29 Nov

As my seventy first Christmas approaches, I look down the tunnel of the years and recall the highlights of this magical season. My memories cover the spectrum from childhood excitement, teenage anticipation, first earnings and the joy of being able to gift back, early married life and the sense of sharing, the joy of watching my own young children’s exhilaration to the expectation of celebrating Christmas with them as adults.             Christmas 2020 will be like no other, but it will still be Christmas. What is it about this season of great joy that makes us want to relive it year after year? Why is it such a wonderful time for some and not for others? What makes it so nostalgic? And why is an Irish Christmas so uniquely special?             My own memories are imbued with love, family and storytelling, the latter being the   glue that marks our lives so indelibly. As a nation we love our stories. I was blessed to have been brought up in a household where stories were treasures to be shared. Our mother was the one who read stories aloud, but Dad was the storyteller. He had great yarns about his own childhood adventures,  myths, legends and anecdotes  gathered over a lifetime and perfected in the telling.             This year, in traditional Irish style, let us concentrate on the joy of being with our families through connecting with our memories and sharing our stories. Below is a tale of my own entitled Escape which I hope you’ll enjoy. Escape. Despite living on the North Circular Road on the outskirts of the city, Mother had acquired a turkey, which she intended to fatten for Christmas. We were not impressed, as half our play space had been hijacked by the undeserving interloper. Worse, we were expected to look after the beastie. After a few weeks we got used to the unwelcome presence and coexisted uneventfully if uneasily for the duration. The turkey gained weight. As soon as school was over, we raced home to avail of what little daylight remained to play three goals in, rounders and variations on football and rugby before darkness drove us indoors. These games were our tournaments and were taken extremely seriously. At first, we missed the area now occupied by the petted turkey but after a while we learned to ignore the incursion and made do with the space that was left. One evening, just as we were called in for supper, a carelessly thrown ball rebounded off the hook of the wired gate to the enclosure, popping it out of its hasp. The turkey, seeing his chance, swiftly took to the darkening skies. After supper Mother went outside with some tasty tidbits for her charge, only to discover an empty coop. She came in removing her apron with the speed of wrath, threatened us with dire consequences, snatched her coat and headscarf and set off in pursuit of the vagabond. Meanwhile, we five blamed each other and speculated on what punishments might follow. Mother cycled determinedly in the direction her well-attuned instinct suggested the turkey might have flown. She started a door-to-door search, persuading her neighbours to allow her to comb their gardens for the escapee. This was at best an unwelcome intrusion at suppertime on a cold wintry evening and at worst resulted in a few doors being banged in her face. Eventually, as she was just about to give up, she was successful in tracking down the recalcitrant bird. But her troubles weren’t yet over. She now had to face the challenge of a rather unscrupulous discoverer. First, he’d tried to claim the turkey was his despite evidence of a very recently assembled makeshift shelter. When Mother was able to describe both the order and colours of the rings with which she had marked her bird, he was forced to back down. He wasn’t giving in without a fight and promptly demanded a finder’s fee. In the end common sense and good neighbourly advice prevailed, and Mother was able to bear her prize home in triumph. As for us, we played less robust games as Christmas approached. We had learned the lesson that a bird in the hand is worth several in the wild, even the wilds of suburbia.  

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