Leading up to Christmas the shopkeepers had to look after their customers; everybody got some gift. Good ones got a brack and a red 1 lb. candle, others got just a brack, another just a red candle and so on. The men who got tobacco were taken very quietly down to the parlour for a glass of whiskey. It all added to the excitement.
They bored a hole in a mangold to hold the candle, and everyone in the family was there Christmas Eve for the lighting of the candle. Christmas Eve was a fast day, with no meat; salted fish and potatoes, white sauce and butter, followed by tea and fruit cake.
Santa only gave them perhaps an orange, a few little books, crayons and sweets, but the important thing was that Santa had come.
-- Aine Aherne of Nohoba, Kinsale, County Cork.
It was magical and mysterious and somewhat frightening to a child’s mind, so Christmas long ago was absolute bliss … We were as good as gold the week before Christmas because we were told that “Holly Pux,” Santa’s friend, would be sitting on the chimney watching us, and if you were bold Santy would not come.
On Christmas Eve from dusk onwards there was this eerie feeling. We were terrified to look out – much less go out – for fear we would come face to face with this strange old man. Living in the country as we did – all thirteen of us – made it all the more haunting, there being no street lights and the only indoor lighting was that which shone from the lamp on the wall.
Having to go out in the yard for water or turf for the fire was a frightening ordeal because every shadow you saw you imagined was HIM. We would be given our tea early and sent off to bed and when the candle was blown out we used to close our eyes tightly and hide under the covers.
- Phyllis McDermott, Longwood, County Meath
From "No Shoes in Summer," Wolfhound Press.