The Avondhu - By The Fireside
‘Christmas is coming and the geese are
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat’
The next morning, delicious aromas began to emanate from the kitchen. How quickly the mind forgot the horrors that had taken place there the day before, as the mouth salivated instead in anticipation of culinary delights. How I loved my turkey then and all the trimmings. The table was laden with all kinds of good things, the larder well-stocked for all the shops were closed and would remain so for the entire week. The world outside our house was silent for no traffic was out in those pre-shopping centre days; the silence broken only on St. Stephen’s Day by the arrival of the Wren Boys with their music and song.
In the afternoon, my uncle Dave, aunt Kitty and Dublin cousins would travel over from Clonmel, where they were spending Christmas with Kitty’s parents. We showed each other the gifts that Santa had brought and shared each other’s toys. We usually got one important item from our list of requests and the rest was potluck. My desire for many years was for Santa to bring me a Walkie-Talkie doll, one that I had seen in an English newspaper, that walked and talked – magic to a six-year-old. Santa ignored my pleas every year, in fact I never did acquire a Walkie-Talkie doll.
I did inherit a much-loved substitute though, in the shape of a large porcelain doll called Elsie – my mother’s choice of name. I think she may have belonged to the Shorten family who lived at the corner of George’s Street and Church Street and who had a daughter called Elsie, hence her name. When she came into my possession she was in a sorry state, her head was cracked and one arm was missing. Off she went to the doll hospital in Dublin and came back as good as new. I enjoyed her company for many years, and I don’t know how or when she exited my life; probably when my mother decided that I had outgrown such things and there was another child whose need of her was greater than mine.
MY HEART SANK
Another gift from Santa that brought me great pleasure was a doll’s house that I received when I was maybe seven or eight years old. I knew that the house itself was being made by Joe Murphy who worked at the local vocational school – a toy of that size was understandably too big for Santa to manoeuvre down any chimney. He was, however, going to bring all the furniture for that house.
One day a few weeks before Christmas I walked into the small room off the front hall that was rarely used and opened an old dresser. There I found boxes full of doll’s house furniture. My brain struggled to make sense of it all while my heart sank. Was it possible that Santa had been around already? Had he hidden them there, unknown to my parents, so he wouldn’t have so much to carry down the chimney? There were quite a few boxes. None of those possibilities convinced me and I sadly came to the realisation that Santa was just another of the fairytales told by adults. I could play the game too though and I kept my discovery to myself until the time came when all my friends reached the same conclusion.
Santa had gone from the scene, but the magic of Christmas remained – in the decorated world when our streets and shops became a wonderland of lights and sparkle; new toys and gadgets every year to excite our interest, as our parents took on the role that Santa had vacated and anticipation was high in the lead-up to the day itself.
Nowadays, one can hardly distinguish Christmas Day from the other days of that holiday season; the flurry of shopping with its long queues, hectic last-minute purchases to be wrapped in festive style, sending off the Christmas cards in time for the last post, carol-singing and festivities around the town – all ceases briefly on the day itself to allow us to enjoy the traditional meal (and in some households, even that is being replaced by more ‘exotic’ choices).
Then, off it goes again as the sales’ rush begins on Stephen’s Day and there is hardly time to catch a breath, before the commercial merry-go-round spins on. Is there no longing for that weeklong, quiet time that was the Christmas season?