by Kathleen (Wilson) Maher

The most beautiful time of the year for me has always been the Christmas season, celebrating our Lord's birth in a stable at Bethlehem, and the warmth, peace, wonder and excitement surrounding us all. The reason is as simple as can be - Christmas time is magical for me because of the way Moma and my brothers and sisters made it so special. My mind is crowded with fond memories as I go back in time to December 1944 when I was eight years old.

Popa had died two years previously so our house was free of mourning for this Christmas. As usual, preparations were made in advance and in those days we definitely had a division of labour. The men were into winter assignments, herring catching, working all hours in the herring factory, mending fishing gear and nets for the spring, rabbit catching and cutting wood for all year round. The women were busy carding, spinning, knitting, mat hooking, sewing and washing clothes, cleaning house, cooking meals and many other daily tasks. The children fed the hens and the sheep, shovelled snow, brought in water and wood, went to choir practice and did their school homework. However busy there was always time for others, for prayer, laughter, listening to the radio, singing, telling yarns, dancing and truly "belonging".

Before Christmas, home brew had to be made and false faces and clothing made or found for mummering. A tree had to be chosen, chopped down, brought home and put up in the parlour on Christmas Eve. The kerosene stove was lit a few hours before the tree was trimmed and decorated with every ornament we could get our hands on. Decorating was a family affair and green and red streamers hung from corner to corner met in the center with gorgeous big red bells. The crib was made out of cardboard but every figure was exact and colourful and given a place of prominence.

After a lot of begging, I was allowed to take a nap after supper and go to midnight Mass and Holy Communion with the rest of the family. The church was all aglow in candle lights and the smell of spruce boughs permeated the air. The choir voices were splendid and uplifting and the service was just absolutely breathtaking. I felt so awake, so grown up and accepted.

We came home to a lamp-lit house, all snug and comfortable with a coal glowing fire and lots of heavenly aromas. The fragrance of apples and oranges, homemade bread, homemade soup, blood pudding, roasted lamb and Christmas cakes was all around us. Surprise! Surprise! Santa Claus had come while we were at church and our stockings were chock-full. I got beautiful combs and pretty ribbons for my hair but best of all I got two - not one but TWO store bought baby dolls. They were about eight inches in height and a bit on the chubby side. One was blue-eyed with long blonde hair and the other had a deep dark complexion, a mass of short curly black hair and brown eyes. What a combination! So different, so unexpected and now mine! My heart was tickled with glee and I was walking on air as I could not believe my good fortune. Shortly, thereafter, I pestered enough to have a doll cradle made from a tobacco box. So now I was full of delight and the dolls gave me great pleasure and kept me busy and out of the way, for days and months to come.

Billy got family games - bingo, checkers, Chinese checkers, snakes and ladders, plus a harmonica (mouth-organ). We also got candy to share with everyone else, and after much celebrating we went to bed. Now if I should live to be a hundred I'll never forget the many times that each and every family member of mine has said to me, ‘You should be seen but not heard!“ Apparently they weren't too convincing because I was always seen and always heard. What lovely memories flood my mind of that remarkable time in our lives. I only hope I can pass on this magnificent tradition to enhance the lives of my children and grandchildren and give them the love, warmth and security my family gave me.

With twelve full days of festivities guaranteed, a card party, soup supper, Christmas concert and a dance in the hall plus the mummers in all their colourful regalia dancing and singing, the season promised fun, gaiety and good-will to all. The church and hall were full to capacity at every religious and social gathering and people met and talked about everything under the sun.

Oh Merasheen, how great you were!  
May you always shower your people in abundance with love, contentment and gratitude.