by Sr. Jo Anne Kelly MMM Ireland 25.12. 2023
Christmas was the most special time of the year in our young lives. I grew up during the time of World War11 when everything was scarce and rationed. Farming people managed with what they had.
One neighbour whose wife had died very young, had a daughter, Judy, older than us. Judy had a bad limp and had to use a stick to walk. But Judy kept hens and also a flock of geese which she fattened for Christmas. We all loved Judy and most people supported her and bought a goose for Christmas dinner. Early on Christmas Eve my brother and I were sent to collect the goose. Judy had it ready, its feet firmly tied. My brother lifted it by the wings and we started for home. We were doing well until a neighbour’s dog came out barking and the goose went wild, wriggling and squawking. I grabbed the feet and the two of us ran laughing up the hill. My mother, hearing the commotion, came and took the goose round to the back. In a few minutes she touched some place in its neck and pulled. There was a fluttering of wings and the poor goose was dead. We did not know whether to laugh or cry. Later in the day we helped to pluck the goose. Well, at least, with our hands full of feathers we thought we were helping. Mam did the rest of the preparation.
On Christmas morning the five of us were up long before dawn, excited to know what Santa brought- simple things, like storybooks, board games, a skipping rope, jigsaw, some sweets and usually something to wear, like a warm jumper. Mass was very early in our small country chapel about two miles away. Electricity had not yet come to our part of the country so as we walked along some people carried lanterns which seemed to shine so brightly in the dark cold morning. Also many houses had a lighted candle in the window and we knew they were to guide Mary and Joseph on their way and welcome them with their new Baby Jesus. I loved the Latin Mass in the candlelit chapel though I didn’t understand the words. But somehow it added to the whole mystery and we knew a mystery was something we were not meant to understand!! After Mass we all wished each other a Happy Christmas as we started home in the morning light.
My father was always first home on his bike and had the fire lit, the kettle boiling and the frying pan on the stove. Some neighbours who had further to go came in to warm their hands and have a cup of hot tea before going further. Sometime in late afternoon we had dinner. There was some squabbling about who would get which part of the roasted goose but my mother easily settled it! She would remind us there were many children in world who had no goose to eat. Christmas pudding was unknown to us but we always had a lovely homemade Christmas cake.
Before dark we had our chores to do. The animals had to be fed and other outdoor jobs to be done. Since we did not have running water we had to fetch water from the pump down the road, enough for the night and the morning and enough coal to keep the fire going. When darkness came and the Tilly lamp was lit we settled down to our games. My father had taught us many card games. We all enjoyed those. Now we had the new board games too. My mother loved a game of draughts but you had to be good to compete with her. We took turns and occasionally one of us could beat her. She also had a sweet singing voice and taught us all the Christmas carols which now and again we would sing as we played. Often it was when one of was losing that he or she would start up a carol! I am sure not every Christmas was rosy but I do have lovely memories of those simple days and how we believed that the Baby Jesus had again come newly into our lives.
I recently read a quote from Pope Francis. “With Jesus, born in a manger, He came to be ‘our food’, feeding hungry humanity with His tender Love. He came to touch our hearts and to tell us that Love alone is the power that changes the course of History. Let me not let this Christmas go without doing something good so that a little hope can be born in someone who feels hopeless”