Christmas in Ireland not so long ago 

Newry Cathedral News

I love Christmas and the traditions that go with it. Every country/ tradition in the world does Christmas just a little bit different, whether it be the German Christmas Markets or a Head of State speech. To me the Irish traditions from the time of my childhood are based firmly in the real meaning of Christmas. Here are some of them.
Midnight Mass is the first thing to comes to mind and at a time when it really was at midnight. The Christmas hymns were always the same, ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘Silent Night’ and everyone knew them. Dressed in your new clothes, you wished all your neighbours Happy Christmas after Mass before heading home in the cold night air to be thawed out by a cup of hot vegetable soup with the peas still too hard but delicious.
Hanging up your stocking was a scramble to find the biggest one in the drawer. It was attached to the wooden mantelpiece with the use of 2 drawing pins. Next day it had an apple, orange and the Beano or Dandy comic inside. On the hearth there would have been toys. Toys were just for Christmas, birthdays or special occasions. A compendium of games or a novel was a popular choice, the latter being something like Tom Browns School Days or Little Women.
Many traditions were associated with food as oven ready wasn’t part of life. Plucking the turkey and the use of a flame to finish off the feathers left behind. The smell would have been enough to drive many to become vegetarian if vegetarianism had been a thing in those days. The turkey was transferred to the oven with great ceremony and for hours and hours the beautiful aroma of stuffed turkey permeated the house.
Christmas dinner was always around midday with the turkey carved and golden brown with traditional vegetables of carrots and the dreaded brussels sprouts. Thick gravy and mashed potatoes were the luxury of the day as potatoes were normally served in their jackets on other days. A few hours after dinner sandwiches were produced and Christmas cake with marzipan and thick icing. Much fuss was made of the decoration of this snow-covered cake with Santa and a tree.
As for decorations, paper chains made as school were strung from the ceiling along with holly with berries over every picture. The crib was homemade from a work class with a bulb too large resulting in the nativity figures being placed around the outside on some straw from the barn. The baby Jesus was only placed in the crib after coming home from midnight Mass. 
The decorations had a set time for going up and coming down which were dictated by religion observance. The 8th of December heralded cleaning and decorating and the 6th of January more cleaning of endless pine needles off the floor and putting away the decorations for another year. The Christmas tree was always real and if you were lucky was home grown or if not was a large branch from a fir tree placed in a bucket of sand. It was covered in bright coloured lights and had endless homemade decorations or very delicate baubles sprayed with snow. There was always an angel placed on top.
A light was placed in the window and was a lamp with the cable stretched from the nearest socket, in memory of those who could not be with us at Christmas. Most Irish homes then and now had a relative in Australia, Canada or in some other far-flung corner of the world. Exotic cards with photos of happy families with bronzed skin would arrive from them in time for Christmas. It always seemed that they were having wonderful lives in a beautiful land far away. The stamps were transferred to a stamp collection carefully. 
Regardless of your age and stage of life, Christmas, and the lead up to it is a time of joy and expectation. Most of the traditions from not so long ago were deeply rooted in being Christian and celebrating the coming of Jesus with our neighbours’ friends and families. ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’.