As people across the world prepare to celebrate Christmas 2015, the ‘Journal’ spoke to some residents of Beach Hill Manor Private Nursing Home in Fahan about their memories of Christmas past in the peninsula.
We asked how their Christmases differed to those of children today and what their favourite memories were. What emerged were tales that didn’t differ too much from the same traditions we still hold dear - leaving out carrots for Santa’s reindeers, enjoying a big Christmas dinner with family and the excitement of seeing what presents you received. But, what has changed are the type of presents found in the stocking, with today’s costly gifts being replaced back then by apples, oranges and nuts. Christmas dinner wasn’t bought but was plucked from the farm and a trip to the cinema was a festive treat for the children of Moville.
Annie Madden, nee Noone, grew up in Bredagh Glen, Moville and recalls how the weather was definitely a lot colder back then. This led to fears that Santa would slide off the roof!
She said: “We worried about how Santa and his reindeers would get on to the roof with the snow and frost. But my mother and father (Helen and James) would reassure us it would be ok. Daddy would put a ladder up at the gable wall, so that if Santa couldn’t get on the roof then he could climb up to the chimney. We’d put out plenty of carrots and were excited about Santa coming down the chimney.
“We definitely had a few Christmases where there was snow. I remember the big snow of 1946, although it happened after Christmas. People’s houses were covered over and they had to shovel their way out. One year, it was snowing and we had no sledge, so my father went to the attic and made us two. We were so happy.”
Annie said she and her siblings always looked forward to receiving gifts in their stocking - oranges, “big, big apples” and a chocolate bar.
“You really looked forward to that chocolate,” she said.
Another eagerly-awaited event in her house was the Christmas dinner, not least because her mother was an accomplished cook.
Annie recalled: “She had worked as a cook, so would bake beautiful cakes and puddings. We had a farm, so there was always plenty of turkey, goose and chicken and lovely potatoes. The dinner was the thing you really looked forward to.”
Annie said the family’s Christmas tree came from their own garden as her father grew them.
She said: “He would take one each year and then put another in its place. He also supplied the local school with a tree.”
Annie later moved to England and said she would attend gatherings at Christmas in the local Irish Centre. She only recently moved back to Ireland and said she’s “really looking forward” to Christmas this year. She’s particularly looking forward to celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of her brother and sister-in-law in the days after Christmas.
“It’ll just be lovely,” she said.
Sarah Ellen McLaughlin is also from Moville and said she remembers seeing all the “lovely parcels” on the dresser. Her favourite gift from Santa was a tea set, which she received when she was “very young” but she disclosed that she particularly looked forward to her trip to the cinema.
She said: “All the local children would go to the pictures in Moville cinema on St Stephen’s Day. You’d take your big bag of sweets and it would have been the highlight of everyone’s Christmas.”
John Alison is from Redcastle and says his favoutite present was a tractor - “a wee Massey.”
He reveals how he always looked forward to the community gathering at the Redcastle Hotel.
“That was a big night,” he said.”
“You’d have good craic in the hotel and you’d look forward to your Christmas dinner too. But it was quiet enough as there was still farming to be done. Our tree came from the forestry. We’d go up and bring it down home.”
John Toland from Clonmany said he never got too excited about Christmas when he was a young boy, but would look forward to the “few nuts in the stocking.”
He said he worked in England for a time in later years and Christmas would always make him think of home.
The one memory that stands out for him is Christmas Mass.
“It was a big thing - you’d have to go to Mass. Christmas is very different now. Now, you see what you want and you get it. It wasn’t like that then but we still enjoyed it.”
All of the residents said they were looking forward to the Christmas festivities in Beach Hill Manor, which is run by the Brindley Healthcare Group. They said they “really enjoyed” a Christmas party held last week, with John Toland “the best singer in the country” even giving a few tunes.