By Peg Prendeville

Happy Christmas to Domhnall and Lillian and all Knockdown News readers. May 2016 be a good year for all of us.

I wrote the following for the ICA Book of Christmas and will finish off the year with it here.

I associate the smell of fresh paint with Christmas, as, for the week prior to the big event, we painted everything including the staircase, the legs of the table and the doors. We would not put up the Christmas decorations until the morning of Christmas Eve – always the same ones in the same place! Some of the decorations included handmade paper chains. Mostly I loved putting up the crib.  We had a little table on which we put a semi circle cave-like crib which my father had made from plywood. We put in a floor of straw on which we placed the figurines which were made by a local artist from special clay in the local area.  One of the Wise King’s head fell off one year and every year we tried to put it back on using soap! No glue then! We covered this structure with holly. At night, as a child, I would sit in front of it and wonder about the birth of Jesus and feel sorry for Mary having to give birth in such poor circumstances. We did not have a Christmas tree in those years.

The last job my father did on Christmas Eve was to sweep the boreen in preparation for Santa. I loved that around 5.00 pm we would light the candle on the front windows; I can still picture my father cutting a turnip in half and cutting a hole out of the centre to place the candle in it. When we had tidied the house and sat down by the fire we waited for the magic to happen. We would listen to the “letters to Santa” being read out on the radio and I loved that beautiful voice of Noel Purcell.  And we could not wait for Santa to leave the North Pole and how lucky and special we felt when we were one of the FIRST houses in the world that he visited.  Co-incidentally our cousin would also arrive around that time laden with Christmas goods made by our lovely Auntie Mary. She would send some goodies including a cooked turkey and a delicious home made trifle with custard and cream and dotted with red cherries. While we were “oohing and aahing” over these treats the dog would start barking outside and my father would go out to “check the cows in the barn” and come in telling us he saw Santa passing over. We would rush out to the front room to see five parcels neatly wrapped in brown paper and arranged in a row on the bed. I still can smell the excitement and atmosphere of sheer delight and amazement. The innocence of it all.

After we had calmed down and admired all that Santa had brought us – he always included new gym frocks for Christmas Day Mass – we would have a supper with our cousin. This included another treasure from Auntie Mary – homemade butter cream sponge which we had been waiting for all day long. Then we would listen as my father told stories of his Christmasses long ago in the 1920’s. Eventually our cousin would get on his bike to cycle home and we would go to bed as we had to be up early in the morning to attend 8 am Mass in Athea. I can still hear the silence in the street in the local village as the only noise was the footsteps of the people heading to the Church; there were not too many cars then.

All these memories come alive now as I remember back to the 1960’s. Christmas was so different in many ways but so alike in the magic of it all. I watch my grandchildren now and can share in their delight at seeing their presents, so much more elaborate than ours, but still magical. And some people believe that there is no Santa! No wonder I hear him laughing ho-ho-ho!