There aren’t too many people who can remember Christmas in Gorey, in the 1930s, but 84-year-old Kathleen Gleeson is one of them!
Recalling a time when Santa took a quieter approach – and some streets were untarred – Kathleen can still tell you about the times when goose was the meat of choice on Christmas Day and Santa delivered apples, oranges, dolls “and a few bits”. Even so, “I used to love Santa, because we never knew exactly what we were going to get”.
You may not know Kathleen’s name, but you will instantly recognise her picture at the half-door of the house where she has lived all of her life. “There were seven of us – Nan, Maureen, Peggy, Sean, myself, Christopher, and Frances,” says Kathleen, adding that her father, Tipperary born James, a saddler, was a member of the Irish Volunteers in Kilcoole and Enniscorthy in 1916.
A goose for dinner
But it was her mother who produced the Christmas dinner. “We used to have goose – there were more people rearing geese, so they were easier to buy,” she recalls, adding that she can remember running up with her siblings to see the geese and turkeys at the Christmas market in the town. “My mother used to stuff the goose and we’d sit at the stove on Christmas morning waiting for it to cook – and then, on Christmas night, we’d pick the stuffing out of the goose!”
Later on, the Gleesons used to cook two ducks for Christmas dinner, before moving, along with the rest of the country, to black turkeys and then to the more familiar white turkey. “We used to have potato cakes – which I didn’t like – and turnips or cabbage. And my mother used to make her own puddings and Christmas cakes. That was my favourite part of Christmas – preparing the food!”
At that time, everything was smaller, including the Christmas tree, and not as many Christmas cards were sent, with people calling in to each other’s houses instead.
Christmas Day started early in Kathleen’s childhood – with everyone up and out for 6am Mass. “We always got something new to wear for Christmas Day, so we’d be showing our new clothes off to each other,” laughs Kathleen, adding that dinner was at 12.30pm, not surprising given the early start and the amount of preparation to feed nine at dinner time! As a treat, the family had rashers and sausages for breakfast – and between that and the goose, that was the last meat they had if St Stephen’s Day fell on a Friday. “There was a tradition that you didn’t eat the goose or turkey again on St Stephen’s Day, so we either had an ordinary dinner, or fish if it was a Friday. But I didn’t eat fish – or eggs – so I just had bread or potatoes that day. Everything was about potatoes that time!”
Nowadays, Kathleen takes a chilled-out view of proceedings, watching the world go by from her half-door. “I love the sense of busyness on the street and looking at people passing by!”
Interview and photos: Deirdre O’Flynn