December held out the prospect of treats that didn’t exist at other times of the year, writes John Corbett about Christmas in Ireland in the 1950s
Apart from July, there was no other month in the year to compare with December when we were young. It wasn’t just children that got caught up in the excitement. Adults were going full steam ahead as they got ready to celebrate the birth of Our Lord on Christmas Day.
Markets for geese and turkeys were big issues for them. Good prices meant a Christmas free from financial worries and extra treats for their families. Even animals got more attention and extra food at this time because it was felt that no creature should go hungry on Our Saviour’s Birthday.
Shopkeepers gave Christmas Boxes to their customers, and they often delivered the large orders to them in cars or vans. Sweet cakes, alcohol, and foodstuffs were among the items that were purchased or given as Christmas Boxes. Goods and presents were wrapped in fancy paper, and this made them more appealing in our eyes.
Fowl were frequently mailed to relatives in other parts of the country.
Spiritual affairs were high on the list of priorities for parishioners at that time. In previous decades fasting took place in Advent, especially in the days leading up to Christmas. In fact, it’s mentioned in Kavanagh’s poem of the same name.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.
Outside of Lent and Advent nearly everyone used sugar to sweeten their tea back then.
Confession and Communion were obligatory for young and old. To miss them would have drawn unwelcome attention to anyone who failed to do “their duty”. Yet, there were a few people in the village who didn’t conform. I gather they had had a row with one of the priests at some stage and for this reason, one of them didn’t attend Mass or religious ceremonies.
Their dissidence didn’t upset their relationship with the neighbours, who accepted them as they were.
One of the non-conformists once asked a Mass-goer what the sermon was about on a particular Sunday. The man replied that it concerned temperance and the evils of alcohol.
“Well, isn’t that amazing?” said the stay-at home individual, “sure wasn’t it the barrel that made a priest out of him?”
Apparently, the clergyman’s father was a publican.
There were three Masses in our church on Christmas morning. The first one commenced at 8am and the second one followed immediately afterwards. The final one was at 11 am. Two Masses were celebrated there every Sunday. On one occasion a cousin and I were a little bit late for one of the Masses.
Continue reading in this year’s Christmas Annual