Historical Happenings for December 2018

CHRISTMAS IN IRELAND

by Mike McCormack, AOH NY State Historian

The Christmas season in Ireland was a happy combination of modern and ancient customs that combine to bring a unique meaning to this special time of year.  While Christmas shopping, decorated trees, and Santa Claus are evident everywhere, traditional customs that signify the true meaning of this holy season still remain, especially in the small towns and villages where people still celebrate the holy feast as their ancestors had for generations.

On Christmas eve, the windows of the house were decorated with garlands of holly and ivy, with candles centered in each  – often in a hollowed-out turnip for support.  This holly encircled candle should be familiar since the Christmas Wreath we know today is an outgrowth of an Irish tradition that began back in 16th century, when Penal Laws outlawed the Catholic religion and clergy.  The Irish kept their faith though, and secretly met outlawed priests to celebrate Mass in the woods and mountains whenever they could.  Mass might be celebrated once a month, or even less, but one time they never missed was Christmas.  In spite of persecution, Christmas still brought hope.  An alien power may have controlled the land, but they couldn’t control the hearts of the Irish; they still had their customs, faith, and pride, and by God they would have their Mass.  Some of those customs, by the way, were older than the race that ruled them, originating back to pre-Christian days, like the ringing of doors and windows with holly and ivy.  That came from the ancient Celtic custom of ringing the openings of a dwelling with those magical leaves to ward off the evils of winter.  After all, holly and ivy remained green when all other plants died, so they were deemed immune to the killing force of winter.  The custom carried into the Christian era as a decorative function and the Brits marveled at the hope that still burned in hearts they had tried so hard to discourage. During the Penal days when the Catholic religion was outlawed, the source of that hope was their faith and, in each community, courageous families would risk fine and imprisonment to attend a mid-night Mass celebrated by an outlawed priest. When an especially brave family agreed to host the celebration, the house to be used was kept secret until just before the Mass was to begin, at which time a lighted candle was placed in the window to signal the faithful.  Once the signal was given, candles were lit in windows of every house to confuse any who might try to interfere with the celebration.  To the Irish, the meaning of the candle was clear, but to the stranger, it was merely an extension of the pagan custom of holiday decoration.  The candle, eventually became part of the custom, remaining long after its need as a signal disappeared.  Today’s wreath serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by our ancestors who placed a candle in a holly-encircled window to send out the message “The Lord is in this house tonight“.

In later years, as evening fell over the Irish hills on Christmas eve, the candles in each window cast a magical glow over the hillside like scattered jewels on Erin’s cloak of evening, the largest were the churches dotting the landscape and beckoning the faithful to Midnight Mass.  After Mass people returned home and retired for the night leaving their doors slightly ajar as a sign of hospitality insuring that no wandering couple seeking shelter would be turned away as was Joseph and Mary on that first Christmas eve.  A cup and saucer was placed on the table in each home with home-made soda bread for the wandering souls from Purgatory who were thought to come home for Christmas.  On Christmas morning, the candles would be snuffed out, preferably by someone named Mary.

On Christmas day came the Christmas meal – assorted vegetables and potatoes deliciously prepared to compliment the Christmas goose or turkey, followed by the Christmas pudding.  After dinner, the children would play games while the adults sat about the fire, reminiscing about Christmases past until it was time to cut the Christmas cake amid much excitement.  The reverent celebration of Christmas in Ireland did not conclude with the setting of the sun on Christmas day.  The season would extend for a full twelve days, and any feast that fell within that period was considered a part of the overall Christmas celebration. Saint Stephen’s Day, December 26, is one such feast.

In early times, the children of Ireland would begin December 26th  with a hunt for a small wren which they would kill and place in a little box. Today, a box decorated with feathers simulates the victim satisfying bird-lovers as well as saving the boys the trouble of the hunt.  Dressed in in old clothing and flour sacks with colored ribbons in as many combinations as imagination allows, they set off carrying the `victim’ and musical instruments centering around the Bodhran (a one sided drum) which is beaten with a wooden stick. They make their rounds from door to door, singing the traditional Wren Song and collecting pennies as a reward for their deed, and to `bury the wren’.  They are practicing a ritual that was old in western Europe before the Christian gospel was preached in the hills of Galilee. Originally of Celtic origin, with the coming of Christianity, its meaning was Christianized.  What had the little wren done to be hunted down through history?  The ancient Druidic version is that the wren was condemned to persecution by his fellow birds because, he used trickery to oust the eagle from the kingship of all birds; the story was used as a lesson to children about the virtues of honesty.  The Christian version related that the wren flew from a bush betraying the hiding place of St. Stephen who was captured and martyred as a result, which explains the custom falling on St. Stephen’s day, and why it is the duty of all good men to hunt and kill the little beast.  The tale associated with St. Stephen adds one more measure of religious significance to the season

January 6 is Little Christmas, when the visit of the Magi, or the three wise men, is celebrated by extended family (in-laws etc.) coming to visit. It is also the day for Christmas decorations to come down, not before, or risk bad luck for the rest of the year. Another custom has been formally attached to January 6. In recognition of all the baking, cooking and preparation for Christmas done by the woman of the house, in some small-towns, women would gather on that day in each other’s homes for a few stolen hours of relaxation while the men looked after the home. Today it is recognized as Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas and is becoming more wide-spread to include all women regardless of their effort at Christmas, but for their caring devotion all year long.

Christmas is celebrated in various ways in various countries but nowhere is it more beautiful or meaningful than on God’s emerald Isle where the true meaning of the season is not forgotten.  Nollaig shona dhuit, (Happy Christmas to you).

Buffalo AOH/LAOH Annual Christmas Party

Join us as we honor

AOH and LAOH Hibernians of the Year

William “Chip” Butler and Tina Maue

Saturday, December 10, 2016
6PM – 11 PM in the Claddagh Room

Buffalo Irish Center
245 Abbott Road, Buffalo, NY

$25 per person includes tax, tip and the following:

Open Bar 6PM-7PM:
Appetizers, Cocktails, Beer, etc. Please bring a dish
and a prize for the raffle table!

Family Style Dinner 7PM-8:30PM:
Salad, Roast Beef, Breast of Chicken, Mixed Vegetables,
Potatoes Au Gratin, Roll, Dessert, Coffee and Tea.

After Dinner: Irish Coffee!
Awards and Door Prizes 8:30PM – 9PM

Music: Sound System to 11 PM
M.C. for the evening: Tom Lambert

Table Center Pieces: Alice McGuire and Diane O’Brien

Beer, Wine and Soft Drinks are included to 11 PM

** Reservations may be made for a table of eight.

** If unable to attend, a donation will be appreciated.

** Your early ticket purchase will be appreciated. Thank You.

To confirm reservations for you and your guests,
please send a check by 12/5/16 payable to AOH Division 1 and mail to:

Kevin Lafferty
273 OKell Street
Buffalo, NY 14220

Please direct any questions to:
Kevin Lafferty 913-6080
Tom Lambert 796-7687
Patricia Hamilton 608-6361

Tickets will not be sold at the door

Veterans Affairs – 12-12

Veterans Aid and Attendance Improved Pension is being offered by the VA. This pension allows for Veterans and surviving spouses who require regular attendance of another person to assist with eating, bathing, dressing and toileting to receive additional monetary benefits. It also includes individuals who are blind or a patient in a nursing home because of mental incapacity. This is a pension benefit and is not dependent upon service related injuries for compensation. A&A can help pay for care in the home, nursing home or assisted living facilities.

Eligibility: Any veteran who served 90 days or more on active duty, with at least one day in war time, and who has an Honorable Discharge. Widows and widowers of veterans are also eligible.

Please remember our troops who are overseas this Christmas and keep all our Veterans in your prayers.

Merry Christmas!

The New York State Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians would like to wish you and your family a Very Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year.

Nollaig Shona Duit

Rev. Henry Reid – Chaplain
Michael J. McNabb – President
James J. Burke – Vice President
Timothy McSweeney – Secretary
Victor J. Vogel – Treasurer

Peter P. Durkee
– Director
Thomas Lambert – Director
Doug McCurdy – Director
Brian P. Kelly – Director
Patrick Gatins – Director
John C. O’Connell – Director
Leo Kane – Director
Vincent Tyer – Director

2011 Christmas Appeal

I appeal to those who historically support our appeal to continue your support. But I want to target the 75 percent of divisions that do not give and ask that you consider giving this year.

In April, I received a request from the Connecticut AOH /LAOH convention to make a presentation regarding Freedom For All Ireland and specifically the yearly Christmas appeal. This request afforded me the opportunity to prepare a detailed look into the history and performance of our yearly appeal. The result was that I developed a presentation that I have been honored to present at several conventions this summer. It gives a brief history of the AOH and our support of a United Ireland, it traced our involvement and support of the struggle for Irish freedom from the end of the 19th century to today, it reviewed the groups we support, where the funds go, and why those funds are still so important.

In the last 10 years the Christmas Appeal has raised over $570,000. This is a number that we can all be proud of. An analysis of the donations show that we have a dedicated core group of donors who fund a great portion of the appeal and a participation rate from AOH divisions that is surprising low. Last year’s appeal served as a perfect case in point. The 2010 appeal generated just under $61,000 and, of that, almost two thirds — or about $40,000 — was the result of 25 donations from boards, divisions and one individual. All of these 25 donations were all over $1,000. The final $21,000 was the result of 157 donations of less than $1,000 and raffle returns of almost $2,000.  Whether the donation was $5 to $6,500 all donations are greatly appreciated and the sacrifice noted. The alarming result of this analysis is that nationally, out of 370 AOH divisions, only 96 contributed or a disappointing 25 percent.

So this year, 2011, I want to once again appeal to those who historically support our appeal to continue your support. But I want to target the 75 percent of divisions that do not give and ask that you consider giving this year.

Consider giving because: The third principle of our national constitution’s preamble states one of the purposes of our organization is: To aid and advance by all legitimate means the aspirations and endeavors of the Irish people for complete and absolute independence, promoting peace (with justice) and unity for all Ireland. Our Christmas appeal helps work toward “One Island, One Ireland with Justice for All.” Be a part of it. The groups we support are helping to build confidence and trust in cross-community and reconciliation efforts.

Consider giving because: Our job is not finished in the North until there is a United Ireland inclusive of all people’s rights. The groups we support are fighting for these rights and justice for those who have been deprived of rights and truth in the past.

Consider giving because: there are ex-republican prisoners who spent large portions of their lives unjustly jailed. They never once complained about their situation, rather these men and women have returned to the communities they were fighting for and defending, to make their communities better. These ex- prisoner groups we support continue to need our help to overcome decades of injustice and prejudice.

Consider giving because: there are ex Irish republican prisoners in this country who have never received a peace dividend for supporting the Good Friday Agreement and helping promote peace in the North. These men — even after living in this country for over two decades as model citizens, without a mark on their records, having paid taxes and raised children who are American citizens — still live with the uncertainty of never knowing when and if they could be denied continued residence. They need our continued support.

Consider giving because: there are more children in the North of Ireland today speaking the Irish language than there has been in generations. Despite the best efforts by those who continue to use subtle forms of discrimination, the Irish language is experiencing a revival in the North. The groups we support are helping continue this renaissance.

Consider giving because: a society that is evolving from over three decades of war needs support to overcome some of the collateral damage of those times. We have supported community groups who have tried to reduce suicides, fund after-school programs for the most economically deprived and provide counseling for those who still deal with the grief and the loss of many years ago.

Finally, consider giving because: if we don’t, no one else will. The sad fact of the matter is that the great majority of the groups we help do not have many other avenues for funding.  This makes the dollars they receive so critical. I do not want to take one penny away from any of the charities we support with our divisions and boards; I only ask that you make it a point this year to give something to the Christmas Appeal. Thank you for your consideration.

 

Notes: Christmas Appeal packets should be in divisions and boards by the time this edition is published, the packet will also be available online in a PDF at www.aoh.com , then from the left hand side of page choose national programs, then choose Freedom for All Ireland… Included in the packet and online will be information on the 2012 Trip to the North (formerly Bloody Sunday Tour)…. Thanks to all those divisions that donated over $1,000 to last year’s appeal for your patience in receiving your recognition award. The company that had provided the customized hurling sticks went out of business unexpectedly. All $1,000 donors have received a beautiful framed print entitled Vindicated, Bloody Sunday. A very limited amount of prints ($25) and framed prints ($75) will be available for purchase the weekend of the National President’s dinner. To reserve your copy email paddyspeed@yahoo.com ….Many thanks to the Brothers and Sisters in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland who invited me to their conventions to give the FFAI/Christmas appeal presentation ….Congratulations to Clara Reilly, the Sean MacBride award winner.

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