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An Irish Christmas—The Night Before

Brigit Haggerty from Ireland

In this excerpt from the original story, Brigit describes how her family celebrated Christmas Eve when she was a child.

Fatber Christmas
Photo: Brandon Cirillo
I can remember lying very still in the darkness for what seemed like hours, hoping to catch Father Christmas in the act.


Before we were old enough to go to Midnight Mass, our Christmas Eve preparations ended with breaking the fast; dad enjoyed a glass of port, mum had a cup of tea and the children munched on sweets and apples.

We'd gather around the fireplace and my parents would talk about the old days. How their parents told them that an angel stood on every spike of a holly leaf and that all prayers said on Christmas Eve would be answered.

Tonight was also the night that animals were endowed with the gift of speech, but you must never try to listen in - that would be very unlucky indeed.

It was also said, so they told us, that the sheep in the fields would form a procession, as if lining up to pay homage to the baby Jesus. We were always enthralled by these storieseven the scary one that said if you died on Christmas Eve, you'd go straight to heaven! Then, it was time for our prayers, a bath and bed.

The ritual was the same every year. We went to our room and hung a white pillow case at the foot of the bed, in hopes it would be filled to over-flowing the next morning. I can remember lying very still in the darkness for what seemed like hours, hoping to catch Father Christmas in the act. But the sandman always came before Santy did.

Drifting off to sleep, I can vaguely recall hushed voices in the other room, bits and pieces of Handel's Messiah, and a feeling of pure contentment. It would take me years and years to recognize and realize that these are the gifts that go on giving.


Brigitte Haggery is the author of
The Traditional Irish Wedding and is now working on her second book. It will focus on memories of an Irish childhood—a compilation of recollections from people who were either born and raised in Ireland or who grew up in an Irish family.


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