Christmas Time in Ireland, Charlestown in Co. Mayo

Christmas was always a happy time for our family, even though we did not have a whole lot we always seemed to have 'Enough'.

It started off with getting the Christmas tree from our Uncle Pat. Grandma would always tell him to cut a nice tree for the children and he always did. Our decorations were Christmas cards we got from America and England. No one at home sent cards and there were no fancy decorations.

Mam and Dad always did the Christmas shopping the week before Christmas and we could not wait till they got home because we knew they would have the Christmas Boxes (all the shopkeepers that you dealt with during the year would give you a present), we always wanted the sweets and Christmas Cake.

On Christmas Eve, we had our tea up in the room. The beds were pushed back and a fire was burning. The kitchen table was brought up and we all sat in front of the fire. The thing I remember most is the treacle cake and trifle. Then we had to get washed and get our clothes ready for Mass in the morning and Baby Jesus’s birthday.

After we said the rosary and hung our stockings by the kitchen fire, Daddy left a bottle of stout and a pack of woodbine cigarettes for Santa. He always seemed to come around Midnight and when we heard the cork pop, we knew he had arrived. Val and I always wanted to look but Mary warned us not too.

The next morning the first thing we did was to go for the stockings which had an apple or orange and some sweets in them (the first Christmas my sister Mary was in America I got a doll and Val got a football. Mam said Mary must have put in a good word with Santa). We were so happy with what we got. My mother was always up real early and had the goose or turkey on before we went to Mass.

The Church was always freezing cold but we were reminded about Bethlehem. We would bring a few pennies for the crib, after all it was Baby Jesus’s Birthday and he needed a present too. We would take a few pieces of straw home with us for good luck. A while later we had the Christmas dinner, did the dishes and started to get ready for the Wren Boys the next day (St. Stephen’s Day) that was such a fun time for all of us (it was like Halloween here).

We wore false faces or covered our faces with burned cork and went house to house. We always seemed to know the good houses and they would bring us in and the fun would start – singing and dancing, McGowan’s, O’Donnell’s and Madden’s were our favorites. At night all the relatives and neighbours visited each other. January 6th was the last day of Christmas, we always had a nice tea and my mother would say "God knows where we’ll be next year". How true that was.

My first Christmas here was 1961. I remember it well, all the decorations, the food, shopping, Wanamaker’s and Lit Brothers big displays and our silver Christmas tree with all the presents. We had so much more than we had at home – now we had more than 'enough' but it was not the same.

The one thing I still love to do on Christmas morning is give a few dollars to the crib, after all it’s still Baby Jesus’s Birthday and I always bring a few wisps of straw home with me for good luck, somethings never change.

Happy Christmas everyone!!!!

Attracta Moffitt O’Malley (formerly of Charlestown, Co. Mayo), Philadelphia

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