By Betty Devaney
The word itself – Christmas – brings happy memories to my mind of times gone by. In my childhood days, when that time of year came around, I couldn’t help noticing that everyone smiled more and shared secrets with each other, as if some sort of happy spell had been cast.
I remember it was icy cold all through those wintery days, the sound of silence filled the air and a white mist constantly covered the land. There wasn’t a day that went by without all of us children wishing and hoping for snow.
Every night, the bigger boys threw buckets of water all along one side of the street. Overnight it froze solid and became very slippy. Which was just what they wanted, as it was now perfect for sliding on.
Long after the streetlights came on each night, the sound of happy voices were heard having fun. The grown-ups just shook their heads and avoided walking anywhere near, their days of sliding were long gone. They didn’t want to slip or risk having a very undignified tumble.
The week before Christmas my parents would put up the decorations. It was time for Daddy to go foraging for holly and ivy. There was a copse not far from where we lived, known to everyone in the area as ‘the plantin’ and the local people picked holly there every year.
One year, Daddy decided to take a sack with him to get some twigs for kindling while he was getting holly and brought me with him to help. When we arrived there, I thought I was stepping into a magical world. All around was quiet and peaceful. I can still remember standing in the midst of the tranquillity breathing in the woody scent of the trees. I knew instinctively that this was a moment I’d never forget.
I didn’t get to stand spellbound too long as Daddy was already busy filling the sack with sticks, so I hurried to help him. By the time we were ready to go home the sack was full and both of us had gathered armfuls of holly laden with vibrant, red berries.
As we left, I remember stopping to gaze back. Mist was beginning to fall making the copse look even more enchanting.
On our way home it was difficult to see anything at all because by now everywhere was cloaked in a dense white mist. Daddy announced he could smell snow on the way. I had no idea how he was able to do that, but I fervently hoped that he was right although I couldn’t smell a thing!
That evening after tea, Mammy brought out the packs of crepe paper she had bought to make decorations. I remember Daddy cutting each pack into five strips and then cutting star and circle shapes into each piece. When they were unravelled, they looked very festive twirled and twisted as he pinned them from corner to corner across the ceiling.
A gold-coloured artificial star was placed over the light bulb in the hall. It was a very comforting sight to see its bright glow when approaching the front door, especially in those dark winter days.
Last of all, Mammy placed sprigs of holly and ivy around every picture and around the little crib. It looked beautiful when the candle was lit, and the shadows of the holly and ivy were cast all around it.
I remember the Christmases when carol singers came around the neighbourhood. A few days before Christmas just as it was getting dark, they’d gather together beneath the streetlight singing all the lovely carols.
The sound of their voices drifting into the air captivated everyone who came to listen. There was one year in particular when snowflakes began to fall around them. It was like a scene from a Christmas card.
I’ll never forget all those happy times. One special memory of Christmas is Mammy and Daddy sitting by the fireside writing Christmas cards to friends and family. Then seeing how pleased and delighted my parents were in the following weeks when a card arrived with all the news from relatives who lived in different parts of the world.
I’m filled with nostalgia when I think of how the magic and carol singing of the season brought people together. Those years when the snow came gently falling on Christmas Eve were truly wonderful.
Even in my childhood days I sensed Christmas was a blessed time when hope and joy was in every heart and the hand of friendship and help was given freely to everyone.
Christmas magic then, and remains so for all time. ÷