The day Dolores kidnapped baby Jesus
4 MIN READ
Christmas has changed.
Gone are the days of when children could expect just an apple and orange in their stockings and Christmas trees were shunned as pagan symbols.
When Santa used to arrive by boat on the Liffey and bestow presents on children in a nearby pub while simultaneously appearing both on the top floor of Clery’s.
When families would take the bus into Dublin simply to see the magical Christmas display in Switzer’s.
But, in every community, these Irish Christmases past live on in the memories of the older residents.
We asked locals from Finglas to share their recollections of Christmas in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s.
Dolores remembers the day she kidnapped Jesus.
‘I remember bringing the baby Jesus home,’ says Dolores. ‘My Mam said, ‘my God, what did you do?”
It was a few days before Christmas in the days when the crib was kept outside the church and Dolores was concerned ’cause He had no clothes on him’ and it was so cold.
Dolores had to sneak Jesus back to the crib.
‘Me mother made me bring it back round again,’ she explains. ‘We wrapped it in a blanket and put it back up in North Brunswick church.’
The puddings that peeled the wallpaper off the walls
‘She would be buying the stuff from September. Every week she would buy currants or sultanas or stout or breadcrumbs or whatever.’
Tony is remembering his grandmother buying the ingredients for Christmas puddings. But when she started making them, she tested the patience of Tony’s grandfather.
‘There used to be wallpaper on the wall,’ Tony says, ‘up to a certain height.’ When the puddings were on, the family home used to fill up with steam. There was steam everywhere. The wallpaper would start to peel off and he would start complaining, ‘those bl**dy puddings again!’
His grandmother would make five Christmas puddings for the family, her sister and others. ‘Tell them to make their own puddings,’ Tony’s grandfather said. ‘They don’t have to put up with all this steam!’
Biting all their noses off
Mary remembers the year that her younger brother ruined Christmas for his three sisters.
‘My mother used to hang the stocking up on the fireplace,’ she says. On this particular year, there were three dolls for her three sisters.
‘The younger boy in the family got up early and didn’t like what he got,’ Mary says, ‘so he bit the noses off the three dolls.’
This did not go down well.
‘The three girls got up and they were screaming for hours. Isn’t that terrible? We couldn’t afford to sort it out.’
Queen Mary and the watch
‘I was in turmoil.’
Rose was 10 years old in 1938 and couldn’t decide what she wanted for Christmas.
‘I really didn’t know what to do.’
There was the Queen Mary sewing box.
‘A very elaborate affair with drawers and everything in it.’
But there was also a watch.
Rose’s father told her she could only choose one so she made up her mind and wrote her letter to Santa.
‘I asked for the Queen Mary sewing box and sure enough Christmas morning there was this beautiful sewing box,’ she says.
But Rose’s father had a surprise for her. ‘What’s that at the top of the tree?’ he said, pointing out another present for Rose which turned out to be the watch.
‘That never happened,’ Rose says. ‘Nobody ever got two presents.’
This is the one Christmas that Rose says she will always remember.
Singeing the feathers off the turkey
‘My father always went into the market on Christmas eve to buy the turkey. He would get the workmen’s bus in around seven in the morning.’
Mary’s father would choose one and they would wring its neck for him. With the turkey under his arm, he then set off to get the Yule log and then the Christmas tree.
Mary’s father, the log, tree and turkey all came home on the bus.
When it came to preparing the turkey, ‘we would learn all about the innards because he made us sit and watch,’ Mary says. ‘He would show us the lungs and all the different things.’
The turkey would be plucked and any remaining small feathers that wouldn’t come out had to be burned off to remove them.
‘The smell of that,’ recalls Mary, ‘it was absolutely abhorrent.’
The horse who knew his way around
John worked every Christmas day delivering milk from the age of fourteen in the early 1960s.
‘It was the busiest day of the year,’ he says. ‘They wanted cream, extra milk, they wanted butter. All this kind of thing.’
He started at 5am on Christmas morning. ‘We had a horse and cart. The horse would know his own way round.’
John remembers meeting people as the morning went on.
‘People would be dressed in their finery, they would all be going off to mass and you would be standing there with an old brown coat on and you would probably have been standing in horse poo most of the morning.’
The bus conductor of Finglas
John’s nephew, Tony, whose grandfather was plagued by the puddings, remembers the kinds of presents he got in the 1960s that would probably baffle children, today. Like his bus conductor set.
‘It was just a cardboard box the size of the top of a stool and a little cardboard cap and a little ticket machine and a cash bag.’
Using the imitation tickets in the bus conductor set, Tony, who was seven or eight at the time, would go around the family home.
‘People would buy a ticket,’ he says. ‘pretending they were on a bus.’
Mrs Teeling’s perm club
Mrs Teeling had a perm club.
Any woman who wanted a perm would contribute 2 shillings and sixpence and get a number in return. A draw was held every week and whoever’s number came up got a perm.
John and Tony explain that the winners wouldn’t rush to have their hair done but save up their perm, ‘Coming up to Christmas they’d go in and have their hair permed.’
It was a big thing and they would be talking about it for weeks before.
‘And then they’d come out and they’d complain ‘that perm won’t hold! She did a shocking job there. I lay down, last night, and when I got up this morning it was in bits.’
Find out more
We asked Carmel Conroy and Cathy Fowley from Silver Thread to help us gather the memories of Finglas locals. Silver Thread’s mission is to listen and encourage older people to tell their stories. A book of their stories has been published as part of this project.
Find out more about Finglas on the Finglas Historical Society Facebook page.