By Patrick O’Sullivan

One of my favourite Christmas things of old was my mother’s Father Christmas decoration. Made of card and paper, and bought in the 1940’s, it presented an image of Father Christmas that was not just traditional but wonderfully Victorian too.

Smiling, avuncular, homely Father Christmas had china blue eyes and rosy red apple cheeks, so that it was the easiest thing in the world to picture him travelling in his sleigh in the frozen wastes of the far north: the bleakness and rawness of the air giving his skin a reddish hue.

He was flanked by two green pine trees, which when opened created the familiar honeycomb effect, everything about them redolent, so redolent of the snowy woods and groves that the old man of the north surely knew so well. My mother often spoke of buying the decoration in a shop in Killorglin, costing all of sixpence as it did back then, not the smaller, meaner pennies of later vintage but the good old copper pennies of old, each with the motif of the hen and her chicks on the reverse.

It was more than a fair exchange for Christmas would not have been Christmas without the image of Father Christmas looking down from his place of honour above the hearth: the smell of the turf peaty and warm, the scent of the pine logs sweeter and sweeter again. Nor would Christmas have been Christmas without my mother’s old card crib, the latter of the same vintage as the much-loved Father Christmas.

It too had the look of years about it, the robes of the Virgin and St Joseph not only finely embossed but painted in antique sienna and blue: the latter the quietest, the softest of blues, the perfect foil for the splendour of the reddish tints of the sienna.

The Virgin, St Joseph and the Infant had halos around their heads, something which gave them a kind of quaintness too: St Joseph with a lantern and staff, an old stone water jug on the floor to the right, the donkey and the ox in the background.

The crib had panels and tabs which helped to create a sense of depth and perspective so that it was as if we were looking into the scene: the figures in the foreground, the animals set further back, the motifs of the palm trees creating a sense of the distant east.

Needless to say, the crib had pride of place at Christmas time, the picture of the Sacred Heart looking down from one of the side walls.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own