Celebrations


When it came to birthdays, most interviewees indicated these were not celebrated, either at all or in a big way. A few stated that they might have received a small present or had some friends round. Roisin McLernon remembers that her sister baked a cake for her birthday, while Matt Quinn recalls that a bottle of lemonade might have been bought.

The words ‘low-key’ and ‘unostentatious’ spring to mind when describing the ways in which the families of the interviewees celebrated Christmas. That is not to say that Christmas was not important or that it was not looked forward to. Roisin McLernon remembers that her mother always went out of her way to make Christmas special and many others spoke nostalgically of the Christmases of their childhoods. Greenery was the most popular form of Christmas decoration. Eithne McKendry remembers holly and ivy in her home in Whitehead. Edmund O’Donnell, George Laverty and Bessie Quinn also recall holly used as a decoration at Christmas. In Brian McKenna’s home there would be a freshly-cut Christmas tree with about half a dozen large lights on it. Kathleen McKenna remembers helping her brother make decorations from coloured paper. There were church services, either the night before or on Christmas morning. For Hanni Reinhardt from Copenhagen one of the main differences in the way Christmas was marked was that in Denmark the main celebration was on 24 December.

Christmas Day was usually spent with the immediate family. The gathering in of family members from far and wide was not widely noted. Eithne McKendry, on the other hand, went to her maternal grandparents, the Kemps, in Cable Road, Whitehead, for Christmas where there was a large family gathering. While many of the interviewees indicated that they had turkey for Christmas dinner, there were alternatives. Brian McKenna’s family might have had a large chicken. Cahal Boyd’s family had a goose or even two drakes at Christmas. Roisin McLernon’s family might also have had a goose or a duck at Christmas. John Milliken also recalls having goose at Christmas which was probably one they had themselves raised on the farm. In Cahal Boyd’s home there might have been a time of singing after their Christmas dinner.

Santa did visit some homes, but the presents he left were usually very simple. Annie Hill recalls hanging up a stocking at Christmas which she would awake to find filled with an orange, apple, pencil case, or toy. Apples and oranges were received by many of the other interviewees. In addition Cahal Boyd might have received ‘a wee bag of sweets’. Toys were something of a luxury, and some presents were more of value on the practical side, like the jotter and pencil that the Gribbin brothers remember receiving. A gift of money was also appreciated. For Matt Quinn the gift of 10 shillings seemed a fortune. There may have been other treats. Cahal Boyd remembered that at Christmas his mother bought a fruitcake from the grocery man which lasted them a month.

South Antrim Living Memories Project wishes to acknowledge the assistance of: