Even before Halloween I spotted trucks delivering the Christmas lights to Grafton Street by night. And now they’ve been switched on by Elmo from Love/Hate (an amusingly odd–and dark–choice, in my opinion. Do children like Elmo from Love/Hate? Let’s assume they do...). They hang in glittering clusters above chuggers and the tourists pausing to take pictures of the Brown Thomas window display.
That all-pervading mania is about to descend, the Christmas madness that drives us to buy candles and chocolates and socks for long lost aunts.
It’s all a little bit daunting, what with the itchy sweaters and Lidl selling four different kinds of Christmas pudding (five if you count Dundee cake…). It scares me that with every passing Christmas I get a little further into my twenties, and still I have no idea how to defrost and cook a turkey.
The upside, of course, is that mulled wine season has begun. You can pretty much apply it to any occasion from now until mid-January. Social gathering? Mulled wine. Cold weather? Mulled wine is the answer. Torn between buying a traditional advent calendar, or one featuring One Direction instead (spotted in Dealz…)? Mulled wine will definitely help you to decide.
For all the mulled-ness, though, I’m not really feeling very Christmassy. So I find myself at Fallon and Byrne’s Christmas Extravaganza, something of a yearly tradition where they fill the upstairs function room with rows of tables offering samples of Christmas food. It always draws a crowd, and goes some way to simulating the mixture of excitement and existential panic that characterises of Christmas itself. It’s a kind of rehearsal Christmas, with the bonus of lots of amazing food if you’re early enough to catch it.
I arrive with a friend, but we lose each other almost instantly in a disordered queue, everyone rapidly regretting the wool coats they forgot to take off upon arrival. The tables form several corridors of food: I set my sights on creme anglaise and coulis served in little glasses, the selection of Jane Russell's sausages sizzling in a corner, and beautiful sugar-dusted Pandoro cake torn into pieces in bowls.
Only the brave should attend Fallon and Byrne’s Christmas Extravaganza. A kind of hunter-gatherer instinct sets in and I find myself ducking and swerving to get to the food, exploiting all the cunning and speed that being 5’2 and relatively innocent-looking can afford me. The crowd is especially dense around the three or four wine merchants near the end of each aisle. This is where the mannered shoppers turn feral, lunging at glasses, hijacking queues...
Eventually I get to the table and am rewarded with about an inch of wine. It might be for the best, though, as the thin air in this room coupled with the cake and meat and something wonderful called Improper Butter have already gone to my head.
A brand called Boutique Bakes are offering samples of gluten free cake and an amazing, fluffy brown bread (say what you want but I will always take good bread over cake…) which they sell as a mix in lovely pastel-coloured boxes. On a table across the way are shots of dreamy mint chocolate-flavoured tea by Nik’s Tea. And served in an unceremonious, beetroot-red pile on one table is Silver Darlings nordic herring, an unlikely contender for my new favourite Christmas food. Before now I’d always viewed pickled herring as something of a joke, but tasting it makes me want to decamp to Sweden and live out my days with a statuesque sailor named Bjorn.
It’s getting really hard to move in here.
Sorry… sorry can I get by? Sorry. Sorry, just… sorry oh is that cake?
I must stop being sorry, and somehow get to the paté.
The elbows are out, the early-onset Christmas mania. Gluttony compels me to keep moving like Homer Simpson at the food fair (I could even eat a baby deer, fa la la!), and each sample grabbed from the tables becomes a small, delicious victory.
Last year I remember tasting bacon jam, a dizzying mixture of maple syrup, grainy salt and slow-cooked meat. But this year there’s something equally extravagant, a pheasant pie which the chef later tells me took two days of cooking, over €150 in ingredients and the lives of several winged creatures to prepare. We are given little bites of the filling served on crackers. I imagine Henry VIII would approve.
Later I wander around town and find that other competing extravaganzas have sprung up, twee and hyperbolic and lit by fairy lights. Brown Thomas has the Marvel Room, an enchanting enough place that buying a Moschino phone case shaped like a tshirt and designer dog accessories begin to seem quite logical. And over on Stephen’s Green a market lines the side of the park, little sheds selling craft gifts and bratwurst and three different kinds of mulled drink.
I find it as crowded as Fallon and Byrne was, packed with slow-moving tourists on their way to the Viking Splash boat. Near the end there’s even a first aid stand, should the Christmas spirit prove overwhelming. It is for me: I’m not ready yet, and rain is beginning to find its way between the sheds. I decide to beat a retreat.
Later I am safely installed upstairs in a corner of Keoghs, sipping the first hot whiskey of winter, and I realise I want to do all my Christmas shopping online this year. That’s not to discourage those organised souls who want to go out and buy presents in November. But I find Christmas shopping as a spectator sport is already tiring enough.