A Special Christmas

By Philomena Young, Foxrock Dublin 18

Christmas day 1940 was the day when I decided to make my dramatic entrance into the world. It was not the best Christmas ever for my parents or indeed for my older siblings. The house was chaotic. The turkey was abandoned – languishing sadly in a dish in the scullery.

My mother, with the help of the local midwife and prayers to Saint Philomena and Saint Jude (patron of hopeless cases!), delivered me safely in the big bed upstairs, while my father paced the floor and my brothers and sister wondered why Santa had forgotten all about them.

However, all was well at the end of the day, and my father always remembered that Christmas as the one where he got no Christmas dinner! My mother’s memories were more vivid! My own memories of childhood Christmas in West Cork were wonderfully happy ones.

As the youngest in the house, it was my privilege to light the candle

Christmas eve was the time to collect the turkey from the local farm and the big box of goodies from Auntie Nora’s shop. The contents were always the same – Elite biscuits, Cadbury’s chocolates, a Dundee cake, apples, oranges, bananas and exotic dates, with a picture on the box of a hooded man riding a camel. A calendar and a big red candle were Auntie Nora’s gift to us.

As the youngest in the house, it was my privilege to light the candle at teatime, and place it in the window to guide Mary and Joseph to a place of safety.

Christmas morning – up before dawn. Feeling the bulging stocking at the end of the bed. Shrieking with excitement as presents were opened. Walking to the early morning Mass, my gloved hand in my father’s cold one.  Listening to the muffled voices of the other Mass-goers. Frost glistening on the roadway. The church warm and dimly lit.   Kneeling before the baby Jesus in the crib, the straw making a golden haze around his head.

Then the feast!

Rushing home after Mass. Rashers and sausages sizzling on the stove. Daddy lighting a massive fire in the sitting room. Sharing presents with the family. Neighbours and relations calling. Port and sherry being sipped by the adults while the turkey, ham and vegetables are prepared. Then the feast!

Afterwards, slumped by the fire to doze and eat chocolates. Card games, quizzes, sitting on Daddy’s lap while he whispered the answers to me when my turn came to answer questions. More eating, more games, maybe a sing-song.

I do remember the fun and the noise

Then bed and a good night’s sleep in preparation for St. Stephen’s Day, when we dressed up and sang the WREN around all the neighbouring houses, and gathered enough money to go to the matinee in our local cinema. I don’t remember what films we saw, but I do remember the fun and the noise, and the devouring of sweets, and the thrill of being shouted at by the cinema owner to be quiet or we would all be put out. We never were put out, but oh, what memories, and what times they were – those Christmases of my childhood.



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