Advent Calendar – Holiday Happenings

Geneabloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

The most memorable Christmas for me is the year my niece was born. My sister in law went into hospital a few days before the holidays. She was near the end of her second trimester and having difficulty with her pregnancy. My nephew, who was two at the time, stayed with my parents.

We worked hard to make it a nice Christmas for him. On Christmas Eve my parents, brother, nephew and I slept under the same roof. We were up early and opened presents with my nephew. Thomas the tank engine was at his height so we had lots of trains rolling down the tracks in the middle of the livingroom.

My Aunt had invited us to her place in Toronto for dinner so we left around mid afternoon and traveled in convoy. We enjoyed the afternoon with my Grandmother and my Aunt. My nephew was getting tired so we headed home. My brother had driven on ahead to get my nephew into bed. When we arrived home he was walking out the door having heard from his wife. It seems my niece was not waiting until St. Patrick’s Day to be born.

She was born on Boxing Day. I remember my mother waking me up in the wee hours of the morning saying I had a niece and that all were doing well. She had to stay in hospital for a few months but she steadily gained weight and strength.

Today she is a strong and healthy girl who is a very talented figure skater.

This was originally published in December 2010

©2011 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

Advent Calendar – Fruitcake and Plum Pudding

Geneabloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

The taste and smell of fruitcake bring Christmas to mind and can conjure up memories of Christmas past. Fruitcake and plum pudding are synonymous in our family. It was not Christmas without fruitcake and plum pudding. It was a Christmas tradition to make them every year.

The pudding and cake were made in November. It was traditional for each of us to stir the pudding mixture and make a wish. Coins were put in the pudding and brought prosperity to those who found them. Then we had to remember to ‘feed’ the cakes and puddings in the weeks up to Christmas. Feeding meant pouring liquor over the top to help keep them moist.

The pudding was always brought into the dining room with pomp and circumstance. The lights were turned off, the pudding lit with flaming brandy or whiskey and decorated with holly from the garden. Mum would then lift it to the air and carry it into the room to claps and cheers.

Over the years I have experimented with making different kinds of plum puddings and fruitcakes. Even decorating the fruitcakes with marzipan, rolled fondant and sometimes with glacé fruit.

In December 2010 CBS Sunday Morning did a great piece on plum pudding.

I still enjoy a piece of fruitcake with a cup of tea during the holiday season.

©2011 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

Advent Calendar – Holiday Travel

Geneabloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

When I think of holiday travel I think of the three times our family went to Ireland to spend Christmas with my mother’s family.

The first time we went to Ireland was in 1962. My mother traveled over with us and my father followed. I remember my mother telling me that my Grandparents drove down to Shannon airport to meet us and she handed my brother and me to them while she went to find the luggage. Those were the days when a velvet cable would separate people arriving from the people meeting them. This was the first time I had seen my Grandfather. My Grandmother had come over for my first birthday. It was the first time they had seen my brother.

Suddenly I was introduced to three generations of aunts, uncles and cousins. My mother was the only one from her family who left Ireland. On Christmas Eve at the party my Grandparents gave every year I wore a white fluffy shrug and a light blue velvet dress. I know this because my uncle was very much into photography and I have a picture.

We next traveled to Ireland for Christmas in 1978 and by this time the family had really grown. All my mother’s siblings had married and had children. I was the eldest of twelve grandchildren. There was laughter around the Christmas table when I said to my Grandparents “see what you are responsible for.”

This was the first time we had gone to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to hear the caroling service on Christmas Eve. My parents, brother and I went to the service. St. Patrick’s is an ancient cathedral and there were flags hanging from the ceiling. The acoustics of the organ and the voices of the choir in the cathedral were angelic. There were fresh garlands and decorations which included candles all around St. Patrick’s. Just being in St. Patrick’s on a night like Christmas Eve with the music and the sound of all those voices, the simplistic decorations and peaceful feelings is what Christmas is all about.

We went to Christ Church to ring in the new year. My Grandparents had gone to bed by the time we got home. It was cold and the house was dark. We went into the kitchen which was always toasty warm because my Grandmother had an Aga. We got a drink and then quietly went up to bed cuddling down into our beds with the thick feather filled duvets on top of us. My room was special because the ceiling had been covered in dark navy blue wallpaper that had stars on it so I could stare up at the stars at night before I went to sleep.

The last Christmas I spent in Dublin was in 1988. The family was going through the next set of changes as the grandchildren were now getting married and having children. This was the first Christmas I had been in Dublin since the death of both my Grandparents so this trip for me included a visit to Deansgrange Cemetery to pay my respects.

Since we could not stay with any of my mother’s siblings because all their children and partners had come home, we stayed at the home of a cousin of my mother’s. She and her family had gone away for Christmas. This was exciting for me as the house was on the same street as the home of Chris DeBurgh the singer. I saw him walking down the street with his family.

1988 was the millennium celebration for the city of Dublin so my uncle decided to hold a millennium party on New Year’s Eve. It was an intimate family gathering for about fifty. The party was a formal affair and my father got his tuxedo out that he used to wear to formal functions when he attended Trinity College. It still fit and just needed to be cleaned.

We traveled on a dark night up into the Wicklow mountains to where my uncle and his family lived. It was dark and cold but as soon as we walked into the house it was warm and welcoming. There was a large Yule log in the fireplace. Everyone brought a little something for the dinner.

There were prizes for the youngest member of the family (the son of a cousin who was born that year), the one who travelled the farthest (a cousin who had come home from Australia) and the oldest (the husband of my grandfather’s sister). One grand uncle had written a poem. A few plays that had been written by my grandfather and great grandfather were performed.

A cousin, who is a professional photographer, took pictures of all the family groups that were at the party as well as one large group shot. These were put in an album and he gave a copy to each family group.

I have one treasure from this magical night. I put a white bed sheet on the dining table after dinner and had everyone sign it in pencil. Then I embroidered everything they put on the sheet. People got really creative and did doodles, drew pictures, wrote poems and funny sayings. It still makes me smile when I look at it today.

This was originally published in December 2010

©2011 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

Advent Calendar – Charitable/Volunteer Work

Geneabloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Our church had White Sunday where parcels were wrapped in white paper and brought to the church. When my mother was a child these parcels were gifts for children. You had to write the gender and age of the child on the outside. Sometime in my childhood they changed it to imperishable food stuffs. They were then disbursed throughout the community to people in need.

My mother and I were involved in church Christmas Bazaars which made money for local charities and families in need. One year a family was adopted by the church and all money raised helped them to have a warm and happy Christmas.

In my family the Salvation Army, or Sally Anne as we call them, has always been a Christmas charity. We always leave donations in the collection pots and send donations at the beginning of December.

This was originally published in December 2010

©2011 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

Advent Calendar – Other Traditions

Geneabloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

My father told me that his Scottish family never really celebrated Christmas until the twentieth century. Hogmanay or New Year Day was their big celebration.

My Grandmother would go all out for Hogmanay. The house had to be cleaned from top to bottom so that you had a clean house for the New Year. I still hold to this tradition.

I remember many New Year Day parties. There was a buffet and in the early years a poached salmon was the centre piece of the table. Grandpa had a special taste for smoked oysters so they were included as well. These parties started out large and included friends and family. When my Grandpa retired the parties became a smaller family gathering.

My Grandmother would meet the first visitor to the house in the New Year at the door. The first person over the doorstep in the New Year had to be a gentleman who had dark hair but before he could come in he would be handed a piece of coal, a potato and an oatcake. These were handed back to my Grandmother when he entered the house. The dark hair gentleman brought good luck, the coal warmth, the potato and oatcake food and abundance. I can remember people standing on the door step waiting for a dark haired gentleman so that we could go in the house. It was a strict rule.

In the 1940s my Grandmother’s father visited at New Year and brought them a piece of coal. This was the piece of coal that was handed to the first male entering the house for over 50 Hogmanay celebrations. When my Grandmother left her home in the late 1990s to move in with my Aunt she was insistent that the piece of coal go with her and not be packed up in a box.

This was originally published in December 2010

©2011 – Blair Archival Research All Rights Reserved

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