This Friday, Christmas in Ireland will officially begin. The institution that is The Late Late Toy Show will be aired live on RTE One and internationally on the RTE Player.
It is the job of the Irish emigrant to explain to her non-Irish friends exactly what the appeal of The Toy Show is. Why do grown adults drop everything to get the goodies in, get settled in for the evening and pretend that they are children again? Why does Ireland stop for this one night, and in this Covid world we currently live in, why is the Irish Government desperately working to set out the exit plan from lockdown in time for The Toy Show? What is it about this magical Toy Show that brings grown adults to their knees?
The Late Late Toy Show began as a segment on toys on The Late Late Show back in 1976. The legendary broadcaster, Gay Byrne, saw the appeal of this segment and grew it into a fully-fledged dedicated programme once a year. If you’re of a certain age, you will remember the cheesy children from various stage schools singing and dancing, you might remember the precocious children showing off the toys they were to demonstrate or you might remember the delightfully entertaining children who could not but put a smile on your face. The Toy Show is warm television viewing with a heart. The key to its success is its values – an expectation of what childhood should be like putting family at the core of it.
Now more than forty years on and several generations on, Irish children both at home and abroad will be gathered around their screens with their parents in anticipation of writing their lists to Santa. This year though might be the most emotional and well-needed time for the Toy Show as grandparents and grandkids are separated and Irish families across the world will be celebrating Christmas divided because of Covid.
Technology has shaped Irish emigration beyond recognition. You are just as likely to have second-generation Irish children watching The Toy Show in Manchester as much as they will be in Mayo. Travelling back to Ireland this Christmas from Britain respecting all the Covid requirements has caused much debate back home. Leo Varadkar announced unceremoniously in the Dáil Chamber that the Irish Abroad shouldn’t book flights home. The level of anger at which he spoke without any official government endorsement was careless and insensitive. We are not holidaymakers. We are not planning to travel the four corners of the island of Ireland. If we head back, it is because there is a need and there is no greater need than to see loved ones that you have not seen for months for a meaningful Christmas. No one wants to bring back the virus to an elderly loved one.
So if you tune in this Friday, bring your hankies. Your heart-strings will be pulled as messages from grandchildren around the world will be sent to grandparents back in Ireland. If you’re not, pray that the RTE Player can cope with the international demand. Getting this right for RTE this year has never been as important.
* Audrey Eager, Founder of Liberal Irish, the Irish Liberal Democrat Society. If you’d like to join our mailing list, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org