December 23, 2021 By Liz Wildberger

An Irish Christmas

During the Christmas holidays of my childhood, I reveled in the joyful celebrations my large Irish family brought to the day. Because Baltimore was such a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds, my grandparents simply appended interesting elements of their friends’ holiday celebrations to their own. As a result, our sitting room (now called a family room) at Christmas time was taken over by a large, low wooden table where there was an entire miniature village of snow-covered homes, and tiny residents went about happy tasks. A Lionel train circled the village, passing through papier mache tunnels, while electric poles flickered with tiny lights. I guess we never felt any sense of inappropriate time about a Bavarian landscape peopled by Dickens-like figurines waiting to catch the “Royal Blue” train (a 1930s wonder diesel locomotive with passenger cars) under incandescent lights.

I looked forward to the pleasure of going to the homes of relatives and friends to enjoy “Christmas gardens” as the elaborate displays were called. Each year of my childhood, the villages became more elaborate with additions of ice skaters on a “pond” of glass and a fully equipped farm with barns and animals. The host at each home we visited often served Christmas cookies — large, decorated sugar cookies — accompanied by hot chocolate or milk for the children and liberally spiked eggnog for the adults. It was a lively, convivial time. The Christmas gardens remained on display until Twelfth Night, January 6.

Then, the entire project was dismantled and packed away.

Some Christmas traditions never changed, and the annual clan gathering on Christmas evening, and the variety show performed by members of the family, using round cake racks mounted on plungers as “microphones” continued to delight us for many years. We children eagerly looked forward to the three uncles who descended the stairs wearing bathrobes, carrying jewel boxes purloined from an aunt’s room, and singing We Three Kings of Orient Are, which today would be considered politically incorrect or fodder for critical race accusations. Cousin Billy played his trumpet, Caroline and I sang and tap-danced, and Aunt Catherine led a sing- along of Christmas carols.

We were a family of showoffs, but we were also an appreciative audience for each other’s performances.


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