"People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors."
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Memories of Christmas Eve Past
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
Image: Christmas Angel from All Posters and Prints.
The Hill of Slane
It had long been known as sacred ground when St. Patrick visited the hill on the eve of Easter in 433 A.D. He lit a Paschal or Easter fire which could be seen from the nearby hill of Tara, the royal seat of power. There, a fire also burned to celebrate the pagan feast of Beltane. Since it was against the law to light any fire in the area while this was taking place, Laoghaire, the king at that time, was furious and rode off with his retinue to arrest the mystery rebel. Miraculously - some say through an earthquake, others by holding up a shamrock- St. Patrick convinced the king of his belief in Christianity and the power of the Holy Trinity. It was a power that St. Patrick thought would be useful to the king who only wished that his soldiers could be as brave as St. patrick and his followers. He took the group prisoner and marched them back to the Hill of Tara. The next day, they were spared and were allowed to preach Christianity to the pagan army. Today, at the top of the hill are the ruins of a Franciscan Monastery built in 1512.
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March 4, 2011
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