Christmas Eve, Christmas Mass, and Wren boys
My Christmas for the last 6 years has been totally different to the Christmas's I had as a child growing up in a small village in South Sligo in the North West of Ireland. I loved Christmas and indeed I still do. The excitement was at fever pitch as Christmas eve approached because we had all written our letters to Santa and we would seal them in an envelope and burn them in the fire so that the words would travel up the chimney with the smoke and reach Santa at the North Pole. Shopping would have been done the day before or early on the morning of the 24th and we knew that our grandmother would bake the currney bread for us. This was a big treat for me because I loved her bread. There was always a fresh turkey delivered by my father's friend who raised them for Christmas and as I told you before, my grandmother would clean out the turkey to get it ready for the dinner on Christmas Day.
We would find our santa gifts under the tree sometime during the night of Christmas eve, we would also have gotten gifts from our parents and that would usually be some new outfits. It was so exciting to see what new coat or dress we receive to wear to go to midnight mass. I always felt very good wearing my new outfit to mass. The Church was always packed for both the midnight mass and Christmas day too. A big Christmas tree with many white lights would stand at the side of the alter and the Nativity scene was on the side alter where I would kneel and pray and ask the baby Jesus to look after my mother in heaven. Then I would go up to the choir and sing all those beautiful hymns. We always walked to Church which was less than a 1/2 a mile from our house and it was always cold but the sky was always full of stars and I would have stood outside all night looking up to see if I could see anything moving up there.
Sometimes we would get buckets of water and pour it on the steps of the house so it would freeze and then we could slide on our own self made ice rink. We had great fun on those cold nights but looking back on it now I don't know how we did not hurt ourselves. I remember a cousin from South Africa came to visit us one Christmas and it happened to be a very mild winter. He really wanted to see snow because he had never experienced snow before. I really felt very bad for him because he arrived a few days before Christmas and he was very disappointed that there was no snow, but we woke up Christmas Eve and in the middle of the day it started to snow. Wow, John was a grown man but he was like a child in a sweet shop that day. By Christmas day there was a good coating of snow on the ground and we went out playing snowball fights and I remember him laughing like a child with pure delight.
Christmas day would start off with a big breakfast and whoever did not get to midnight mass would go after breakfast. The turkey was stuffed and popped into the oven early in the morning. The veg was prepared, The Christmas pudding was steaming and we would play with our toys or play outside while dinner was cooking. When I think back on all the family around the table eating Christmas dinner I have very fond memories of that time at home. It was a tradition in our house that we did not go away from home on Christmas day but we always had our neighbors in to visit and have a drink for the day that was in it. We would tell stories and jokes and I suppose there would be a little gossip too.
On St Steven's day which was Dec 26th or as we called it...Wren day we would always have a lot of coins ready for the kids who were wren boys for the day. There is an old custom in Ireland where somebody catches a wren (bird) and puts him in jar and bring him around from house to house while they danced and played music. If the wren was still alive when they had visited all the houses that was a great sign but if he died that was not a good omen for the new year. Of course the kids in our village did not have a wren when they called to all the houses. But they did have to either play an instrument, sing a song, tell a story or a poem or dance before they got any money.
It was always a great night of music in all the pubs too. All the musicians would converge on Gurteen and the sessions would be mighty. Of course we always had the big wren boys visit the pubs too. They might be from Galway, Clare, or maybe Mayo. These guys were covered in straw hats, skirts and you would not know who they were. You would have maybe 10 of them, two playing music and 8 dancing a set. They would arrive into the pub and would be given the floor to perform their show for about 15 mins and when they were finished some one would go around the people with a bucket where they would gather donations. This money was not for them, it was for a certain charity that was picked by the performing group. I always thought it was a great way to raise money because we always loved the rambling musicians and dancers, never knowing who they were but always entertained by them each year.
I miss those traditions now and I don't know if it is that I am getting older and just getting sentimental or that I am so far away from home. But no matter where I am Christmas is a very special time of the year and even thought it is very different to what I was used to, nevertheless it is always a great time to be with the people you love.
So I want to wish you all a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!
Would you like to spend Christmas 2021 in Ireland in a Castle or maybe two? We are taking names for our special Christmas tour now. Check out our website and have a look at the tours available and if you don't want to come with us in 2020 why not book with us in 2021. Come spend Christmas in Ireland. Make your dreams come true!