A Christmas Time to Remember

By Rose Kelly- Cogan, Galway

Chikdhood in early 1960s Ireland for a child was a dull, dark and depressing place, with the daily drudgery of walking to school in over sized shoes, older sister’s coat, in the howling wind and rain, bags on backs and heavy hearts in shoes, shanks mare was the only mode of transport at least in rural Ireland as it applied to me.

Christmas holidays were here

Home was the one thing that maintained the sanity especially the weeks building up to Christmas .The school bell would ring at 3.30 pm and a stampede would ensue for the front door. The rain did not matter now. I was going home and Christmas holidays were here.

Money was tight

This was a particularly busy time of year for my mother. Christmas always seemed to add that little extra strain and pressure on Mum, money was tight and Dads work on the buildings scarce to say the least. We were a large family ten in all, five had already flown the nest to work in England when I was a child of eight or nine.

Mum always did her best to make Christmas special. Everything was homemade and home grown. We had a small holding of land so Dad did all the tillage to provide food for the winter months. Rich fruit cakes, plum puddings, homemade jams, & mince pies were all made well in advance. Of course she had me and my siblings to help, sticking fingers into mixing bowls at every opportunity. Then there was the fresh butter and fresh brown bread and currant cakes, a busy time indeed. The smells linger in my nostrils to this day and takes right back to the cosy kitchen, with us all gathered around, and the big old black Stanley range with two massive ovens, fired up like an engine from  a steam train, Dads job if he happened to be at home was to keep that big black monster fed with turf and any other thing that would burn in it.

We had some fun with that turkey

My brother and I were sent to a neighbour’s house some two miles from our home to collect the live turkey a few days before Christmas. We had some fun with that turkey, especially when my brother dropped the bag and the turkey escaped through fields in Mayo before being eventually caught by my brother. In the end we made it safely home -and so did the turkey, at least for another few days. It was  one of Dads jobs to take care of the turkey and he always did in humane fashion. By the time he was finished Mom had her nice 25 lb oven ready turkey (well almost) A Christmas candle was placed in the front window to welcome the onset of birth of Christ

Christmas eve Mum spent time preparing the bird & preparing the stuffing. The ham was boiled up with all kinds of flavours. & finished off in a hot oven with honey mustard & cloves until golden brown on Christmas day. I still can smell it.

The only sounds were shoes on frozen ground

On Christmas morning Mum would round up all the children dressed in Sunday best and march us all off to first mass at 6am. The winters were colder then, everywhere was frosted up and the only sounds were shoes on frozen ground and sounds of excited children. It’s a memory that will never leave me fifty years on.

Returning home to a warm kitchen, a hearty breakfast was enjoyed by all. Dad would have kept an eye on things while we were out, and he went to mass later. Mum liked it that way; her kitchen was her domain and no place for men where cooking was concerned. Once breakfast was over Mum would give us all our chores, peeling all the various vegetables; cleaning etc. She did all the finishing touches herself as only she could.

About three o clock, the stage set for the big feast. Everyone would be called to the table by Dad and the feast commenced once grace was recited.

Santa was not as rich in those days

Later in the day we would receive our presents, usually one novelty item like a china tea set, scarf/gloves an orange, and sweets. Santa was not as rich in those days, but we were always happy with what he gave us. We would always have a walk after the big meal usually up through the land, with Dad keeping an eye on the livestock.

The remainder of the day was spent playing cards, board games, & jig saw puzzles in front of blazing fire in the sitting room followed by loads of Mums treats. Dad would “entertain” us later when he would break out the old accordion, and sing songs & Christmas carols.

I have passed on the Christmas traditions to my children

Even though Mum and Dad are no longer here, they have left me a great legacy of great memories, and I have passed on the Christmas traditions to my children. Quite recently my son who lives in Canada phoned me asking for Grams recipe for the glaze for the ham, some things never change.

Where ever I am in the world these days at Christmas time, as I now find myself travelling to visit my two adult children on opposite sides of the globe I always seek out a church for the Christmas services.

Sometimes on our way home either with my daughter or son we reflect on times past at Christmas time and as we look skyward we try to find two very special stars to guide us on our journeys home.



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