When I was young Christmas was a magical time for us children. The house was decorated with holly with berries over every picture on the walls and window sills. The fat red candle was on the hall window sill stuck in a jam-pot surrounded by sand for safety. Paper decorations stretched overlapping each other across the ceiling. A spring of mistletoe was secured in a conspicuous place. We hadn’t many luxuries in life so the mid-winter celebration was very special. From simple, yet nourishing meals to a feast day (not in the biblical sense), was wonderful. We’d only have goose or turkey once a year instead of now when it is the norm for carvery every Sunday in most pubs for all the family. The toys we played with were often made for instance from old scraps of wood and pram wheels we made trolley which we sat in while someone else pulled us along. An old bicycle wheel being hit with a stick down the road while we ran with it gave us hours of fun as did a skipping rope. We made swings that consisted of a bit of board and ropes tying it to a strong branch of a tree. But for Christmas we got real toys and they were something to look forward to if we were good and Santa would bring them. We listened to the radio on Christmas Eve when we heard Santa call out our names and told us he would soon be leaving the North Pole en route for Ireland. We had to be asleep before he came and we went to bed early but often I found it hard to sleep. I remember Mam or Dad peeking into the room to tell us we better get to sleep or we would get nothing. It didn’t make it any easier because Mam insisted in putting the rags in my hair so I would have lovely ringlets like Shirley Temple on Christmas morning for mass. Eventually though I’d drift off to slumberland and would be amazed in the morning to see the toys left on the end of the bed or the floor if they were too big.
One Christmas I and my brother each got clockwork toys. Pat got a rabbit that hopped along and then sat back on his back legs. I got a cat that had a ball between his front paws and turned over and he followed his ball. We had great fun winding them up and watching them go.
My best Christmas ever was the year I wrote to Santa for a pram and doll. I woke early and noticed the usual stocking fillers in the stocking hanging on the bed-end with the orange, bar of chocolate and some balloons. Then I noticed the two parcels on the floor, a large one underneath the smaller one, both wrapped in brown paper (no Christmas paper in those days) and a ribbon around each tied in a bow. I tore open the paper on the first and there she was my doll, Maureen, I had her named when I wrote to Santa for her. I uncovered the pram in the large parcel, lovely and shiny; I never saw such a nice toy pram, a replica of the one Mam had for my little sister. Maureen had soft blond hair, blue eyes with eyelashes and a lovely pink check dress. I pushed the pram straight into Mam and Dad’s room. ‘Look what Santa brought’, I gushed. ‘That child needs to be wrapped up in this cold,’ Mam said and she reached for another parcel.’ Happy Christmas Brigid’, both Mam and Dad chorused together laughing. The little parcel contained a doll sized pillow, under-sheet and a little duvet she had carefully sewed and embroidered with Maureen on the duvet. I was so happy I almost cried.
Soon we were ready for mass. Dad opened the door and a magical world awaited us outside with the arrival of soft snow falling. We skipped along in the snow wanting mass to be over and we’d be back home to enjoy our day. The priest was kind and didn’t have a long mass, as he said it was cold and everybody wanted to get home to the warmth and enjoy their day. Mrs. Molloy, our neighbour fell three times on the way home but she didn’t hurt herself, she laughed each time she fell, Mam and Mr. Molloy had to haul her up each time. She was a plump lady but quite short and she obviously didn’t have the right footwear for the snow.
When we got home we had a little play time in the snow, making a snowman and having a snowball fight and before we knew it we were sat down to dinner. The turkey was always enormous in those days and was put in the oven at six o’clock in the morning; it took many hours to cook and was full of delicious home-made stuffing. Nobody made Christmas dinner like my Mam. We reared our own free-range geese and turkeys and Dad grew all our own potatoes and vegetables. The roast potatoes were done in duck fat and were delicious. The creamed potatoes were mashed with fresh cream from the creamery up the road. My mother made about seven or eight Christmas cakes for friends and relations as well as our family and a couple of puddings too. By the time we were finished feasting we were stuffed. My dad said I shouldn’t say that because I was committing the deadly sin of gluttony if I ate too much.
The snow had stopped after dinner and Dad insisted like Samuel Pepys on our usual walk after dinner for our constitution. It was one day all the family walked together. We did the usual circle round the ‘Crab Road’, through the village and home.
Then I was free to play with Maureen and my pram, dressing and undressing her and combing her hair. I never loved a doll as much. I had another one a year or two later called Josephine but she was nothing like Maureen. She was a Crolly doll with plastic type course dark hair that lasted longer. Poor Maureen was nearly bald by then from all the styling I did on her delicate hair.
On St. Stephen’s day we followed the wren, dressing up in inside out clothes or rags over our clothes and our faces painted or wearing masks, we visited neighbours houses. We had to sing or play music and say the rhyme “The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s day he got stuck in the furze, though he was little his honour was great, be up me lady and give us a treat.” Then if the householder was happy with the performance he would give us some money. In the afternoon the people of the village and surrounding area came together in the three pubs and the adult wren boys played music, sang and everyone danced. We had our lemonade and the men had their stronger drinks and everyone had a wonderful time.
I miss those Christmases when times were so different and people had more time.