ON Tuesday the Irish government unveiled more than 75 virtual events to help celebrate a markedly different 2020 Christmas that will see families and friends separated as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on.

Tobeirish.ie is a new Irish government website that will offer an array of holiday-themed features from the Irish all over the world.  The site will go live with the programming from December 21 until New  Year’s Eve, and visitors will be able to choose from a range of offerings which will hopefully convey some Irish Christmas spirit.

Among the offerings are a new 13-part series called Bailte, which examines life in townlands all over Ireland; a live streaming of the Winter Solstice on December 21 at Newgrange; a digital advent calendar featuring music, crafts and storytelling; talks with actor Gabriel Byrne and author Colum McCann; and a compilation called An Irish Christmas, “a spectacular night of Irish dance, songs and music from world-class dancers and musicians,” as seen on PBS in the U.S.

Some 700,000 returning emigrants and visitors travel into and out of Ireland annually during the holidays to reunite and celebrate, but Covid-19 has pretty much put paid to that for 2020.

The new website has been championed by the Diaspora Minister Colm Brophy and designed to showcase all that’s wonderful about an Emerald Isle holiday.  The site also aims to be filled with submissions from the global Irish diaspora, and all are invited to share their favorite holiday stories and traditions.

“I had been thinking about this months ago, how Christmas would be so different this year, and I wanted our department to do something that would give people who can’t come home an Irish experience,” Brophy told the Irish Voice during an interview last week.

“The website is all about giving people who will be remaining in New York or Chicago or wherever in the world a place to go online, a wonderful portal which will provide a flavor of Ireland at Christmas.”

The submission guidelines are broad – the third-generation Irish American living in Boston is just as welcome to participate as the recent Irish immigrant spending the holiday in New York.

“We want everyone to share something.  We’ve had some videos from people giving recipes for Christmas pudding, or telling how their grannys would make the turkey, or remembering what treats they used to leave out for Santa to make sure he would stop at their houses.  And what Christmas TV shows they like,” Brophy said. 

Tobeirish.ie is currently accepting one-minute video submissions from anyone who wishes to provide a story, a recollection, a Christmas jig, a favorite carol – anything that will help bring Ireland that bit closer during a time when everyone is craving familiar comforts.   

TikTok and Instagram submissions are welcome; so too are simple videos from camera phones.  The instructions for submission are detailed on the site.

The minister is fully aware that a virtual Irish Christmas is nothing like the real thing, but these days it’s all about making the best of a bad situation, and tobeirish.ie aims to do just that.  Its intent is also to be one and done, as vaccines will make in-person celebrations once again possible for next year.

“I have no doubt that in generations to come, there will be people telling stories about how they celebrated this really strange Christmas when families were separated, and what they did to try and make it special.  And this is an opportunity to be part of those future stories,” Brophy says.

“And for this year, we want to reach out to everyone at Christmastime and say that we know it’s not the same as it should be, but here is something that will raise your spirits and give you something to be happy about, and help you look forward to next year.”