Traditions I've Been Taught

Máire Ní Chearbhaill

Photo: Catherine O'Dowd

Part I

In my Fathers house I rarely met anyone I was related to, other than my Father and my Aunt. But there were always people coming and going. My Aunt was postmistress so the run up to Christmas was particularly busy. In a country kind of way. It didn’t matter how many stamps you needed, there was always time for tea and a chat. On Christmas Eve when everyone had gone, I got to light the candles in the windows. An honour usually reserved for the house elder, but the honour was given to me to make a new tradition. My Aunt and I would walk the house lighting the candles to guide the way to those who didn’t have a place to stay. Christmas morning after Mass we’d be collected to visit and open presents. Usually there was someone in for a morning recovery cuppa. Perhaps there was no place else they had to be or maybe no else to be with.

Part II

Tea, brown bread and baked ham is the tradition in my Mother’s house on Christmas morning, after Mass, for family and friends who happen to be passing the door. Discussion begins with Santa’s visit and if we’re lucky a song! The talk quickly moves onto food. Hot topics include brown sauce and potato stuffing – from a five generation family recipe. The root of all debates. Love it or hate it!

For my mother Christmas begins in September when she makes Christmas puddings, leaving plenty of time for the puddings to ferment. The day of preparation begins early. All the ingredients are piled high, like a little mountain on the kitchen table. Mixing takes place in a baby bath, exclusive for this annual occasion. Breadcrumbs, sultanas and raisins first. Carrots grated, walnuts hand-chopped. Alcohol added in such large quantities you’d never believe she was a tee-totaller. Spice upon spice envelopes the senses and for one September day Christmas arrives all of a sudden and leaves just as quickly. Everyone gets a Christmas pudding as a present: A simple Christmas pudding that brings warmth and friendship, from Doonaha, to those who don’t live there anymore.

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