'It's Christmas week and there is nothing done in the house'. I can still see and hear my mother say those words in the days leading up to Christmas. I have no idea what was not ready or what had to be done. But it was my mother's rallying call, telling us that we better get our act together so that everything would be ready for the big day. I have a sneaky feeling it was an annual call to arms.
Some days before December 25 the turkey would arrive at the door. It either came with the post or with CIE. The turkey, complete with feathers, came from my granduncle's farm on the Tipperary Kilkenny border, where I spent idyllic summers. It fell to Dad to pluck the bird. More accurately said, it was as clear as day to me, a little boy under 10, that Dad was an expert bird-plucker. Between sitting and kneeling on the kitchen floor, I watched Dad in awe as the feathers piled up on the newspaper and more and more flesh of the bird appeared.
Weeks earlier Mum had made two Christmas cakes. The idea of buying a Christmas cake was anathema to her. It was out of the question to make the cake without the best of almond icing on it. If I remember correctly, it had to be made a good few weeks before Christmas Day. I remember scraping up the left-over contents of the bowl in which the cake was made and licking it. That was yummy. It was something I looked forward to every Christmas.
Early Mass on Christmas morning and then rush home to enjoy the best day of the year. The turkey took hours to cook. There was always a certain element of nervousness that it might not be properly cooked. It always tasted delicious. For the evening meal my sister and I would prepare the table and when everything was ready we called the family to the meal, which would be eaten with just a table lamp lighting. On Christmas night before going off to bed Dad would arrange the fire in such a way that it would be lighting when we got up on St Stephen's morning. It was always a big thrill to see the coal fire lighting early the next morning.
Those first Christmases of mine had no television, no phone, just about a radio with one station, Radio Éireann. I am wondering does modernity, sophistication, technology, the world of gadgetry in any way improve the fun of Christmas? Oblivious to all our technology, Santa Claus continues to arrive and delight the hearts of millions of children. I remember the letter box where I posted my letter to Santa, indeed, it's still standing. Most times when I pass it I can see myself getting up on my tippy toes to put the letter in the box.
These days I see my generation of friends taking great delight in the arrival of their grandchildren. I hear so many of them saying that it is the best thing that ever happened them. Their grandchildren play a central role in how they celebrate Christmas. No doubt they are re-living their own. In his old age when I would ask my Dad what were the best years of his life he would, without fail, reply: 'when ye were small.' I imagine the majority of parents would share that sentiment.
I wish all my readers a happy and good Christmas. Enjoy the time, relax and laugh together. And guess what, it's the small things that make the difference.