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December 19, 2016 / hbrowne4

Christmas Challenge

Christmas by Brian Browne

The story of Christmas actually begins, as the seanchai would say, Fado, fado, agus a fado a bi, or as they say, to put English on it, long, long, ago. So how far back should one go? It actually started deep in prehistory. The depths. of winter needed to be marked and celebrated and the gods had to be encouraged to allow back the light associated with a new growing season. So at about midwinter it seemed a good idea to spend some time and look back on a long hard winter and also to look forward to a new and brighter future.

Food has always been a good way of marking a moment in time and to celebrate it. Inherent in the sharing of food is the notion of giving, so there was always an element of giving and sharing at these special markers in the calendar.

In what is modern day Turkey in a town called Myra, there lived a man named Nicholas. This was the third century AD and he was the Bishop of that region. The story is told that he was very concerned about the fate of young people in his charge. He came to hear of a man who had two daughters one of them was of marriageable age, but the unfortunate guy didn’t have the where-with-all to provide a dowry, so in his desperation he decided that his only course of action was to hire out the younger girl as a prostitute. On hearing this, the poor bishop was distraught. As luck would have it Nicholas was a wealthy man and so at dead of night he left a little sack of money outside the door of the distraught farther. There was more than enough for the dowry so everyone was happy. The story didn’t end there because some time later the second girl reached the magical age and again it seemed that the only thing to do was set her up in the oldest profession as there was no way she could be married without a dowry. So the good Saint repeated the process yet again. And still the holy man didn’t stop so he gave his money to people in need from then on.

This is one explanation for the twin traditions associated with Christmas, namely giving gifts and of course Santa Clause, or St. Nicholas to give him his proper name. Then along comes American consumerism and its demands and we get Coca Cola who are credited with changing Santa’s attire and persona so he becomes a jolly old guy dressed in the red and white of that company. Rather than the traditional green bishop of the older tradition whose mission was the glory of God and had nothing to do with guilting people into wasting money on crap that no one either wants or needs. But hey that’s progress, isn’t it?

My own experience of the day is one of mixed emotions. It was a truly magical event until I reached the age of eight. In our house there was the front room, sometimes called the parlour. This room had a very special place in the scheme of things. In some respects, it was the most important part of the house being, as it was, the only reception room where special guests were received. This was to change with the advent of television but more of that at another time. In my early days it was the room where Christmas principally happened, aside from the food that is.

It seemed weeks in advance of the day the room was locked and no one was allowed in there except mother and the elder sisters. But that only served to heighten the anticipation. My adored sister Freda was the one who really took on the mantel, as it were, and she went to town on it, quite literally. She went shopping straight from work in the evenings to be sure to have all the necessary for the tree which was decked out in the same baubles with the addition of the new ones she had acquired each and every year. This repetition did nothing to diminish the magic, on the contrary it just made everything seem perfect. I have absolutely no recollection of what was under the tree but it was the fulfilment of all my desires.

The morning always began at some ungodly hour with my younger brother and me scampering about the foot of our bed looking for the stocking and once found, out came the torch. Oh and it was a grand and glorious thing to behold. With the flick of a mechanical switch the colour could be changed from normal white light, to red, green or even yellow. Well if that wasn’t enough to keep us going there were other wonders in the stocking yes there it was an orange and look some chocolate money all wrapped in its individual gold paper.


Down stairs and if we waited long enough for the adults to surface, we could at last get in to the presence of the tree. Magical lights the bulbs of which were in the shape of Disney characters and another set just like frozen shards of water. Under the tree here the “real presents, the ones we had asked Santa for,” or at least facsimiles which could be reached with the stretch of the household budget, it is a source of amazement to me that I can’t remember even one of them. Except that is the teddy bear for Gary. Freda had bought it on the never, never. In other words, on weekly instalments from her meagre wages. Some things do change for the better I guess, at least for most people.

Anyhow my days of innocent enjoyment of Christmas ended that year because the following March my most loved sister went and deserted us to go and marry an English man and worse still they emigrated to America which in those days may as well have been the moon. We didn’t see them for several years after that by which time they had a son of their own. Of course I was now a big boy and didn’t even pretend to believe in Santa by the next time Christmas rolled around and so I guess it had lost quite a lot of its lustre by then. Never really to be regained.

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