In this locality Christmas is regarded as the most important festival of the year. Candles are lighted in every room of the home, usually two in every room. On Christmas Eve people attend midnight mass when this is said as very many indulgences are attached to it. Four and sometimes six masses are said here on Christmas Day. Nobody leaves the house on that day as it is supposed that Our Lord visits each house specially and separately. All the doors are left unlocked on Christmas Night so as to let in Christ and His Blessed Mother who are supposed to go from house to house seeking shelter as they did on the first Christmas Night. On the Twelfth Night twelve candles are lighted in honour of the first twelve days of Our Lord’s life. Everyone chooses a candle and while the candles are burning the Rosary is said. The owner of the candle to burn out first will be first to die. This day is regarded as the last day of the Christmas season.
People like to see frost and snow at Christmas as there is an old saying that a green Christmas makes a fat churchyard. The people work on Christmas Eve but nobody goes visiting to others’ houses on Christmas Night. They sit at home at their own firesides and tell stories. People used to give more food than usual on Christmas Night. Great big red candles were commonly left lighting in the windows before the First World War (1914-1918), less commonly between the two big wars. People used to get in large stocks of all imaginable kinds of food and drink before Christmas. These were usually bought on the ‘big market day’, i.e. the local market day next before Christmas Day. In olden days people used to make candles of rushes, butter and lard and placed them in the windows on Christmas Night, New Year’s Night and Twelfth Night. The day after St. Stephen’s Day is called ‘the odd day’ in this locality. People will not commence any work of importance on that day. In particular marriage negotiations would not be begun on that day. In olden times all stock on the farm were fed with sheaves of oats instead of with straw on Christmas Night. On St. Stephen’s Day many youngsters go from house to house singing and dancing and collecting money. This custom seems to be slowly dying out, however. It is believed that the pains of the souls in Purgatory are suspended on Christmas Night and that no animal sleeps on Christmas Night except the serpent. It is said that every living thing, beast, bird, fish and reptile is fully aware of the awesomeness of Christmas Night.
A story relating to the subject:-
An old man who lived near my house many years ago is said to have been sent to a blessed well for water for the Christmas supper on Christmas Eve about 11p.m.. On reaching the well he is said to have seen a husband, wife and four children sitting on the brink of the well perished with the hunger and cold. They asked him if he would give then a supper and a place to sleep till morning. He brought them to his house, shared his supper with them and gave them a place to sleep. From then on he had plenty to eat and drink and was always very comfortable and happy. He died a few years ago and the well in question is said to have closed up the night he died. The site of the well is still pointed out in a vale covered with reeds and grasses.
Another tale that I heard several times:-
In a neighbouring village a couple got married many years ago. They had no family and lived happily together for a number of years but later on they began to disagree and quarrel and on Christmas Eve he killed her and buried her in a bog a few miles away. Anyone who passed by this spot on Christmas Eve would always hear her wailing, screeching and crying. The man himself died shortly afterwards and it is said that he died without receiving the final Church rites.
Collector: Dónal de Grás
Informants: Peter Donelon, Aged 14, Loughpark, Cloonminda, Castlerea and Senior Pupils in Ardeevin N.S.
Source: Folio No. 1086, Pages 105-108. Irish Folklore Main Manuscript Collection