The big thing you'd miss this year is the craic.
I used to live abroad and would try and explain the idea of ‘craic’ to some of the foreigners that I'd meet. "Having the craic is kind of like a social activity," I'd say. "It's about having a good time with friends." Yet, these descriptions never quite fully captured what I found so special about the word.
This year, it has been the absence of craic that has helped me to realise what is so special about it, and this has given me something to work towards in the year ahead.
Despite the seemingly simple nature of these words, there's a beautiful cultural subtext here that teases at the potential for more than just a quick catch-up.
"Sure we'll just go for one…" typically turns to "you'd have another…" and by the time that's done, it's "sure, we're out now and that's that".
Drink is the perfect catalyst for this type of spontaneity. It opens the door to mischief and devilment. It gives you permission to indulge your impulses and allows you the space to ignore your inhibitions.
There's a wonderful playfulness to all of this as well. The charade of "oh, sure you'd stay for another" and that moment when the cajoling suddenly ends because a pint has been placed in your hand and the conversation snaps back to whatever it was that everyone else was so deeply invested in before you threatened to leave.
Now that the promise of craic has been removed, drinking has lost its lustre. That's because having the craic was never really about drinking or pubs or any of that — it was always more to do with the spontaneity of the moment.
Being spontaneous is an intrinsic part of our culture. It developed over centuries of repression. Our ancestors had had their language suppressed and culture was kept alive in secret through song and through story. Music would be performed at impromptu sessions. A fiddle might appear out of nowhere, or — if an instrument couldn't be found — then there'd be a sean-nós song to be sung.
In this — the Year of No Craic — there has been no real opportunities for this type of magic. "Organised fun" has become our main outlet for social contact. There's the Zoom Quiz, the FaceTime Bingo, and the HouseParty game of charades.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy organised fun more than most Irish people. I'd be the first in line to host a quiz or to have a games night, but, if this year has taught me anything, it's that I crave spontaneity far more than I thought I did.
I think our problem with organised fun is that it can feel too forced. Fun shouldn't feel like an obligation. Fun should feel like play. It shouldn't be prescribed or scheduled, and it shouldn't need to have rules or an aim. Play is when you get to do your own thing. If you're doing something for somebody else, then that's called work. In other words — forced craic is no craic at all.
You can leave your Casual Fridays and Team Building Days with Corporate America. That's not for us. Our neighbours in the UK clapped for their carers every Thursday evening at 20:00 — how many times did we manage to do that?
Instead, we seem to prefer to improvise and to mess about. Look at how we charmed our way through the Euros in 2016. We sang lullabies to babies and we serenaded nuns. We helped an elderly couple fix their flat tyre, and then, when the partying was over, we decided to clean up after ourselves. We may have come for the football, but the real craic was had out on the streets.
That's what we've been missing this year. That spontaneity. That wonderful feeling that comes from play. Craic isn't just about some social activity or about having a good time amongst friends. Sure, that’s part of it. But it's got a lot more to do with that closely-knit sense of togetherness where you open yourself up to the moment and just be in it with others.
I miss the craic of being at a wedding. I miss that small bit of craic that appears out of nowhere at a funeral and reminds you of all the rich colours that life holds on its messy palette. I miss the way that the raucous and the poignant can often brush shoulders on a night out. How you might end up talking to some stranger for ages about absolutely nothing. Or how the most profound moments can be witnessed in the most insignificant of places.
How about those evenings where nothing has been planned but somehow it's suddenly twenty-to-twelve on a Thursday night and you're eating crisps for your dinner? You'd miss that, wouldn't you? The sheer boldness of it. That little bit of mischief. That little bit of misbehaving. Forget tomorrow and forget all the rules and responsibilities of life for just this brief little while. There's no judgement here. Sure we're all just friends. All here together in this moment.
... And still, this year, here we are. We are all just friends. We are still together in this moment. But now the rules and responsibilities of life can’t simply be forgotten. There’s no room for mischief or misbehaving right now. We don't have time for “just the one” or space for any of the magic that can be wrapped up in those words. Not tonight. Not now.
So what do we do? Is there something that can be learnt from all of this? Do I have some wisdom to impart? To tell the truth, I don't really know. The response to the chaos of this year has rightly been one of order, caution and compliance. As 2021 arrives, it is certain that this rigidity will continue into the new year.
While we may be slowly trudging towards the promise of pints and dancing, I'm going to try and be less-guided with my aim. Spontaneity can often seem frivolous — we're led to believe that acting impulsively is the behaviour of a child — yet, if this year has taught me anything, it's that frivolity should be seen as a luxury. As we move forward, I feel we should value it as such.
2021 won't be easy. But, if there's more room for play, friends and spontaneity, then perhaps it might be just a little bit more craic.