Happy post-holiday season, y’all! It’s hard to believe that the holidays have come and gone once again and that we are now in a whole new year. It’s especially hard for me to believe because that means that I first stepped foot in my new hometown, the adorable and bustling medieval city of Galway, Ireland, just over two months ago.
As I took my first of many walks along the Corrib River in late October, I watched the couples, joggers, young families, and Galway’s swan population enjoying the (semi-rare) mild and sunny day. I also watched as some paused in their strolls to inspect a few odd-looking trees and a stray lamp post which all appeared to be covered in… what exactly WERE they covered in? Upon closer inspection, the verdict was in. It was a bunch of yarn. Yarn knit into some truly intricate and festive Halloween decorations, to be exact!
I can’t speak for the other passers-by, nor can I speak for the resident swan families, but as I walked along the bay I was listening to A Game of Thrones on my iPhone, so my mind was far, far away from this world. Seeing this guerrilla installation of yarn art literally called me back to the present. It made me stop, take out my earbuds, and consider what the spooky little decorations were doing there.
The cozy tree decor made me realize a few things: 1) Halloween was only a few days away, 2) Galway really likes to decorate-- I had noticed pretty much every store had some sort of spooky decor in their shop windows, 3) Some unknown strangers actually worked their fingers to the bone (Get it? Skull doilies? HA) to create this street art, and 4) These unknown yarnbombers used their powers to reclaim a public space simply to spread holiday cheer!
Then, immediately after Halloween on November 1st, Galway shifted into Christmas mode. Again, Galway really likes decorating. Lights began to be strung all over Shop Street, storefronts started putting up trees and stockings in windows, and a few weeks into November the famed Galway holiday market arrived, which consisted of many cabin-esque food and craft stalls, a German beer tent, and even a carousel and a flashy ferris wheel.
All these decorations surround you in the city, so one can’t really help but be in a holiday mindset!
However, lights and holiday markets and ferris wheels… I don’t think these things are what create that warm and fuzzy feeling, that holiday spirit. I think what makes this time of year special is being with friends or family that help you feel the generosity and humanity and love that is oftentimes forgotten in day-to-day life through the rest of the year.
Until a few weeks ago, the Halloween installment was the only yarnbombing I had come across. But as I started walking down the Long Walk just before Christmas Eve, I saw an entire knitted Christmas scene directly next to the Spanish Arch, one of Galway’s main attractions! Once again, the yarny display brought me back to the present and brightened up my spirit, corny as that may sound.
But think about it: Once again, some unknown, skilled, dedicated strangers created a work of art simply to bring a smile to the faces of other total strangers! Lights and trees are standard holiday season decor for shops, but a hand-knit fireplace complete with wreaths, lights, ornaments, a giant stocking and a starry sky right next to a frequently-visited landmark? That’s some serious effort! THAT is a personal reminder of the love and humanity and generosity of complete strangers for everyone who sees it.
The middle of the Christmassy scene boasts the fireplace’s mantle inscribed with the text “#TacaimLeGaillimh”, which is Irish for “I support Galway”. That hashtag is referring to the fact that Galway was chosen as the European Union’s Capital of Culture for 2020. I have seen some stickers and storefronts boasting “Galway 2020”, “We’re Backing the Bid”, and “I back Galway” around town, which were originally spread before Galway was voted on to be the Capital of Culture, as that decision was made only just made in July 2016.
There are ongoing efforts for increasing cultural programs and art to be spread through the city, and it appears that these yarnbombings want to help support Galway’s status as an artsy culture capital, preparing it to be the most culturally supportive it can be for 2020. Hopefully that means the Galway yarnbombers will strike more often, helping people like me to be more present and thankful for the little things people do to make life just a little better in these trying times.