By Celia Byrne

Memories are one of the greatest gifts we have….in fact they are amazing. I remember my grandmother, who was born Mary Walker in 1879, telling us all about her Christmas memories, of how they would spend their Christmases by open fires and settle beds; walking to Mass in their bare feet on Christmas morning and getting an apple or orange from Santa Claus.

She would often talk about terrible tragedy of the Mullhall family who were killed in the great snow storm of 1867 at Askinagap not far from where she was born herself. She grew up with the history of this tragedy and always remembered this family at Christmas time.

One of her big party pieces for us at Christmas was singing her song ‘Oft in the Stilly Night’ in her frail little voice; we would sit around her in awe, amazed by her angelicness and how we loved her.

For many years she spent her Christmases with us until she passed away at the wonderful age of 96 years. For this we were very grateful. From that time on life changed.

December came with the first signs of winter, the first frost, the first flurry of snow and, of course, the excitement of Christmas and the holidays coming. As a child I loved the holidays and the preparations that came with it. I remember being in the national school and once December started our teacher, Mrs Barrett, would get us to draw a crib in our copies and we would do so many ‘Hail Mary’s’ until Christmas Day, I think it was like a novena.

Mam would begin knitting our jumpers and we would go with her to Duffy’s to pick out the wool, and then to choose our Christmas clothes. I remember one time getting this pleated skirt, tights little black fur boots with laces, and mam knitting a beautiful red jumper to match. My brothers also got their knitted jumpers too.

My aunt Molloy reared turkeys and we would look forward to getting one for the big day. I thought this was great and would boast about it to my friends.

She was my dad’s sister and had a farm. At that time my other granny lived with her in Minvaude. The weeks were moving on and we were all talking about what had to be done by each of us to make Christmas Day one to remember.

It was a week before Christmas and my brothers and I would write our letters to santa. I always asked for a selection box and always wanted a doll of some sort. I remember one time getting a little red and cream pram with a canopy on it and just couldn’t believe it.

The one thing I loved was the shopping for the ingredients for all the baking for the Christmas celebrations. We would be sent to the town with a list to get the currants, raisins, spices, flour, brown sugar, eggs and whatever else was needed.

Home we would go and mam would get started on the baking. My brothers, Des and Tony, would make their way through the fields for holly and ivy and I would have to collect the cockles on the ground. I can still smell the aroma of the berries.

I loved the smell of the Christmas oil cloth mam would buy in Darcy’s shop. It would be put on the table on Christmas eve. We had a shelf over the fire and oil cloth with this zig zag was put on that too.

I remember we had this wonderful santa ornament that stood with pride on that shelf. Of course we were always told it was Saint Nicholas. The crib stood beside him with great reverence.

The fires were lit in the bedrooms early in the evening and all the new pyjamas would be airing for us to go to bed early. You were only let go to Midnight Mass when you reached a certain age. But I didn’t mind as I was so excited about Santa coming I would be looking to go to bed at four o’ clock!

I remember the lovely stories my sisters would read us before bed about Jesus being born in the stable and trying to see it in my head. The Byrnes next door and the Walshes would play out under the lamp post, looking at the stars to see if they could see Santy going by on his sleigh. The frost would glisten on the trees and the grass was silver.

Christmas morning arrived and I was afraid to go to the kitchen. Dad would always keep the fire going through the night and the sparkle would still be shinning on the wall.

I would call my brothers to come with me. It was so exciting, seeing that doll and Cadbury’s selection box, games and gun and holster. We would shout with joy. My sisters Angela, Lily and Frances, always got up to see what the smaller ones had got and they were as happy as we were.

Sometimes I wish we could turn back the clock and have those memories become real again. Merry Christmas everyone, enjoy and live your memories all over again.

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