I would like to take this opportunity before the big day to wish each and every one of you a happy Christmas season. I know I am certainly looking forward to the time off and then hopefully a better year to come in 2013. It is always with a bit of nostalgia I face into this time of year. Like a lot of families around the country, half of my siblings have emigrated, so this time of year, I can be quite melancholy with plenty of reminiscing of times past being done. Like most of you readers out there (over a certain age), we didn’t have an abundance of money when I was growing up but somehow my parents succeeded in making Christmas a wonderful time of year for us six children. In a lot of ways we were shielded from the financial worries my parents may have had and we never felt like we were deprived in any way. Mind you our wants and wish lists in those days were certainly less expensive to fulfil than those of children now-a-days. When I talk to my parents about their Christmases as children, funnily, they tell similar stories; theirs however are ones of extreme poverty. Both my parents grew up in the ‘40’s and remember quite clearly the effect the Second World War and its aftermath had on this country. Again however, they never hankered after anything; their wants and needs were much simpler then and both their parents, my grandparents, made a huge effort at this time of year to have plenty of food on the table, coal for the fire and a gift for each of them and all their siblings under the Christmas tree. Both my parents come from large families as I do myself and for both them and indeed me, Christmas was more about getting together and spending time with each other than what was under the tree on Christmas morning. We have just had another savage budget and I am sure there are plenty of people out there who feel they have little to celebrate or look forward to in the coming year. Money is scarce at the moment for many families, but it’s not the first time in this country’s history that money is scarce! All I have to do to remember that is think back on the stories of my parents’ childhoods, or indeed my own. Things changed and they can and will change again, we just have to hold on and get on with it as best we can. The memories of my childhood Christmases are ones I will treasure forever, especially now that most of my siblings don’t make it home for Christmas. So for me, memories of Christmases past when we were all together are most poignant. There are certain things that are quintessentially Christmas for me; I remember the roaring fire my father used to keep going all Christmas Eve night, so that when us kids all got up at 5am in the morning the house downstairs would be warm (no central heating in those days). I remember the big turkey my mother used to cook and how every single morsel of meat would be picked off the bones so there would be enough to feed all eight of us. After that then I remember the wonderful Turkey soup my mother would make with the bones on Stephens’s day so she could take the day off from cooking. She used to spend days beforehand precooking some of the vegetables because in those days the hobs and cookers seemed to be smaller! She’d prepare what she could beforehand so that on Christmas morning she could have time to sit and watch all us kids play with our new toy, while accepting yet another ornament or candle sometimes bought from the ‘rag and bone’ man months before…..
I remember being dressed up in our Sunday best and going to Christmas morning mass in the local church and unless you were early it was most difficult to get a seat; the church would be packed to the rafters. If you were really lucky, you’d get a seat beside the radiator so you could be a bit warm. In those days the church always seemed to be ice cold. And then it was home to eat the feast; or what we perceived to be a feast. There would be turkey and ham and lots and lots of vegetables and for afters homemade trifle and pudding with custard, yum! After dinner, we’d all pile into the sitting room and there always seemed to be bodies everywhere as girlfriends and boyfriends would arrive and we’d watch the Big Christmas Day movie all together. It always seemed, in my memory anyway, to be the newest Superman or Indiana Jones movie or indeed the old favourite James Bond! And then when we felt we couldn’t eat another bite, my mother would bring out the box of Seasons Greetings sweets and we’d munch on toffees for the afternoon! Simple memories like this, is what Christmas means to me! More than anything, Christmas for me was a time when we would just enjoy being all together and happy. It was a time when my parents both got to take a well-earned break, my mother from cooking and cleaning and my father from work and we had him for days on end which for us was absolutely wonderful. It’s the simple pleasures we need to remember, cherish and pass on to our children. It shouldn’t be about the latest techno toy, and it’s up to us parents to pass on those memories to our children while making memories for them to cherish when they grow up. So with that in mind, I wish you all a peaceful, happy Christmas surrounded by your nearest and dearest!