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An old custom that still exists...The Stations
There's many an Irish homemaker who has used this occasion as a valid reason to get all kinds of home-improvements started - and finished. For once, Irish procrastination takes a back seat to Irish pride in appearances. Outside the house, everything is usually given a fresh coat of paint or whitewash; gates are fixed, leaky roofs are mended, and the gardens are tended. Everything must be perfect!
Inside, a mammoth spring-cleaning takes place and there might even be a flurry of repainting and decorating. Once satisfied with the appearance of the home, the hospitality of the house takes center stage.
In her wonderful book, Festive Foods of Ireland, Darina Allen remembers that in her childhood, the parlor table was covered with an embroidered linen tablecloth and set with the best china. Mass was usually said in the kitchen and the table used as an altar. This was covered with a starched linen cloth, kept just for the occasion.
Come the big day, the woman of the house, and perhaps a few friends, would have been up since dawn making final preparations for the breakfast; the children would be sent to gather fresh flowers which were used to decorate the home throughout; and family members then spruced themselves up in their Sunday best, so that all was in readiness before the guests arrived.
Relatives, friends and neighbors arrived first, and as soon as the priest and his curate showed up, one priest began to hear confessions in the parlor, while the other said Mass and distributed Communion in the kitchen.
The Stations were officially over when the priests departed. However, in many parts of Ireland, this was when the real social celebration began, complete with music, story-telling, sing-alongs and dancing.
Nowadays, as busy as we are, inviting the entire parish over for Mass and breakfast is probably not an event many of us would embrace with much enthusiasm; but, you could do what my mother always did after Sunday Mass. Serve a traditional Irish breakfast!
For recipes The Irish Kitchen.
Images: Ask Jeeves once again came through with thatched cottages for sale or rent, all over Ireland. The one shown here is Abans Ceimh, in Cave, Co. Galway. The Communion Host image is from a religious supplies web site.
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.
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March 4, 2011
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