CHRISTMAS IN ANOTHER AGE
By Doc Gilbert
The celebration of Christmas, like every other aspect of life, has seen rapid change in recent years. This has been particularly noticeable in recent times, with shops and stores displaying the Christmas wares as early as October. The wave of holiday spending affects us all in our pockets.
It was not always so, as this recent conversation with Marcella Kinneavy and Delia D’arcy will illustrate.
They recall Christmases when the celebration was firmly grounded in tradition and simple joys brought contentment to all.
Our conversation opened and closed with poems Marcella’s mother learned at school in the latter part of the last century. They brought tears to her mother’s eyes when she recited them, especially around Christmas.
MARCELLA talked about the preparations for Christmas. The chimney was cleaned about two weeks ahead and then the walls were whitewashed. They looked lovely and clean with a lovely smell from them. The dresser and all the delph was cleaned down. When the money came from the U.S.A, my mother bought a few yards of lace cross curtains and cretonne to make cushion covers. The concrete floors were scrubbed and the tables and chairs bleached with Vim.
DELIA started to describe the making of her grandmother’s pudding, the white pudding at Christmas. We didn’t have an iced cake, but we had a treacle cake and our mother made a plum pudding. And my grandmother made a putog bhan, which was white pudding made with the white flour, the suet from the butcher’s shop and the raisins and currants. They were mixed together with a little bit of butter and milk and t’was put into a floured piece of linen and t’was tied and put into the pot and boiled. It was boiled for three hours and taken up then and left on the plate with the bag taken off it. And that was cut in slices and heated fro Christmas Day. It was a very old recipe. Older than the black pudding. Now er had no money. We got a brack from Johnny Byrne’s bakery and that was the most beautiful brack you ever saw. It cost five shillings for the big one. And my mother used to bring it in and we thought we’d never have it eaten, it was so big.
NL Had you a Christmas tree?
DELIA: No, and no drink. We never saw a drink going around at Christmas. The pub wasn’t open on Christmas Day.
MARCELLA : I used to love putting up the holly and ivy and the Christmas candle in the window. But that’s all, and there was no meat on Christmas Eve, only fish.
DELIA : It was a day of abstinence.
MARCELLA : I was dying for Christmas day and the meat – and Santa Clause. Santa brought me a little cardboard crib every second year while my sister got it each other year. We got magic lanterns in our stockings. We had two Kevin O Higgins mottos, one for the door and one for the fireplace. We bought them from the travelling people.
DELIA : Countess Metaxa used to come around with Santa Claus. She wouldn’t give to everyone. There’s always some of them she’d come and she’d give. We never got anything from her because our father was a carpenter and coachbuilder. You had to be very poor.
NL: So you didn’t qualify.
DELIA : No, it was just like the medical card. You didn’t qualify if you weren’t in the system. But we weren’t in the system. But the ones that were in it they got dolls and they got games and they got sweets. We never had a Christmas tree. Just the candle was the most important thing.
NL: Where did you place the candle?
DELIA : It was stuck in a turnip, and it was put in the window.
MARCELLA : And the smallest one in the house would light it.
NL: And when did you light it?
MARCELLA : Christmas Eve.
DELIA : And we used to watch the wax running down the side and make balls with it and little toys. And we used to think that we would see Santa Claus and the reindeers up in the sky if there was moonlight on Christmas Eve night.
MARCELLA : There were nine houses in Camp Street with two windows in each and on Christmas Eve at about six in the evening candles were lit in all the windows. Everything was quiet and still. At ten to midnight all the doors were opened to welcome the Holy Family. We said the rosary – our parents did, but we were too excited. We listened to the “Joy Bells” which were the church bells which rang out at midnight.
NL: So to Christmas Day.
MARCELLA : My father was the postman, who started his rounds at 7a.m. in the morning. He was treated in nearly every house. We used to have to wait until he came home on Christmas evening for the dinner. And we used to have the roast goose and roast beef, but we’d all go for the goose and potato stuffing which was lovely and which was my favourite all the time. Mrs Thompson from America made a plum pudding for us and she brought it to us on Christmas Day. And we’d get sparklers from Santa Claus and at night we’d run up and down the street with the sparklers. And we’d get a parcel from America, from my sister, with presents. I got a doll from her when I was five years and half, and I still have the doll. And she could say “mama” at the time, but never so much as a sound now. Her hair is gone and her arm is gone, but I have the rest of her. She’s very near as old as myself. We’d get a bottle of raspberry wine and we were delighted.
DELIA : That was a present you got from the shop. You ordered your groceries and the shopkeeper gave you the same as you ordered. He would put in a cake, a bottle of wine, sweets or a bag of apples. And whatever you bought in the shop you’d get that and it used to last until March. And you’d get the Santa thing. You’d get a handkerchief, a Christmas handkerchief, you’d get an apple, you’d get a penny. You’d get whatever toy you got. But the penny you got from Santa you’d keep it and we went to the church to see the crib. The penny was given to the baby Jesus. We never spent it.
Times have changed, haven’t they?
We would like to thank Marcella and Delia for sharing their memories with us.
Where are now the merry party I remember long ago,
Sitting round the Christmas fire, brightened by its soothing glow,
Harvest summer’s balmy evenings, through the fields amongst the hay,
They have all dispersed and wandered far away, oh far away.
Some are gone to lands far distant and with strangers make their home,
Some are gone to swirled up waters, all their lives are forced to roam.
Some of course are gone forever, longer here they could not stay,
They have reached a fairer region far away, oh far away.
Still there are but few remaining who remind us of the past,
But they change as all things change, here. Nothing in this world can last.
Turn backward, turn backward
O time in your flight
Make me a child again
Just for to-night.
Soothe from my forehead
The wrinkles of care
Pluck the sweet silver threads
Out of my hair.
Over my slumbers
Thy loving watch, keep
Rock me to sleep, Mother
Rock me to sleep