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Christmas in Copany

by
Thomas Scott (1906-94)

 

The letter on this page belongs to Margaret Graham and forms part of the Donegal Genealogy Resources Website

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See 1901 census Copany for Thomas's family


One of my earliest memories of Christmas, was the night Joe Edgar came down to ask my eldest sister, Sissie. (Eliza Jane) to be his wife. I had never seen Joe Edgar before; he was a big tall good-looking man, over six feet tall. He had some neighbour with him. We, Gilbert, Florrie and myself were sent to bed early. It was next day we were told Sissie was leaving us.


Christmas in our house was sort of magic, we were all so sure Santa was a real person. I remember well the day my mother explained to me it was only our father and mother who filled our stockings and put the presents on the Christmas tree.


There was a storm of thunder and lightning, any time it would thunder she always took us children away from the windows to a dark spot under the stairs. She would be praying it would soon be over and that God would keep us safe. On that particular day there was no one in the house. I don't remember where the rest of the family was; my father was dead at the time. She had her arms around me and I must have mentioned Santa Claus or something about Christmas. Whether she thought it was a sin fooling me or thought I was old enough to be told the truth, I don't know. She explained Santa was only make believe, I was so disappointed that for a while I forgot about the thunder. I thought it was the biggest let down of my life, I really couldn't believe it. For years afterwards when I would hear thunder, I would think of the day mother and I sat under the stairs. Even yet I can picture it in my mind as the day it happened. The only consolation I could think of was the fun we would have with Florrie, my youngest sister, who still believed in Santa.


As Christmas approached preparations for it started some days ahead. Mostly a goose was kept for the dinner, the rest of the geese and turkeys were sold in the Turkey Market as it was called. Everybody on the small farms kept turkeys, geese, ducks and fowl of every sort. Every year buyers would come to town and hold a Christmas market for them.


The geese were killed and plucked and the large feathers were kept by themselves. The wings were used for dusters and very effective they were. The "down" or breast feathers were kept for making into pillows etc.


Christmas day was a day for visitors so everything was in preparation for them. The outside walls were whitewashed and the street brushed. There was no tarmacadam then and streets with cattle and poultry running free could get very dirty. Inside the house was washed and polished and the chimney cleaned. The chimneys in those days were so wide you could stand close to the fire and look up through them and see the sky----a perfect chimney for Santa to come down.


We always had School holidays for Christmas, so we prepared decorations. We searched for the nicest berried holly tree we could find. There were no other evergreen trees then, it was only in later years the government gave out shelterbelts of sitca spruce and cypress evergreens, and they became popular for Christmas trees.


On Christmas Eve my mother and older brother would go to town with the horse and cart. Boy, how we would watch for them coming home. As soon as we saw them coming we would run to meet them. There was no need to look both ways, as there were no motor cars then. We would help to carry in boxes and bags of goodies; other parcels were hidden from our prying fingers and eyes. All the Christmas cards were hung on streamers across the kitchen and sometimes a big turnip was hollowed out to hold a candle on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve we were sent to bed early, but only after we had hung our stockings on the old-fashioned crane over the fire-----very convenient for Santa to fill as he came down the chimney.


I was always afraid I would see him and one Christmas I did just that, I would never forget it as long as I live. In those days, sadly no more, mummers were a very important part of the Christmas scene. They dressed up in traditional costumes, Jack straw, Beelzebub, King George, and not forgetting the most important person, Tom Funny, the man who carried the money.


Here comes I Tom Funny,
I'm the man who carries the money,
Money I want and money I crave,
If you don't give me money,
I will sweep you all away to your grave.


Bob, my oldest brother, was one of the mummers and he was always playing some kind of practical joke. One Christmas morning I woke very early, I was in bed upstairs and the Christmas tree was downstairs in the lower room. I thought I would steal down before anyone else to see what Santa had left me. I lit a candle and slipped downstairs, opened the door into the room, the tree was there all hung with toys. I went over to it to see if there was anything for me, the very first thing I looked at was a watch, the face of it had horses instead of hands and when you wound it up the horses galloped around. I then looked at the attached ticket and written on the ticket was-"To Tommy Scott." I almost shouted for joy that Santa had come. I turned to go back to bed, it was then I got the fright of my life, Santa was standing in the doorway, I almost fainted with fright and I screeched to waken the dead. My poor mother jumped out of bed and ran downstairs. She met Bob going back up in a hurry. It was him; he heard me going down and thought he would give me a fright. He had been out with the mummers the night before; he put on a false face and some of the regalia and slipped down after me. My, did my mother give him a severe scolding for doing such a thing.
No sensation in later life could compare with the joy of rising on Christmas morning when Santa was a reality.


Christmas Dinner, the special dinner. Mother always stuffed the fowl and we liked the stuffing almost as much as we liked the bird. Then the plum pudding, I remember Gilbert couldn't eat it as he had stuffed himself on mashed potatoes, stuffing and fowl. Oh, those happy times when we were all at home together.


The Christmas after Florrie went to the USA, my mother and I were on our own. I told her not to cook a fowl; a piece of beef would suffice. Alas, that Christmas day a whole bunch of visitors arrived and to this day I don't know how she got them all fed. She was so embarrassed, with just a piece of  beef. Never again would she be caught like that at Christmas, she said, like I was caught this year, with just a piece of beef.


So the next Christmas she cooked the usual goose with all the trimmings and not one visitor turned up. That time she had been a bit unwell and hadn't much appetite and I had most of it all to myself. Christmas Day, Rich soup, goose leg, stuffing, potatoes and pudding. Next day, same again. Third day, breast of goose and same again. Fourth day, the stuffing was going a little bit sour but I got some again for dinner. By then I was a bit fed up with the fowl. Fifth day, same again, I couldn't look at it, let alone eat it and to this day it has put me off eating fowl.
Not everyone had fowl for Christmas, I knew several who had cabbage and bacon. I remember one Christmas a chap who used to play with us, saying " I am not able to play as I ate so much cabbage and bacon for dinner" and he went away holding his stomach.

Merry Christmas.

(This was written in Thomas Scott's own words)

 

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Lindel Buckley

Donegal Genealogy Resources