Christmas in Edenderry
by Eda Payne
My family moved to Edenderry from Dublin in 1940 because my father’s firm went on strike and he was offered his new job as foreman in the Edenderry Shoe Company. I was 14 months old.. It was a newly built estate and we were the first occupants. Edenderry was a small town with two grocery shops, two butchers, a haberdashers and a town hall. The two pubs were not insignificant contributors to the life there. The Parish Priest lived in a grand house on the outskirts of the town. Below this was the Catholic Church built by donations from the parishioners. The convent was the next building closer to town and then the girls’ school and the boys’ school. Across the road from the boys’ school was the shoe factory, the main source of employment. The timber factory also contributed to the employment as did the Bog of Allen which was a little way out of town.
I loved living in Edenderry, and when I was old enough to appreciate the magic of Christmas it became the most important and enjoyable part of the year for me as a child. It was a mystical and wonderful time when stars were reflected on the iced roads like so much silver confetti. The lead-up time was almost unbearable. The shop windows became places of delight with their false snowflakes and Christmas decorations, not all of which were focused on the birth of Jesus. The church more than compensated with an enormous crib in which The Holy Family was presented in a manner that would have delighted them had such cleanliness and luxury been their experience.
We were on school holidays for the Christmas period and could often be found in the chapel praying that our Christmas present requests would be granted, this despite the continued reminder from the nuns that we must not pray for material things. Our expectations were not high. Unlike today’s children who seem to be swamped with presents, our requests were modest indeed.
Excitement mounted as Christmas Eve approached. It was a requirement that we have a sleep in the afternoon to enable us to stay awake for midnight Mass. Of course, none of us managed to actually sleep, but at least we rested. Dressed in our very best, with out hair newly washed and faces shining, we would set forth in the dark. I usually held my father’s hand and would walk on the outside of the path as the hedges and bushes we passed seemed to develop a sinister aspect in the night shadows. Our footsteps resonated in the silence of the night. No memory of the cold temperatures of those nights remains with me. Only the joy of the special experience.
When we entered the chapel splendour greeted us. I can still feel the gladdening of my heart at the sight. There were candles everywhere. Big bold white candles in gold stands. Smaller candles in holders on the altar. Flowers in abundance. Priests in white silk vestments with gold trimmings, and a congregation smartly turned out in their Sunday best. Women wore new hats, men wore suits and ties, and children were scrubbed and happy. Overall, there was a festive feeling, as if in real term we had been invited to welcome the Christ child. As indeed we had.
When High Mass began on the dot of midnight, incense was used which added to the almost exotic atmosphere of the chapel. The sermon was always a joyous one given by the Parish Priest, no recrimination, no lectures. At the end of the sermon, he would smile and wish us all a Happy Christmas. Then it seemed the entire congregation received Holy Communion which required all three of the priests to distribute the sacred wafers. When it was over, we left the chapel wishing everyone we met a Happy Christmas.
When we got home, we were treated to cocoa and biscuits. I’m sure our tired parents must have offered silent prayers that we would fall asleep quickly so they could play their Santa Claus role and go to bed themselves.
Then it was morning. We woke each other up and looked in our stockings to find walnuts in their shells, an orange, and sometimes even raisins. Such special treats. Our presents were at the end of the beds and were usually books, colouring books, colouring pencils, or little boxes of paints. Whatever we got, we were always delighted.
Breakfast was a leisurely affair. Mass had been attended. Our mother always made Christmas decorations from coloured crepe paper which were hung from the ceiling along with homemade lanterns. Christmas cards were strung across the mantlepiece and other strategic places in the room, and there was always a big paper star. But we didn’t have a tree. In fact, nobody I knew had a tree. It wasn’t part of our culture.
Lunch was special. A chicken was roasted and heaps of roasted vegetables served with it. Then came the Christmas pudding which was huge, in my eyes at least. Mother must have emptied her purse into it because there were always enough sixpences for each of us to find one in our serving. The pudding was served with rich cream that, when I was older, I would ride my bike to collect from the creamery on Christmas Eve. It was delicious, and we ate until we couldn’t fit in another morsel. After lunch, we would sit around the table to work on a jigsaw, because one of us invariably got a jigsaw. And so the day passed in a glow of contentment and happiness.
Eda Payne now living in Adelaide is one of our regular contributors.
Christmas in Dublin
by Dymphna Lonergan
Christmas was magical. Up in the dark and out into the cold air to first Mass at 6am. On the way up to the church we could see lighted candles in the windows to welcome us on our way and to welcome the Christ Child. Some houses left their curtains open so the Christmas tree lights could be seen. Every year, Daddy had to twist the lights a couple of times to get them going. The lights were in the shape of candles.
The crib was the best part of the Christmas decorations. It would be brought down from the attic where it had been stored since the last Christmas. All the figurines had been wrapped carefully in newspaper. Daddy unwrapped each figurine as we held our breaths. There was the same baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, along with the animals, a cow, a donkey, and a sheep. It was a musical crib with a hole in the back wall where a Christmas tree light was placed. Outside the back wall was a wind-up roller with bumps and a metal comb. When the roller was wound, it played ‘Silent Night’.
Because Daddy worked at the airport, he was often on shift work on Christmas Eve. We were told that Santy had put our presents in the front room, but had left the key out at the airport for Daddy. On Christmas morning when Daddy arrived home there would be six restless children sitting on the stairs. The door would open, and often we saw the key before Daddy. Then it was a race for Daddy to open the door of the front room before we six bowled him over.
I always got books, which I loved, but what I always wanted but never got was a ‘selection box,’ a box of chocolates of all shapes and sizes. And I always dreamed of getting perfumed soap and talcum powder or bath salts. Too expensive, I imagine now for my parents to buy all we wanted. I remember the year I got a hula hoop that had beads in it that rattled as you set the hoop going.
Christmas morning after Mass and with Daddy home, we all sat around the table for dinner. The week before, the turkey would be hanging from the back door handle. It was Mammy who chopped off its head and feet and cleaned out its innards. The two youngest children got the feet to play with. You could make them move by pulling on the sinews.
As I grew older, I began to appreciate other aspects of Christmas day in our house. As we were opening our presents, we would be called one by one into the dining room where Daddy was standing in front of the fire waiting for us. He would take a white envelope from the mantlepiece and hand it to us with the words ’Here is your Christmas stipend.’ As a child who loved unusual words, I found this delightful, almost as delightful as the ten shilling or pound note that would be in the envelope.
The following day, St Stephen’s Day, was the one day of the year we saw our Granny, my Dad’s mother. She lived in Inchicore, not too far away from Drimnagh if you had a car, but if Daddy was working, as he usually was, it was quite a trek for Mammy with all the children and having to take two buses. So we only saw our Granny and cousins once a year.
Granny was a very small woman who always wore the same navy-blue flowery apron crisscrossed across her chest and brown slippers with fur on her feet. When Daddy would arrive from his work at Aer Lingus, he and Granny would dance a waltz to uncle Paddy’s accordion that came in a box lined with beautiful red velvet. Granny barely reached above Daddy’s waist.
Paddy, Jerry, and Dan were Daddy’s brothers, and, again, St Stephen’s Day was the only day we saw them along with our cousins, Jerry’s three children. Paddy was married to Josie and they had no children. Dan never married. On St Stephen’s Day later in the afternoon I would be fascinated when he appeared in football clothes, especially the boots that had round knobs on the bottom. Off he would go then, out in the cold, to play football.
Everyone had a party piece that day. Granny’s brother, George, always sang ‘The Little Brown Road.’ My song was ‘Once in Royal David’s City’. I loved the tune and the words, but I was nervous to be singing about a ‘royal’ although I don’t recall anyone commenting on the word.
Sometimes I think that it was sad that we only saw my father’s family at Christmas. But other times I can see that it made for extra special memories of Christmas time in Dublin in the 1950s and 60s.
Dymphna is a member of the Tinteán editorial group
Christmas in Sligo, Cork, and Dublin
by Nora Kieran
Up until I was eight years of age, my family moved three times because of father’s work. One thing that remained stable, however, was Christmas time. Although my memories are mixed up because of the various moves, I do remember that, overall, the whole family was happy during that time.
While Mammy was busy in the kitchen making the Christmas cake and pudding, and a range of other tasty tit bits, we would go to the forest with our father for the Christmas tree. Back home we had great fun decorating it with lights and ornaments, and, most importantly, the angel on top. We then put holly across the mantlepiece and over all the pictures, and set up the manger with the statues of baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the animals.
A choir visited and sang carols at our front door. Sometimes there was snow and we could slide on the ice and make snowmen.
Then there was the visit to the town to see Father Christmas in Pim’s, (Ireland’s first department store I learned later on) sitting in a big chair and handing out presents. I remember a helter skelter in the shop, but I was too frightened to go on it. There seemed to be Christmas music in every shop.
On Christmas Eve we hung our stockings from the bedposts and found it impossible to get to sleep. On Christmas morning we were over the moon at what we found in our stockings. Then we went downstairs to get our big present. Mass was next, a big crib next to the altar, and we queued to light a candle. The rest of the day was spent playing with our presents.
Christmas dinner began at 6pm, a huge feast of turkey, ham, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts and celery. Then Mammy emerged from the kitchen with the flaming pudding. We pulled crackers that revealed coloured hats, small toys, and funny sayings.
Night came too soon, but we were happy after the day and pleasantly tired. That night we slept soundly.
Nora now spends six months in Australia and six months in Bettystown, County Meath, dividing her time between her daughters and their families in Adelaide and her sons and their families in Ireland.