By Xandra Warde-Kilduff
Christmas for us kids began in the National school with novenas to the Holy Childhood, preparation for Christmas tests and lists for Santy.
The dark wintry days and dim streetlights inspired a desire for escape from the November sadness and constant reminders of the holy souls and the recently dead.
Then suddenly one day coming home from school a cry went up and all the children rushed en masse towards Greene’s window in Society Street. Hustling and jostling for a view, the little ones crying with frustration, some older ones with a scrap of paper making their list.
Always in the centre lay a magnificent doll with a Victorian dress spread around her in a fancy box, while teddies ,and a tea set, ironing board with an iron ,a train set and Christmas crackers, little wind up dogs who barked and walked, sometimes a tin dolls house with plastic furniture, a train set and lines of plastic angels, children’s cribs all were draped with tinsel intertwined with multi coloured fairy lights.
For me my eyes always went to that doll but Santy never brought her. From there it was a short journey to Rourkes Bakery where the first Christmas cakes, with Santa’s in their sleighs lost in white fluffy icing, some having silver balls about the edges.
Connolly’s in Main Street (where Salmons is today) displayed toys but for me had a good selection of storybooks, while May Kilduff waved at every child passing by as she dressed her window with boxes of chocolates ranging from half pound Urney and Milk tray, to tins of Biscuits and on the high shelve we could just see the enormous scenic and Victorian Christmas scenes of the giant size presentation caskets. She always had a sweet in her pocket for every one of us. Her brother Rory the Saddler busy making harnesses and accoutrements for horses for the St Stephen’s day hunt.
My own father busy in his workshop making gentlemen's suits, children’s and ladies coats, while still finding time to tell stories from his enormous repertoire to the children who crept in to sit on the floor and listen hanging on every word in the era before television.
A few days later we would all troop into Cogavins and later Kellers where the front of the shop was transformed into a huge display table with Christmas cards ranging from child size at a penny, to Religious medium size, and so many designs of glittery Christmas trees and robins .A few choice boxed cards for those who were wealthy enough to buy them. Cullen’s window brought us children fighting for space as the fashionable young women of the town walked backwards and forewards admiring the evening dresses they hoped to buy for the Christmas season of Dinner Dances. Satins, and lace, full length elegance with furs and sequins only seen in films.
The weeks seemed to move on very fast, then one Friday the school was a mass of whispers and secret notes, Santy was coming to Rothwells . The next day we all lined up and waited in the cold jumping up and down to keep circulation moving our heads moving up the road and down , everyone wanting to catch the first glimpse of the magical man who could make the impossible possible. Some clutched their scrawled little letters in hopeful hands , while others pushed to be first in.
“ Have you your letter “ my friend Ann asked .” what did you ask for “? The answer as always was the doll in Greene’s window .
There was one Santy who was my favourite, he was really fat and jolly and after a few whiskeys in Grenham’s filled with the joy of Christmas. One year he came by pony and trap and another year on the Guinness dray pulled by a huge horse. He always threw a few packages into the crowd to those he knew would not have the half-crown to come in to see him. The Saturday before Christmas the square woke up to the sound of geese often laid out in a circle while ducks often sat in ass and carts cosy in the hay. The postman came twice a day with cards and parcels. The house decorations were put up with the crib on the front window.
Christmas Eve was magical. We had all written to Radio Eireann and hoped that when Santy read out the letters our names would be mentioned .Then he would say “ I am on my way ,Yo Ho Ho”.
Next morning the packages were opened, the toys put away until after Mass, we all sang the hymns we had been taught at school with gusto and admired the style of the well to do women with their immaculate coats and hats. Outside the town band played at the top of the square” Joy to the world” and everywhere there were smiling faces and people wishing each other a “Very Happy Christmas”.
After Christmas dinner - goose with all the trimmings and jelly with custard - we went up to the Convent Chapel which was only opened at Christmas time and knelt in the red glow of a lamp to visit with the Holy family. Then off to visit the relations and hear stories of times gone by .
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