Christmas at the Rectory

Christmas was a busy time for my Dad . He was a Church of Ireland clergyman and, to use a showbiz term, he knew he would have packed houses on Jesus’s birthday. He gave three services in three different churches in County Limerick every Sunday, but Easter and Christmas were the big crowd days. He worked hard on his sermons for the assembled throng. And he liked a good strong cup of coffee and some biscuits after the second service. It was a sort of pit stop break.

Of course we attended one of the services ourselves and sang the carols lustily. A clergyman’s family is almost under an obligation to make up for the mumbled notes of some of the congregation. Even bats occasionally stirred seasonally in the rafters. My mother was very fond of these creatures. The church Sexton wanted to get rid of them but Mum protected them devotedly.

As a young girl I often thought about my presents during the service. Itemising them….savouring them. We were not rich so these treats felt special and I loved the gaudy cosy paper they came in. I sometimes looked around and wondered if I could spot new presents worn by the large congregation…a particularly posh hat or colourful scarf for example, or pretty mittens. Though it was morning I had probably already eaten some chocolate. There was a lot of chocolate in the rectory at Christmas. The layered, delicious boxes, arrived as gifts from parishioners. It was welcome booty.

Dad loved his glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry thirstily imbibed after the sermons, the prayers and the carols. Christmas dinner took up much of the afternoon. Mum was an excellent cook. We enjoyed the spectacle of brandy being poured over the Christmas pudding and that moment, after ignition, when it flamed before us. An elderly and dear pal called Kate used to join us for the feast. She had very poor sight but she relished the tastes and sounds, the cider and the silly jokes in the crackers.

I often miss the simplicity of those yuletide celebrations. Their rhythms were cocooned, deep and cherished. Our countryside Christmas was never perfect. Even some of our festive decorations were faded, but others were new and bright. Somehow its mixture was gloriously sufficient. And knowing this added lustre to its mid-winter sparkle. Along with the treats and gifts and sips of cider of course.

The big crowd churches…and the chocolate.

Lots of love,

Grace

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