Christmas cheer without the beer

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With so many Yuletide events taking place in pubs and restaurants, it’s not an easy time to stay sober

From the Irish Times

The party season is in full swing and we are constantly being reminded of the need to put on our dancing shoes and enjoy the festive fun.

The season to be jolly usually involves a glass or two of bubbly or a wee dram of “something special” for the more sedate revellers – with everyone feeling guilty about the designated drivers who will undoubtedly be feeling left out of all the merriment.

But there is an increasing number of people around the country who have realised that they can have just as much fun without touching a drop of alcohol and have made the conscious decision to cultivate a social circle far removed from booze-fuelled nights followed by unwelcome hangovers.

Annmarie Brophy, from Dundrum, is a 40-year-old mother of two. A practising psychotherapist, she drinks alcohol occasionally but more often than not finds herself sticking to the soft drinks.

“I drink alcohol very infrequently, as I don’t need it to enjoy myself,” she says. “I hold a balanced and non-judgmental view towards it and have absolutely no issue with people drinking but personally I just don’t particularly enjoy the feeling of being intoxicated and am happier to enjoy the occasion without it.

“While I have a quiet and shy personality, I have developed my self-confidence over time and am more content and accepting of myself just the way I am, so don’t need alcohol to release inhibitions or give me courage to engage with people.”

Pressure to drink alcohol
The married mother of two says there was a time when socialising without alcohol was relatively unheard of in Ireland, but this has all changed and nowadays there are a lot of like-minded people who are more than happy to stick to soft drinks.

“Up until quite recently the only option available for socialising at night time was a pub or nightclub,” she says. “There were very few choices available and I believe this put enormous pressure on young adults to drink in excess.

“But the social scene without alcohol is absolutely not to be feared. I regularly attend events on my own and always feel included and welcomed.

“At first I was anxious and shy but quickly discovered that there is often an unspoken underlying ethos of inclusivity. I regularly meet really interesting and genuine people and the experience is richer and at a deeper level when alcohol is not involved, as I feel the freedom to be myself and have great fun. “

Although she feels relaxed in venues without alcohol, Brophy says Christmas can be more difficult.

“I find Christmas can be a challenging time for socialising without alcohol, as so many festive gatherings take place in pubs and restaurants,” she says.

“That said, I’ll be participating in as much festive cheer as the rest of my family and friends but I’ll be reaching for a Ginger Beer or Cranberry Spritzer instead of their alcoholic equivalents.

“I intend to slow the pace down several notches over the Winter Solstice weekend, so I’ll be ditching the 12 pubs of Christmas for an opportunity to connect with the spirit of Christmas in a more holistic and nourishing way.

Overnight dance celebration
“I’ll be participating in an overnight dance celebration with a wonderful group of dancers in the beautiful environs of Townley Hall, Co Louth – this will be a fantastic opportunity to spend time with friends, eat delicious healthy food, spend time outdoors in nature and, above all, have festive fun in a slightly alternative way.”

“For New Year’s Eve, I’ll hit the dance floor, sober, at the Funky Seomra [non-alcoholic nightclub] party celebration in the RDS – which promises to be a magic night of music, dance and live entertainment, all without alcohol.

“So for me this Christmas, I’ll get to have all of the fun and festive cheer without the hangover blues the following day.”

Lisa Markham-Sharkey, a counsellor (specialising in creative arts therapy) from Kildare, has also discovered the joy of socialising without alcohol and feels we have become totally fixated on drinking in order to celebrate, commiserate or simply get through the day.

“I haven’t drunk any alcohol for about six years because over time I became allergic to it, to the point that having two glasses of beer would result in severe hangover symptoms the following day,” says the 38 year old.

“Now I’m part of a growing Irish social sub-culture which doesn’t explicitly judge or discuss alcohol but just gets on socially without it.

“From intimate dinner parties, to sitting in circles sharing with friends, to going out dancing; I’m often surrounded by people who have great fun with the absence of alcohol.”

And although the festive season is usually fuelled with a bit of the strong stuff, Markham-Sharkey won’t feel the need to find fun in a bottle.

“This Christmas season I will be gathering with many dear loved ones of mixed ages from far and wide – some who enjoy an alcohol beverage and some who don’t,” she says.

“I will also take some time with my husband, Anthony, and friends to honour the past year – to give thanks for everything we have received and offered this year.”

Non-alcoholic tipple
“At this time of the year non-alcoholic mulled wine is my choice of tipple. I make this using cranberry juice and mixed spices or buy the equally delicious varieties from the nearest health store.

“Also, some whole stores sell sparkling apple or blackberry juice in a champagne bottle for that celebratory champagne pop. However, my favourite champagne anytime of the year is sparkling water with a slice of lemon because I like the simple things in life.”

David Mooney, the creator of Funky Seomra, says socialising without alcohol is no longer seen as something out of the ordinary, as his club nights are becoming more and more popular.

“The Funky Seomra is an alcohol- and drug-free nightclub, the first of its kind in Ireland, which takes place in Dublin, Cork and Galway,” he says.

“In Dublin we have our five-year anniversary coming up in the RDS Concert Hall on New Year’s Eve, which will be our biggest night yet.

“There is an organic cafe, chill-out areas, massage and shiatsu, stunning visuals, art area, top quality sound system, live drumming and accompanying music from great DJs.

Loyal following
“There are usually about 300-400 people from all walks of life at Funky Seomra nights and it has developed a very loyal following, with new people coming all the time.

“Some attend to take a break from the regular nightclub scene which can be centred around alcohol consumption; some don’t drink at all while others just love the music and the unique atmosphere.”

Anna Young, owner of Accents, an alcohol-free, late-night lounge in Dublin’s south city centre, agrees and says more and more people are enjoying social lives that don’t revolve around the traditional pub scene.

“I opened the doors to Accents on April 11th, 2011, and am now in my third year of trading, so am delighted that business continues to grow stronger through our loyal customers spreading the word,” she says. “Our little Accents family loves Christmas and we will embrace the season with decorations, speciality drinks and treats with great enthusiasm.

“So arrange that cuppa with a friend or family member you haven’t had time to see over the year – curl up on a sofa with a hot drink and good chat – because in my opinion, that’s what the season is all about.”