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Rowing to Christmas Mass
by Ann McGuire - Co. Galway 1930s
Looking forward to the great feast of Christmas, we were all happy and could not wait for the day. Everyone rallied around making sure everything was clean and in order. There were six children, five girls and one boy. The dad made sure the house was newly thatched and the older children got all the outer walls of of the house and chimney top whitewashed. The lining of the chimney too was cleaned from all soot, in case Santa should get blackened. Even though he seldom brought more than oranges and sweets.
Inside the house was painted, the wooden kitchen table was scrubbed white and clean. All the bedrooms made neat and tidy and the curtains washed and starched and hung inside the sparkling window panes. Even the brass door knobs were not forgotten, they too were made shiny and bright.
The goose was killed, plucked and cleaned and left ready for cooking for Christmas Day Dinner. All the shoes were polished and shone as they were left in a row according to seniority of the person. On Christmas Eve everyone went to Confession making sure the soul too was fresh and clean for Mass and Holy Communion on Christmas Day.
All the animals got a special treat. The cows got a sheaf of oats as well as their usual stall of hay. Neither was the donkey forgotten (he was very special) as the cross on his back was the reminder to everyone of the Cross he carried on Calvary. Also it was the donkey carried Mary to Bethlehem before Jesus was born. Therefore, he was given a very large sheaf of oats.
A light, but much deserved supper was relished by all, as Christmas Eve was a Feast Day. Seed cake was a special treat.
A lighted candle was placed on every window, and the front door was left open in case a stranger wanted shelter. The big open fire blazed as the father sat and enjoyed his well deserved bottle of stout. Mother would sit and read a story while we all sat around listening. We all knelt around the fire and said the Rosary before going to bed.
The biggest treat was still in store. Rising at 3 a.m. everyone dressed in their Sunday best. Making our way, guided by the reflection of light from the sea and moon, we rowed our boat to the mainland and happily walked the remaining three miles to church. Making sure to arrive there before the last bell tolled for Mass. We always stayed on for the three Masses on Christmas morning. The carol singing and the organ playing and the soft glow from the numerous candles lighting made all so heavenlike. Meeting all the people and exchanging greetings, will never be forgotten as 'Happy Christmas' echoed along the the road home.
Extract reproduced from 'No Shoes in Summer' with the permission of the publisher ©Wolfhound Press, 1995. All rights reserved. http://www.Merlinwolfhound.com
Image: Curragh on Keem Beach by Richard Cummins from Barewalls Photos and Prints
For more of our Holiday Stories click on the following links.
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
White Washed Walls
An East Cork Christmas
Thu, Dec 7, 2017
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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