I had the pleasure of talking to a delightful lady recently who nostalgically talked about Christmas when she was a child. “Things were so different then,” she said. “We did not have what the children of today have. We worked hard when we were young. Memories of my Mother baking are still fresh in my mind and she turned out treacle cakes, fruit cakes, soda bread and brown bread effortlessly. The aroma of baking permeated the kitchen and of course there was always the neighbours dropping by for a chat and a cup of tea. Those days are well gone now. We are all in such a hurry and the time for a chat seems well gone.
We had our own geese and turkeys and on Christmas Day we would have goose and ham and then on St. Stephen’s Day we would have turkey and ham. For dessert we would have jelly and custard (ice-cream a luxury). We did not know what a starter was. Prayers were said with great reverence in our house and I can still recall us kneeling down saying the rosary at night. Of course there was the odd giggle from us girls but my Father was a firm but kind disciplinarian and one look from him was enough to stop us in our giddiness. My mother brought us in turn to see the Crib in Galway and this was a great experience. We would look in awe at the baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph and come away with a sense of wonderment.
I remember a parish priest we had whom we were all afraid of. If you did not know your catechism, he would pull your hair until it hurt really bad. When he preached a gospel at Mass he would come into the school and ask us to explain it—if you did not do it properly, he would get very cross and the hair pulling would start again. Needless to say, we were very attentive at Mass, just in case!
Christmas Eve was full of excitement. We awaited Santa with such anticipation. Our presents usually consisted of Christmas stockings, which were filled with toys and things to play with. A doll was a rare present in those days. We got balloons in our stockings and played with them for a week afterwards around the house. Children nowadays lose interest in such things after a short time. We always walked to Mass which was the norm in those days—there was nothing like the traffic there is now. On St. Stephen’s Day, the Wren Boys would arrive dressed up in their attire and playing musical instruments and singing. We would all join in and throw a few pennies into their caps before they left. It is different now—so sophisticated.
In those days you could leave the key in your door day and night—now you have to lock your door even if you go out to the back yard. The world is frightening now—every time you turn on the radio or television you hear of a tragedy. My Father used to say that when we got to the year 2000, it would be the end of the world and that people would steal, rob and kill and it would be a daily occurrence. That is what is happening now. Years ago there was such innocence and fun. I remember neighbours calling by for a bit of craic and dancing and music being so much part of our lives. The chairs were pushed back and we would take to the floor and dance the night away. We did not need what people seem to need nowadays. We had our own drug.
I am lucky to have good neighbours at my time of life—they keep me going and have adjusted me to the everyday changes which occur. I have been known to dance and chase balloons even now which evokes a memory of yesteryear and those days gone by so long ago.”