The Death of December 8th Shopping Day
Lock your doors. Hide your kids, hide your wife. Avoid buses, Luases and main roads. Maybe just don't leave the house at all, because it's that time of the year when Dublin is overrun with people not from Dublin.
Historically, December 8th is the day when people from the country come up to Dublin for Christmas shopping, crowding up motorways, buses and trains and pouring into department stores with Christmas lists in hand like so many zombies from Dawn of the Dead.
It is also, oddly, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, though it's hard to connect the dots between this and Christmas shopping. Wikipedia says the custom originated in it being a Catholic school holiday, with families descending on Dublin to snap up presents in a matter of hours before catching a train back from Connolly.
I'd hazard a guess that very few people believe in the Immaculate Conception these days, and even fewer celebrate it. What they do observe, however, is Cyber Monday, and Black Friday (not the religious one–look at all the different Black Fridays listed on Wikipedia!), which is slowly but surely putting a dent in the high street. We have adopted America's pre-Christmas sales as readily as we've embraced wireless broadband: what was once a riot of elbows and handbag-swinging is now a sedentary activity, all page-refresh and the monotony of typing in bank card details.
Reports in recent years call December 8th "a day like any other", and friends I ask about it, most of them in their twenties and now living in Dublin, are unfamiliar with it or laugh it off as outdated. Which leads me to believe that those who still 'do' December 8th are in it for other reasons, like seeing family in the city, or just for the day out.
I first heard about December 8th years ago, when I worked on a beauty counter in House of Fraser. We were paid commission and liked to prey on older ladies, who were more likely to fall for our €75 skin serum (I realise, dear readers, how unfeminist this whole enterprise was, and yet I shudder at the amount I spend to this day on lipstick. Working on a beauty counter does strange things to the soul....). After a rainy November during which Dundrum was a ghost town, we couldn't wait for December 8th to kick off a profitable month of panic-buying.
But the day never quite delivered. We'd have the usual mediocre sales–the brand, which I probably shouldn't name, is long since gone from Ireland–but we'd spend all day giving directions to lost shoppers, usually auntie types who travelled in pairs wearing crisp winter coats and woolly hats. They'd walk up to us asking for the way out, with the glazed look of people who had just traversed a desert rather than a multi-level department store.
Occasionally we could talk them into taking a look at our products, reciting the spiel about 'paraben free' ingredients and 'free radical prevention.' But so many times they'd ask the dreaded question at the end, 'Can you buy it online?'.
What they meant was 'can you buy it cheaper online?'. And we'd lie, and say that we didn't know.
This December 8th I don't plan on despairing of humanity any more or less than usual. I'm fairly certain the streets won't be any more crowded: the real shopping takes place through inbox newsletters and discount codes now, a pre-Christmas rush from the comfort of the sofa. Your presents are probably already in the post. But if they're not, check the last postage dates and get moving.
And if you do see people speaking in impenetrable accents, loaded down with bags from TK Maxx and Clerys, don't be a Grinch about it. If you find yourself giving out directions on the Luas ('Yes, they all go to that stop…") or running a terse obstacle course between shoppers on Grafton Street stopping to take in the lights and the shop windows, be polite. Maybe point them towards the Lovin Dublin app (free this month!) if they're here for a few days and want something to do. Resist the urge to put them on the wrong bus to Ongar, or somewhere similarly exotic.
And if the crowds really give you pavement rage, stay in and marvel at this RTE archive clip from December 8th, 1982 (Snooker tables! Bubble perms! Queues around the block! Truly those were heady times…). Dubliners, be good. December 8th comes but once a year, and you're on your best behaviour…