Christmas Crackers

Christmas crackers were part and parcel of all my childhood Christmases in Ireland. My sisters and I loved playing with these festive, popping, paper tubes before we tucked into our Christmas dinner.

Boxes of Christmas Crackers on Shelves

On Christmas Day our place settings always included a Christmas cracker lovingly laid above our spoons.  Patiently waiting to start our cracker games, we admired the glittering favors on our yuletide table.

Once we all sat down to dinner the cracker wars began.  Crackers can be pulled in a sedate and genteel manner seated beside a table, but that would have been too lady like for cracker fanatics.  We stood face-to-face, with feet placed strategically apart, to create maximum pulling advantage.

Christmas Crackers

Holding firmly to my end, I pulled with all my might.  With eyes closed tightly I valiantly fought my Christmas cracker battles. 

The loud explosive crackle of  our gleeful paper tearing signaled time to open my eyes. Sheer delight followed if I held the larger half of the tube, with all its hidden surprises, which were usually found scattered all over the dining room floor.

Red Christmas Cracker

Now truth be told these hidden surprises were little more than plastic tricky trackies.  A corny joke on a little rectangular piece of paper was wrapped around a neatly folded colored paper crown.

Here’s a quick question for all my Irish readers –

 

Have you have ever eaten your Christmas dinner

with a brightly colored paper crown adorning your head?

 

I’m quite certain every Irish photo album contains a few pictures of relatives wearing Christmas cracker hats at the dinner table.

Christmas Cracker Paper Crown

As I started to reminisce about Christmas crackers I realized I have no idea when and how they came to be. I guessed they are an English, Victorian innovation, so I took to the internet to discover the “truth”.

Christmas crackers are indeed an English invention, and were first created by a Victorian gentleman and sweet maker called Tom Smith.

During a trip to Paris he was impressed by French bon-bon sweets, which were beautifully wrapped almonds with a joke printed inside. He tried selling  ‘bon-bon’s” in England, but they simply didn’t catch on.

One evening as he sat by his warm fire, watching the logs sparking and crackling, a brain wave struck.  Why not place the sweets with little toys inside a paper tube that popped once opened.

Golden Christmas Cracker

Tom’s cracker business was born and it was a resounding success. His three sons, Tom, Walter and Henry, eventually took over the business, and Walter introduced the now-obligatory paper crowns, which may symbolize the Wise Kings who visited Jesus in the manger.

I bought Christmas crackers for my children last year for the very first time. They were a resounding success. They absolutely LOVED them.

This year they keep asking me if we are going to have Christmas crackers again.

Vintage Christmas Table with Christmas Crackers

And so, in 2014 I plan to continue our little Irish Christmas cracker tradition.

From this year onwards our Christmas table setting will not be complete without a lovingly placed Christmas cracker above the spoon.

Box of Christmas Crackers

Wishing you all happy Christmas cracker pulling contests this year.

 

 

Nollaig Shona Daoibh

(Merry Christmas)

 

Irish American Mom

 

P.S. Purchasing Christmas Crackers In America

 

I have purchased Christmas crackers in Target and World Market in the past, but I found their stocks were limited.

A quick disclosure note: The link below is an affiliate link and I will receive a commission if you choose to make a purchase using this link. Thanks in advance if you do utilize this link for your Irish shopping.

For online purchases of Christmas crackers check out the Food Ireland website..  They have a wonderful selection of Irish goodies which can be shipped throughout the United States.

“Santy” – The Name I Used For Santa Claus, When I Was A Little Girl In Ireland

Santa Claus is the name my children call good old Father Christmas, but when I was a little girl in Dublin, I called the red suited toy deliverer “Santy”. 

Or maybe that should be spelled “Santee”, I’m not certain.

www.vintagerio.comImage Credit

For weeks before Christmas everyone in Dublin seemed to be interested in what good old St. Nicholas might be bringing in his sack on Christmas night.  Everywhere we went, kind folks loved to talk about chimney deliveries on Christmas Eve.

The milk man! The post man! The butcher! Shop assistants!  Irish people love to chat, especially with little ones, and at Christmas time their favorite question was:

 

“What’s Santy bringin’ ya’ for Christmas?”

 

Another frequent question was:

 

“Have you been to see Santy yet?”

 

I have no idea why Father Christmas was usually called Santy when I was growing up in Ireland.  On films and American television we heard the term Santa, but in our Irish family the white bearded giver was always Santy. 

We seldom even added his last name “Claus”. We were all on first name terms with our beloved Santy.

When I first came to America I remember asking a little girl – “What’s Santy bringing you for Christmas?”

She looked at me strangely, then asked:  “Who’s that?”

Until then, I had never really thought about this difference in terminology. And so my American evolution continued when I had to rename Father Christmas and use the more globally accepted term of Santa Claus.

Decorations in the Pavillions Swords

Now that I have kids of my own, I sometimes slip up and say ‘Santy”.  They just roll their eyes, and say:  “I think you mean Santa, Mom.”

I don’t believe Irish children use the name “Santy” anymore. Popular culture and American influences have changed our naming of Good Old Saint Nick, but in my memories every Christmas Eve, I waited for “Santy”.

Now in Irish or Gaelic the term we use is Daidí na Nollag, which is literally Daddy Christmas, or Father Christmas. But we were English speakers in my home, and therefore we called him “Santy”.

I wonder does the name “Santy” bring back happy memories for any readers of my ramblings.

Christmas Fireplace in Dublin Castle

Truth be told, no matter the name we call him, Santa Claus, Santy, or Daidí na Nollag, he is the same generous guy, who makes his rounds each Christmas night, sharing his love all over the world.

 

Nollaig Shona Daoibh

(Merry Christmas)

 

Irish American Mom

Why Graveyards Remind Me Of Christmas

Visiting our departed loved ones at Christmas is an age old Irish tradition. My childhood memories of Christmas Day include a trip to the local cemetery to say a prayer at the gravesides of our deceased relatives and friends.

Irish graveyard - Leaba Molloga, Kildorrery, Co. Cork

To many this may seem a very grave matter for Christmas time, but if like me your heritage is Irish, connecting Christmas with death is a perfectly normal and natural thing to do.

Honoring our ancestors and those who have gone before us is very important to Irish families.  Christmas is a family holiday which we not only celebrate with the living, but also the dead. When a close relative is unable to visit a grave, a cousin or a friend will often complete the traditional task.

Irish graveside

I have heard that Finnish people also observe this tradition of Christmas visits to graveyards. There however, the visit usually happens on Christmas Eve just before dark.  Finns usually light a candle in memory of their loved ones.  I can only imagine how beautiful it must be as darkness falls.  Graveyards must transform into a beautiful sea of candles.

On Christmas Day in Ireland graveside weed pulling is deferred, but old vases and pots of decaying flowers are replaced with wreaths of holly and ivy.  We pay our respects in many ways. Some write little notes, and graveside mementos are placed respectfully over the dead.

Irish graveyard ruin

But these customs are not reserved for the recently departed. Our long lost ancestors are often acknowledged on this holy of holy days.

Cemetery visitors nod to each other, respectfully conveying season’s greetings, yet all the while acknowledging our forebears are now close neighbors.

Like many other Irish people, I find graveyards have long been a source of solitude, comfort and contemplation.  Even as a child I never objected to our yuletide cemetery visits, recognizing at a young age that this was part of our heritage – our family duty.

Ancient door in an old Irish church

As I have grown older and look back on my Irish childhood I have come to fully appreciate this family ritual, even though many may deem it too somber for this merry season. But I never felt somber as I searched headstones for names I recognized so well.

Our ritual actually felt joyous, as if somehow in my young heart I knew I was bringing the joy of Christmas to our beloved family members who had passed away. Together we honored their lives, aware their lives gave us life, and the ability to celebrate this joyous season.

Celtic Cross, Molloga Graveyard, Kildorrery

A silent spiritual music provided rhythm to our Christmas stroll around grave stones and family memorials. Trees seemed silent and indifferent, yet ancient stones comforted us, rooting us to the valleys of our past.

As I now walk amongst the Celtic crosses of my memories, I am reminded that we too are simply passing through. We are only temporary residents on earth, yet duty bound to find joy in the simple things in life, especially family holidays and celebrations.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Favorite John O’Donohue Quotations Especially For Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. To celebrate this day of reflection and thankfulness here are some quotations from John O’Donohue (1956-2008), an Irish scholar, poet and philosopher, and expert on Celtic spirituality. 

This selection of his beautiful words focuses upon gratitude and blessings.

Irish Sunset

May you experience each day

as a sacred gift

woven around the heart of wonder.”

~ John O’Donohue

 

Autumn foliage

“Blessed be the gifts you never notice,

your health, eyes to behold the world,

thoughts to countenance the unknown,

memory to harvest vanished days,

your heart to feel the world’s waves,

your breath to breathe the nourishment

of distance made intimate by earth.”

~ John O’Donohue

 

Donegal Sheep

“Take time to see the quiet miracles that seek no attention”

~ John O’Donohue

 

Donegal Scenery

 

“Keep something beautiful in your heart

to survive difficult times and enjoy good times.”

~ John O’Donohue

 

Mackerel Sky

“May dawn find you awake and alert,

approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises;

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled;

May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected;

May your soul calm, console and renew you.”

~ John O’Donohue

 

 Donegal Castle Ruins

 

“May I live this day

compassionate of heart,

clear in word,

gracious in awareness,

courageous in thought,

generous in love.”

~ John O’Donohue

 

La Bella Luna

 

“So at the end of this day, we give thanks

For being betrothed to the unknown.”

~ John O’Donohue

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving To All.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Tribute To An Irish Mother

Mothers will be celebrated throughout the United States this Sunday. When working on a post to describe the attributes of Irish and Irish American mothers, I came across this speech, delivered a number of years ago to a gathering of the Irish America Fund, by the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.

His heartfelt, poignant words, dedicated to his own mother, perfectly sum up the way I feel about my Irish mother.  My words seemed inadequate beside this beautiful tribute. I decided instead to share his eloquent speech with you today, as a tribute to mothers everywhere.

 

Tribute to an Irish Mother

 

“Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden is the soul, spirit and essence of what it means to be an Irish American.

 

She is spiritual.

She is romantic.

She honors tradition,

and understands the thickest of all substances is blood,

and the greatest of all virtues is love.

 

She has taught her children, all her children in my neighborhood who flocked to her hearth, that you are defined by your sense of honor and you are redeemed by your loyalty.  She is quintessentially Irish — a combination of pragmatism and optimism.

She also understands as my friend Pat Moynihan once said, there is no “point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.”

But she is more. She measures success in how quickly you get up after you have been knocked down.

 

She believes bravery lives in every heart,

and her expectation is that it will be summoned.

Failure at some point in everyone’s life is inevitable,

but giving up is unforgivable.

 

As long as you are alive you have an obligation to strive. And you are not dead until you’ve seen God’s face. My mother is a living portrait of what it means to be Irish – – proud, on the edge of defiance. Generous to a fault. Loyal to the end.

She made not only me believe, but scores of my friends and acquaintances believe in themselves. As a child I stuttered. She said it was because I was so bright I couldn’t get the thoughts out quickly enough. When my face was dirty, and I was not as well dressed as others, she told me how handsome I was. When my wife and daughter were killed, she told me God sends no cross a man is not able to bear.

 

And when I triumphed, she reminded me it was because of others.

 

She was watching through the kitchen window as I got knocked down by two bigger guys behind my grandfather’s home. She sent me back out and demanded that I, to use their phrase, “bloody their nose,” so I could walk down that alley the next day.

When my father quit his job on the spot because his abusive boss threw a bucket full of silver dollars on the floor of a car dealership to humiliate his employees, she told him how proud she was.

 

No one is better than you,

You are every man’s equal,

and every man is equal to you.

You must be a man of your word,

for without your word you are not a man.

 

When I was in eighth grade, I was a lieutenant on the safety patrol. My job was to keep order on the bus. My sister and best friend Valerie acted up. At dinner that night I told my mother and father I had a dilemma. I had to turn my sister in – it was a matter of honor. My parents said that was not my only option. The next day I turned my badge in.

I believe the traits that make my mother a remarkable woman mirror the traits that make the Irish a remarkable people. Bent, but never bowed. Discriminated against, but always looking down at their discriminator. Economically deprived, but spiritually enriched. Denied an education, but a land of scholars and poets.

As I look out at those massive Corinthian columns, I see my 5 foot, 2 inch mother, who stands taller in my eyes than any pillar in this room.

And I think of the Irish poem “Any Woman” by Katherine Tynan:

 

“I am the pillars of the house;

The keystone of the arch am I.

Take me away, and roof and wall

Would fall to ruin utterly.

 

I am the fire upon the hearth,

I am the light of the good sun,

I am the heat that warms the earth,

Which else were colder than a stone.”

 

- From a speech by Joseph R. Biden

 

Joe Biden’s mother passed away in 2010.  Her legacy is truly appreciated by her son. 

As an Irish American Mom I strive to be a straight-talking but supportive, encouraging mother, just like she was.

Wishing you all a very happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

 

Lá Na Máithreacha Shona Daoibh!

(Happy Mother’s Day)

Irish American Mom