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  • caldun09

Greetings and memories

Covid or not we definitely have Christmas in the air. The Shops have a Christmas glow about them, and the streets have a brighter look about them with The Christmas streetlights are all aglow .

It will however be a Christmas with a difference. I am old enough to remember Christmas seasons for over half a century and it is interesting to compare them.

I can remember my grandparents’ house and their Christmas preparations . There was a big emphasis on baking and having all the ingredients to bake cakes and plum puddings.

Around the end September my grandma , clad in her wrap around shawl, and granddad would yoke up the pony and trap. Their destination was Maddens shop in Tralee to buy the sack of white flour, currants, raisins and whatever other ingredients were necessary for baking cakes and bread. At this time all bread and cake were home baked in the range as rural electrification had not fully hit the area.

After Maddens they headed for the tobacconist to buy the plug tobacco for my grandfather’s pipe. The final stop was Godley’s bar to buy the couple of bottles of Whiskey. They then toddled away back home because the big bulk of the Christmas shopping was done and dusted.

The cakes and puddings had to be baked no later than ”Halloween”so that they would have settled down and had absorbed all the flavours by Christmas. They would have been given dosages of whiskey, porter and rum to help their preservation .

My grandparent’s lives were simple and their big event was midnight Mass on Christmas Eve’. The Christmas goose was a big Xmas dinner item.

In my youth things had changed considerably. Christmas trees were becoming more popular. Putting up the crib was a big event.

I do remember that if you wanted a bike or trike you had to order it months in advance or it was no deal. Caballs shops in Tralee did a bumper trade. We had no Amazons or Smyths Toys, or Toy master. All the toys and bikes were bought in one of the 3 Caball’s shops in Tralee.

My father always insisted on sending Brian O Higgins Irish Christmas cards with the message as Gaeilge and each card had to have a religious and Celtic symbol. Many years later I am sending the same type of card. I had a school mate who was a member of the KIltegan missionaries and each Christmas he would land at the school and I bought the cards. That is many years ago, but I am reluctant to break the link even though Fr. Tom is dead for the last few years.

At home there was an annual list of family and friends in Ireland and abroad to whom cards had to be posted. This list was stored away by my father and withdrawn from a drawer in the first week of December. The cards were duly written with a letter enclosed in each one of them. This exercise could go on for a week. Then they were all checked and posted together. I loved that ritual and still do exactly as he did.

Now the next great event was the shopping list. This was our online shopping. We had no supermarkets and were dependant on a few grocery shops. Our grocery shop of choice was Mikey Connors. He was somehow related to my mother, but my father didn’t like his political affiliations . Anyway, Mikeys was the shop of choice . He insisted that you had to have your Christmas shopping list in by the second week in December to ensure delivery for Christmas . Big Pat Sullivan was the van driver who delivered all the messages . They were way ahead of online shopping. He arrived and put all the messages on the table and then sat down and had a cuppa. Living was easy going enough and of course he got his Christmas box. We also got our loyalty bonus in the form of a Christmas cake and a bottle of Sandeman port whether you liked it or not. So, the shopping was always delivered on time.

The Christmas post was another great event. We had relations in England and America and the cards and letters were eagerly awaited and read by all. They were the annual family census reporting births, marriages and deaths in the greater family for the year.

There was fun too in the delivery of these letters. We had the same postman all my life .He was a great character, but his Christmas round was a bit arduous because he was a bit fond of the crature. Our house was the last on the line and all he wanted to do was sit down and rest which he often did . My father offered him a tipple which he duly scoffed off. Then he might shake out the bag on the table to make sure everything was delivered. I often ran around to deliver a few cards . No one minded because it was l in the spirit of Christmas.

Then we had the Christmas turkey. My father always got a big bronze turkey from a friend, but it had to be cleaned and plucked. We had a local turkey plucker named Tandy Savage. Tandy was quite fond of the cratur and was always very busy around Christmas plucking turkeys. He had his clients and went from house to house plucking his trade. Tandy would take a break to have his half whiskey and bottle of porter. He would be nicely when he arrived at our house and he told yarns or played the spoons. It was an annual Tandy show.

He moved on when he got his dosh for his endeavours . He was truly one of the great characters along with his neighbour and friend Ned Kelleher.

They were exciting times and we had mighty Christmases with great people around us.

The Christmas period was always an important time for family visitation. We paid courtesy calls to the grannies and other relations around, but one visit was always special . We visited my uncle Daniel and his wife Julie, and they reciprocated. They had a passion for playing cards and their house was a base for Blennerville card games for the Christmas turkeys.

They came to our house for supper on St Stephens night. Once supper was over there was a visible restlessness until we started the card game of 31, playing in pairs. I knew very little about cards and there were often a few raised voices when I struck down my partner. This was my annual experience in the delicate art of card playing.

I must say I enjoyed the Christmas period . This started with the youngest member of the family lighting the big red Christmas candles in the windows on Christmas eve . It extended on till Nollaig na mBan on the sixth of January which was always celebrated in Kerry as Little Christmas or Women’s Christmas. The menfolk had to do all the work and cooking on that day. It is still a festival party event which is celebrated in sell out events in hotels in Kerry.

Christmas is far more commercialised now, but we still embrace it as a nice family time.

Christmas and New Year Wishes

Now as we virtually close down the years activities , I am glad to see the end of 2020. It was without doubt a very stressful and challenging year for all of us. We faced challenges ,lockdowns and a pandemic unknown to previous generations.

We all hope that the year ahead will be a better one for all of us. Let us hope the various vaccines will become available early in the new year. I hope by then that we can all get back to some freedom to roam and socialise again in the Wicklow Hills and beyond.

I hope you all stay well and stay healthy. Take care of yourselves and stay connected. I wish all a very happy, healthy, peaceful Christmas season and look forward with hope to the year ahead.

le gach dea-ghui I gcomhair na Nollag agus na hAthbhliana Mick O Callaghan

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