December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, used to be always crucial to Dublin’s retail calendar, as the traditional shopping day for people from outside the capital, or ‘from the country’, who would journey to the city.
Thousands of families would take advantage of the holy day to see the Christmas lights and decorations on Grafton Street and Henry Street and every street in-between. Toy departments would be packed and the window displays in the larger department stores like Switzers ( ask your Mam ), Arnotts and Clerys were worth the trip alone.
And for the best boys and girls, this annual excursion might also include a visit to see Santa and get the obligatory photo for the family collection - as well as a plastic toy.
On Monday, December 5th, 1977, Mary Maher wrote The Survival Guide to Dublin Shopping in the Our Times section of the Irish Times newspaper. “Despite the proliferation of shopping centres and branch stores in rural towns, there’s still an annual sentimental pull to the Capital to see the Christmas lights. Thursday – December 8th – is traditionally reserved for an out-of-town onslaught; suburbanites will begin to descend shortly thereafter.”
Times change however and by the turn of this century, this decades-old tradition had faded.
On Friday, December 9th, 2011, Conor Pope wrote: “December 8th used to mark the start of the Irish Christmas season and it was the day when people ‘from the country’ travelled to the city to do their shopping – but not any more and, say retailers, it is now just like any other day… For many people from outside Dublin the traditional meeting place was under the Clerys clock, but, says the store’s chief executive, PJ Timmins, ‘shopping patterns have changed’. Over the last 20 years, he said, there had been a shift away from the practice and with so many more places to shop outside Dublin, December 8th had become ‘pretty much just like any other day in the run-up to Christmas.’”
Sadly Clerys is also no longer with us but nevertheless, whether you travel on the 8th or some other day, there is still something unmistakably magical about Christmas shopping in Ireland's capital.
"Grafton Street's a wonderland" is true at any time of year but it is particularly so at the festive time of year.
So make the trip up, you never know who you might meet!
by Mark Sheehan