By Mairead Doohan
Sitting on a bench here in Dundrum Town Centre on the shortest day of the year waiting for some friends to have a pre-Christmas coffee.
It somehow feels like the longest day of the year in this crowded centre of commerce – the human tide ebbing and flowing but never stopping. People shopping, spending, eating, drinking, speaking to one another, speaking on their mobile phones – the endless hum of humanity.
I think back to the Christmas shopping of my youth and the names of the local shopkeepers come flooding back, the butcher, the shoemaker, the genial farrier, the pub owners, the draper, the Banks, the Hall, with its brass band and regular dances.
Christmas was a quiet time then, a family time. The various shopkeepers would reward their regular customers with a Christmas Box, and the Clergy would be busy in the confessionals! Long queues would form outside the confession boxes. You would know the ‘easy’ priest who wouldn’t ask too many questions and give short penances!
He would always have the longest queue at his box! Confessions would last about three hours over two nights, for in those days you couldn’t receive Holy Communion without first going to Confession. Children’s confessions would be heard earlier in the day. It’s a long time now since I saw queues outside any confessionals!
Mass would be at midnight, reputedly the hour of Christ’s birth, and the Church would be packed. It is an abiding memory of mine walking to Mass on frosty Christmas Eve nights with my family, the frost crunching under our feet, and the prospect of a snow fight on the way home – plus the dream of a visit from Santa Claus later!
We didn’t need Bing Crosby to help us dream of a white Christmas!
The tradition was that the youngest child in the house would light the Christmas candle which would be placed in the window as a welcome to Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem