Dad always worked on Christmas eve when we were younger. There was always the last minute panic from one of the Crescent Clothing Company’s customers for a suit, jacket or slacks, even an alteration or something as simple as a steam pressing, (some strange terms there). The Crescent Clothing and Cyril Benson for that matter were renowned for their incredible Customer Service, it was their hall mark.
By lunch time Dad was home and in great spirits, simply because Christmas proper had started for him. The wage packet was in the pocket, a few days respite from the job. Mam however had been mixing Christmas magic, hard labour Christmas magic it should be acknowledged, behind the scenes for a couple of weeks now. The house had incredible smells as huge Christmas Pudding’s boiled, windows steamed up and the Christmas Cakes baking in the oven, we all knew it was approaching but unlike today, it was not the commercial juggernaut it is today.
Much of these Christmas puddings and cake made their way to Mam’s brothers and sisters across the Irish sea. I remember the sheets of brown paper, sellotape and quiet a few stamps on the finished packages. The Limerick Christmas magic was exported to London, Lincoln and even up to Dublin. Imagine the postage.
The singer sewing machine had been burning the midnight oil for weeks now in the run-up to Christmas. No Primark or Penny’s back then so the Christmas clothes were made by hand across Limerick by the many gifted seamstresses that had grown out of Ireland’s busiest rag trade town. And my Mam, was and still is one of the cream of the crop when it comes to turning a simple roll of fabric into Christmas, Wedding, Holy Communion, Conformation, and Special Occasion Majesty. Those incredible fingers made the difference in our happy household, on how we were turned out and the added support to the household budget.
Anyway, Christmas Eve, Dad arrives home, to a very busy household, floors had been polished by the joyriding boys with old socks on their hands old jumpers under their knees. The girls hands had potatoes peeled, sprouts prepared, carrots scraped and everything ready for the evening and day to follow this very busy Christmas Eve morning. Guaranteed, all of this work was completed before the Dad arrived home as the most important event had to happen.
Polished shoes, new pants and coats and the girls in their Christmas dresses were all ready for Mam and Dad to take us to town to soak up the Christmas spirit, and the most important task, to have one last look at the magical toys that were fast disappearing off the shelves. We were walked about Cannocks in O’Connell Street to see toys we would never dream to own and hope that Santa, might, just might conjure something really special for his visit later that evening.
One truly amazing fact, for us children anyway, was that if we lingered for more than a few minutes on one of the demonstration models or maybe even a toy out of its box, the ever ubiquitous eyes of Santa’s helpers made sure that that was the toy for us. After our walk about in the big people’s world we ventured back out into Patrick or O’Connell Street and invariably made our way to Thomas Street, often through another of Limericks department stores (The ‘Santa Photo’ Store) Todd’s and out the Thomas Street door to Geary’s Hotel on Thomas Street. It was here we had another of our Christmas Eve treats of minerals and crisps, Tayto to be precise. Then home to put up the Christmas Tree (Yes, on Christmas Eve) and the excitement grew, so much so that you thought your chest would explode in anticipation of the Big Man’s visit after mid-night.
It’s that wonderful time of year again where for the most part we have a pretty good time, over-indulge, over-eat and us Irish might over-drink a tad. I’m not going to rain on anyones parade, we can do that in January, but Christmas 2015 started a good 46 days ago at least. November 1st. Started the onslaught of Christmas ads on TV, Radio and in print.
Back then, these memories are from Christmas in the 1960’s and 1970’s, for my Mam and Dad, and for many Mam’s and Dad’s in Limerick City around that time, Christmas was a time measured by what you had managed to save, or the wages paid out that week, sometimes on Christmas Eve itself. Christmas really did not start until Christmas week, and for a lot of folks it was Christmas Eve when Christmas started. They were lean times but such incredible memories. Happy Christmas memories readers. Love to you all.