by Vera Grant, AMMM Ireland 22.12.2021
Christmas began in our house on the 8th December, the Feast of The Immaculate Conception. It was a holy day, school was closed, we went to Mass and then we went to visit Santa but most important of all it was the day we were allowed to empty our money boxes and do our Christmas shopping.
We were given strict instructions about where to get the bus and where we could shop. The favourite place was Woolworths which was like a market with all the goods on display in open counters where you could not only gaze but you could also touch and feel the softness, smell the perfume and run the ribbon between your fingers. The colours were like magnets to the eye and the more garish the more attractive they appeared.
It was a tradition in our house and one that began when me, my older sister and the twins were accompanied by my father. He would top up our savings with an extra half-crown so we could buy something for ourselves. My mother stayed at home with the younger children who in years to come would talk about hating being left at home and longed for another birthday so they too could go into town to shop.
Whilst the shopping, the choosing and the actual paying were all so very grown up the best part was coming home laden with bags and itching to open them up and pull everything out for a closer look. That treat came later when after tea we would go upstairs secreted to our bedrooms and with our backs to one another we would open the bags and feel enthralled yet again with the array of hankies, beads, nail scissors, coloured paper, hair slides, ribbons, soaps and talcum powder to name but some of the variety offered by Woolworths.
Over the next few weeks, the house was a hive of activity. The presents had to wrapped and hidden from the prying eyes of the others and there were eight of us in total, eight girls and one more inquisitive that the other and each one on a mission to find out what the others had bought.
The excitement intensified by the day and the smell of baking and cooking permeated the house. Mary had been told she was going to have a baby and we had plenty of them in our house and we knew that when this baby would be born on 25th December there would be even more celebrations, more presents and the time for us to gauge the success of our shopping trip by the surprise and delight on the faces of our parents and siblings when they opened the gifts we had chosen, bought, wrapped and hidden and now could be revealed.
We loved it all and, as the birthdays came and passed, we were allowed to go into town by ourselves with my older sister (by one year) and me being the second oldest in charge of the younger ones. It wasn’t as good fun as it was with my father in charge and we both felt encumbered with responsibility and yearned to be free and frivolous.