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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.
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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