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Memories of Christmas Eve Past
by Bridget Haggerty

As I write this, it's very late on Christmas Eve. The apple pie is done. So is the pumpkin; and, the sponge cake is fresh out of the oven. It will stay out overnight to stale up a bit and become the foundation for the trifle I'll assemble tomorrow. While my Christmas dinner menu is very different from my mother's, I spent most of today just as she did - preparing for the Christmas feast. Things seem to be in order. But, now, the big decision - Midnight Mass in just an hour or so, or should we go first thing in the morning? It's difficult for me to decide which I like best.

I remember one Midnight Mass in particular. My parents weren't ones to wrap clothes as gifts; it was just assumed that if they could afford it, we'd have a new outfit to wear, top to toe. A week or so before December 24th, my mother took us shopping. The year that sticks out in my mind was when I was about 14 years old. What rapture, when I swore I would die if I didn't have my first pair of "high heels" (1/4"), as well as a gorgeous white coat made out of a fur-like material - and got them!

My folks didn't own a car, so we walked the mile or so to Christ the King Church. On the way, it began to snow - just a light dusting. As we took our places in the pew, I noticed that the flakes that had fallen on my coat flickered and shone like diamonds whenever I made a move. I tugged at my mother's arm and she saw them too. A white Christmas where I lived was rare. Diamonds in the snow was a minor miracle.

On the way home, we'd always stop for a brief visit with a few other Irish families in our neighborhood; little gifts would be exchanged as would be a toast to the season; and then it was home to bed.

Whichever Mass we attended, my mother always went up to to the manger scene afterwards and gently removed a shaft of straw; we didn't have a Nativity set at home, so she'd place it near the top of our little tree on the sideboard. If it was after Mass in the morning, it was placed above an already-decorated tree. But, if it was after the Midnight celebration, it was the first ornament on the tree. Somewhere, between the time we went to bed and daylight, my parents managed to stay awake long enough to fill the pillowcases at the foot of our beds and trim the tree.

Imagine waking up to the aroma of a goose cooking and Bing Crosby's White Christmas! Perhaps the song wasn't always the same, but in my memory, the folks were always up way before we were and my mother had a thing about getting the dinner on by noon. A major time issue was having it all done and over with by the Queen's speech at 3:00 pm. Not that my parents were particularly loyal to the crown. My dad definitely wasn't. He'd spend the whole time taking the mick. Or slagging, as they call it in Ireland.

He was born in 1899; as a child growing up in Galway, his Christmas Day would have been very different from mine. He was from a large family and brothers and sisters who had left home would do whatever they could to come back for the holiday. The youngest child would light the candle at sun-down to illuminate the way for the Travelers on Christmas Eve. This was the first of three special candles lit during the holiday season. (The second one was lit on New Year's and the third on Epiphany). After Mass, it was the custom in many parts of Ireland for the men and boys to take part in a hurling match and there are records that say entire neighboring villages would compete against each other.

And then it was home for dinner! My very superstitious mother must have forgotten this because we never did it, but long ago, it was thought that drinking three sips of salted water before dinner was conducive to good health; also, to hear a cricket chirping on the hearth on Christmas Day was a sign of luck in the coming year.

I'm very pleasantly tired - the decision for this year is the 8.00 am Mass this morning. I'll leave you with this prayer sent to me by a friend; it isn't Irish, but it's a lovely sentiment all the same:

Santa's Prayer on Christmas Eve
By Warren D. Jenning

The sleigh was all packed, the reindeer were fed,
But Santa still knelt by the side of the bed.
"Dear Father," he prayed "Be with me tonight, There's much work to do and my schedule is tight.
I must jump in my sleigh and streak through the sky,
Knowing full well that a reindeer can't fly.
I will visit each household before the first light, I'll cover the world, and all in one night.
With sleighbells a-ringing, I'll land on each roof,
Amid the soft clatter of each little hoof.
To get in the house is the difficult part,
So I'll slide down the chimney of every child's heart.
My sack will hold toys to grant all their wishes,
The supply will be endless, like the loaves and the fishes.
I will fill all the stockings and not leave a track,
I'll eat every cookie that is left for my snack.
I can do all these things Lord, only through You,
I just need your blessing, then it's easy to do.
All this is to honor the birth of the One,
Who was sent to redeem us, Your most Holy Son.
So to all of my friends, lest Your glory I rob,
Please Lord, remind them who gave me this job."

Image: Christmas Angel from All Posters and Prints.

For more of our Holiday Stories click on the following links.
Advent/Christmas Holidays
Time at this Point in the Year
An Advent Memory
Yes, Kelsey and Maddie, there is a Santa Claus
Waiting for St. Nicholas
Christmas - Preparing the Puddings
Christmas - Food for the Feast
An Irish Christmas - Then & Now
An Irish Christmas - The Day Before
Memories of Christmas Eve Past
An Irish Christmas - Ding Dong Merrily On High
Seasons Greetings in Irish
St. Stephen's Day to New Year's Eve
New Year's Day to Epiphany
Many Years Ago by John B. Keane
Rowing to Christmas Mass
Burying the Baby Jesus
White Washed Walls
An East Cork Christmas

 

Tue, Dec 2, 2014


Holly and Ivy hanging up and
something wet in every cup*

Not so long ago, Irish Christmas decorations were much simpler than they are now. The children gathered holly and ivy for adorning, windows, doorways, mantles and pictures, and the father would carve out a turnip in which would be placed a large red candle. This would go in the window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Only in relatively recent times did an Irish family have a Nativity scene and a decorated tree in the house. As for Mistletoe, it's quite rare in ireland and is generally associated with ancient Celtic and Druidic fertility celebrations; this is most likely where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.
*Old Irish Christmas toast
Image: Pashley Manor Gardens.

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March 4, 2011
   
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