Christmas traditions on the farm
Remembering when I was just a lad and how so many of the Christmas traditions have changed. There was no children’s allowance, dole or headage payments, so everything had to be home produced on the farm, potatoes, beet, oats and other vegetables. Pigs, turkeys, geese, ducks and hens were also reared on the farm. Most were sold before Christmas to pay for the groceries but 3 of the best geese were kept for the Christmas feast. One or two turkeys were always sent to relations in England.
There were 3 local shops and a travelling shop, so all the grocery shopping was bought locally. There was lots of excitement waiting to see which child would go with their mother to get the shopping, which consisted of flour, tea, sugar, currants, raisins and other fruits for baking; jelly and custard, paraffin oil and candles, maybe even a few bottles of stout. The children always got biscuits and lemonade from the shopkeeper and the housewife got a Christmas box which was usually a cake, tea, calendar and these were always much appreciated. A day was always set aside to go to Tuam and buy clothes, shoes and other Christmas items. The only means of travel was bicycle, sidecar or donkey and cart.
The week before Christmas ……
The week before Christmas was always a busy time. The house had to have a new coat of thatch. The walls were whitewashed and of course the chimney had to be cleaned. Then the inside of the house which was two rooms and a kitchen got its coat of distemper. The youngsters went to the woods for holly and the tree with lots of berries was well marked out beforehand. Holly was brought to old people living alone, who were always very thankful and often rewarded the youngsters well. The children helped to make the decorations from holly leaves and berries strung together with thread. They were hung over the big fireplace and that completed the decorations. Oh sure, many a tear was shed by the children, when a pet goose or turkey was killed for the feast.
The postman was kept busy for a few weeks before Christmas as he travelled the highways and byways on his only means of transportation, the humble bicycle. He was always laden down with parcels from America and England and many a pound and dollar was got in the Christmas card from families that couldn’t get home.
Christmas Confession last minute farm jobs
Christmas Eve was confession day, and the 3 miles was walked from Dangan to Killererin Church, and back home again. The journey home didn’t feel that long. Just a few more jobs to get done out on the farm, before it got dark. The hay had to be pulled from a big cock, fistful by fistful, until there was enough for all the cattle, cows and horses and that was no easy job. Mangles had to be cleaned for the horses, and the old sow got her bucketful. All the animals had to get extra on Christmas night. Then it was inside to get washed and ready for supper. Candles had to be got ready for each window, and the candleholder was usually a turnip cut in halves, with the candle in the centre and decorated with holly.
In the kitchen, there was the oil lamp and candles for the mantelpiece. The excitement was great with so much light in the house. There was no electricity so there was no Christmas tree or fairy lights. The table was always pulled into the centre of the kitchen for all the family to sit around as everyone had to be home for supper. All kinds of cake were on the table, treacle cake, currant cake, ginger cake even the baker’s loaf was special, as those treats would not be seen for another year. Supper was finished with jelly and custard.
The Family Rosary
The rosary was then said and children hung up their stocking for Santa and if anyone was thinking they were getting a bit old for Santa, they didn’t dare say it because if Santa didn’t bring gifts, well then you got nothing at all. One Christmas I recall, a boy said he was not writing to Santa because he was too big but changed his mind on Christmas Eve. Santa didn’t forget him, he brought him rosary beads. It wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
We had a very early start on Christmas morning. There were 6 masses in Killererin church, so all the family started the journey at 6 a.m. to get to the church for 7 0’clock Mass. It was a long walk and at that time everyone receiving communion had to fast from midnight. The journey home always seemed longer and the hungry stomach over-ruled the heart. Needless to say any sadness over that pet goose was soon forgotten. Christmas dinner was roast goose and stuffing, all cooked in the big open fire. The smell of the cooking is never to be forgotten.