Christmas is a bitter sweet time, it brings good memories and not so good memories. My father passed away a week before Christmas in 1989 ending a year which was one of the worst of my life. To hear Adeste Fideles brings a lump to my throat as I have happy memories of him singing it with great gusto every Christmas.
But I prefer to dwell on the happy memories. Today I’m having a look back at Christmases past. Over the years Christmas has changed for me as it does for a lot of people, every few years taking on a different way of celebrating depending on family circumstances and obligations.
In Rostrevor in the fifties, Christmas was a fairly sombre affair. We still had rationing, not that I remember much about it other than when we went shopping we took our ration book. Sugar and butter, which we needed for the Christmas cake, we got down South and smuggled them across the border. There was no hopping out to Marks and Sparks in those days, everything was made from scratch. We had a real tree with very antiquated decorations. Lights on the tree were bell shaped painted with characters from Disney. There was a lot of tinsel. Decorations were like mini accordions made of paper that unfolded and were then slung across the ceiling from wall to wall. The tree was topped with a huge orange star which I tend to remember had an orange bulb inside to light it up.
As the younger ones arrived I took more responsibility and my role was to make the stuffing and the trifle and set the table for dinner. Carol singers came round the houses on Christmas Eve. There was a special feeling around our house at Christmas that I’ve always found hard to recapture. I think through the eyes of a child it is a magical time and that magic disappears as the reality of what life is really all about clicks in.
After the turkey dinner, washed down by all colours of lemonade, we played games and listened to the radio. We did have a TV from around 1955 but I don’t think there were programmes on Christmas Day.
We rarely had to buy a turkey. In fact there were often up to three hanging in the pantry. Dad was a great billiards player and always won a turkey in the local competition at Christmas. My dad being a surveyor we got lots of presents from local businesses, including a hamper from Fortum and Mason which arrived every year for many years. My first introduction to dates was from that hamper.
My first recollection is of Christmas Eve sitting in the kitchen listening to Radio Eireann where Jimmy O’Dea presented a programme in which we were told that Santa had just set off from Dublin. Jimmy then gave estimated times of his calling with ‘good little boys and girls’ over Ireland. After trying hard to stay awake I would wake up next morning to a few presents at the bottom of the bed. The excitement! An orange, some sweets and a large net stocking full of small puzzles and tiny gifts. We were made up. Compare that to tablets, iPhones and computers. I remember being told that one Christmas I awoke to find a walkie talkie doll at the bottom of my bed.Instead of being delighted I threw a tantrum and sulked all day because I really wanted a pram. I believe my dad could hardly wait to see my face when I saw the doll. It was almost as big as myself and when you held its hand it walked and talked. It was not meant to kneel which is what one of my friends tried to make it do and bang! the head, the arms and the legs flew off. She ran and left me ‘holding the doll’.
When I was eleven and realised there was no Santa ( or Daddy Christmas as he was called in our house) I was allowed to go to midnight mass. I loved singing and became a member of the choir. Singing a beautiful Latin mass set the mood for Christmas. When we got home Dad cooked sausages and we sat and a enjoyed them before I helped with distributing the siblings toys.
This routine continued year in year out until I got married in 1970. Then things changed. Gordon’s mum and dad had no family in Northern Ireland as his sister lived abroad, so for many years after, either they came to us on Christmas Day or we went to them. It began to feel obligatory and we weren’t free to celebrate the way we would have liked. When the children came along they wanted to stay at home and play with their toys but most years and as the in- laws got older we made the trip to Warrenpoint.
On one occasion the in -laws were visiting us and before they arrived we popped across the road to a neighbours house. After a few sherries, well maybe more than a few, I went home and put the turkey in the oven. After the allotted time dinner was ready to serve. That’s a funny shaped turkey, I said to the hubby. Not much meat on the breast. Reminds me of that duck we had one New Year, I’ll be having a word with that butcher on Monday. I scraped enough meat to put on the plates and hoped nobody would want seconds. Later on that evening while making sandwiches I turned the turkey over and discovered I’d cooked the bird upside down!
Over the years with the arrival of children Christmases were special occasions. We skimped and saved to make sure that they got what was on their Santa list. Looking back it was pretty modest compared to the grandchildren’s list. iPad pros andMac airs are being bandied about as presents. I feel the spirit of Christmas is dead and buried. It’s now a commercial enterprise with the hype starting earlier and earlier each year. We stock up with enough food to feed a small African village and most of it gets thrown out. Many put themselves into debt so that their children don’t feel left out when they hear other kids boast about their presents. Being grandparents we are amazed at the money spent on presents but we are as guilty of indulging the ‘little darlings ‘as everyone else.
I make a point, however, in not sending cards, not wrapping presents and buying a couple of goats for a needy family.
Those can be purchased through Oxfam or Trocaire.
However you spend it I hope it’s a good one. Hopefully 2018 will be a calmer year politically. Thank you for your support on my YouTube channel and on my Chatter account. Happy Christmas.