Alice Taylor shares her memories of Christmases past
The first step into Christmas was a visit to the wood for holly. This major safari was undertaken a few weeks before Christmas when we set out with balls of foxy binder twine, a saw and hatchet to bring home the holly. The refinement of a pruner had yet to find its way into the depths of rural Ireland.
We walked through four fields until we reached the river that was the boundary running along the valley between us and a neighbouring farm. We got across the river by skilfully balancing on large stones put in position for such journeys. Then up many hilly fields until we reached the wood.
Here we did a tour of inspection to locate the tree with the best red berries. Sometimes the birds had beaten us to it and we had to go deep into the wood before we were all satisfied that this was the best tree. Then we brought the saw into action and cut down a profusion of the best berried branches and sometimes if a branch proved too stubborn, the crack of the hatchet brought it into submission.
If my father, who was a protector of trees, had been with us he would have been horrified. Finally all the holly was collected into thorny heaps and then tied into firm bundles with the binder twine and swung over our shoulders. Our first step into Christmas was on the way home!
The next and more challenging step was the plucking of the geese and before this could be done the grisly business of execution had to be undertaken by my mother who did it quietly behind closed doors. Then we were all lined up with a still warm goose across our knees and plucking commenced.
Feather and white down fluttered all over us and turned us into snow children as gradually the tea chest between us filled to overflowing.
These feathers and down were later used to fill pillows and feather ticks. Duvets had yet to float into our bedrooms!
The naked geese were then hung off the rafters in an old stone turf house at the end of the yard. Some would later go to town cousins and three would be for our own festive consumption on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Little Christmas.