,' my friend Alison, a Kerry native, recently explained.
"As a child, Alison made the trip to Dingle every year with her family. She recalls being both terrified of the revelers and in awe of their beautiful costumes.
"Efforts have been made in recent years to revive this dying tradition. For the last 20 years, Sandymount in Dublin has been running a big Wren's Day fundraising event. And, as part of its September harvest festival, the town of Listowel, County Kerry, hosts an Annual All-Ireland Wren Boy Competition.
"But for a true sense of the spirit of The Wran, follow the crowds to Dingle."
Kathleen PeddicordContinue Reading:
Dec. 13, 2010:
"You published an article recently on ways to stay in touch with family, friends, and business activities from anywhere in the world. I had a few other thoughts on this that fellow readers might find helpful:
--John F., FranceContinue Reading:
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Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.
Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.
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