BY AVAE SWEENEY
One time, I was visiting my Nanny’s house and asked her what was her favourite Christmas present, as we were doing a worksheet in school about one of your grandparents’
favourite Christmas presents. So I chose my Nanny.
My Nanny said ‘Well Avae, we never had anything like you did at Christmas time. All we did was bring in an evergreen tree from the woods beside our house and put it in the corner beside the fire. Perhaps we might have put some toys or
ornaments on it, for decoration…’
This was news to me and I wanted to hear more, so I asked
Nanny to tell me some more stories. And she did…
In those days, children got one of their socks and put them on the tree as Christmas stockings. The tradition was that each child would get three things: an apple, an orange (well you would always get these) and then the last thing was
something different—a surprise.
Nanny told me that her favourite Christmas present ever,
was a hairclip. It was one of those simple ones that you slipped into your hair and it clipped over. It was plain black but did its job very well.
She treasured it because that was the most useful thing that she had ever gotten. Back then, her hair was brown. I saw a picture of her when she was in her twenties—she’s in her seventies now—and her hair was short and curly. (My Mam got her curly hair from my Nanny and her grandmother. I think I did too!) So the present of a hairclip was great to keep all the hair off her face.
As Nanny was telling me this story, she looked very proud and smiled, recalling her best present. She also seemed happy to be telling me about all her Christmas memories. That day we spent a good, long while together: me listening and her talking.
She described waking up in her four-roomed cottage: there was the kitchen, the sitting room and two bedrooms one off the kitchen and one off the sitting room, where their Mam and Dad slept. The youngest child, Bridget, got to sleep in her parents’ bedroom, in their bed as there wasn’t another one. So, in the household there was Kate, Nellie, Nanny, Liz, Mag, Tom, Mary and Bridget. Then their Mam, Dad and their Grandad. Their Grandad slept in the bedroom off the kitchen, where two or three children also slept. In the kitchen there was a fold out bed, known as a ‘settlebed’. At least two children slept in it.
My Nanny’s siblings slept in the sitting room. They went to sleep on sofas and on the ground, some by the fire, some not. They covered themselves in well-worn woollen blankets and used cushions off the sofas as pillows. At Christmas, they were all excited for the morning to come, to see what presents they had got. They didn’t have as much stuff as we do now, but my Nanny said that even so, they were still Really Excited!