It had a frothy consistency and sticky at the same time. You couldn’t just shake it off if it landed on your duffel coat, but the coat wouldn’t be ruined either.
It was called Jack Frost. You could buy it in bags in Woolworth’s up on High Street at Christmastime. You’d know they had it in because it would be stuck to the black path outside from young people throwing it over each other. I loved it. I would go so far as to say it had a huge part in making Christmas sparkle for me. It was the contrast. The memory is always about five in the evening. The early dark, the Christmas shopping frenzy and under all the feet and all the noise, under thrown papers, spilled beer, the sticky everything that makes filth; something sparkled like it had come from somewhere else, live evidence of Christmas magic. The kind of evidence that tinsel hadn’t a hope of conjuring. I suppose it was the Christmas decoration that got away, that got to do its own thing.
They didn’t have big street cleaning machines in those days. I remember the rubbish truck with the lifty sides that came down our lane and Paddens Blanch who always waved for me, making his weekly visit a happy occasion. I suppose street cleaners in those days consisted of a heavy shower after a bit of a sweep. Not like the showers we have these days, no, they weren’t as heavy as they are now. The showers now would probably make shorter work of the black streets and Jack Frost would be disposed of much more efficiently to the drains.
My Dad never decorated the pub for Christmas. Nothing changed in there except the customers drank more and the floor was stickier than usual. Grubby hands, black nails, orange Guinness rings stuck to stubble, and a stinking kiss for the bosses daughter.
“I love your Father, Do you know that,” giving me a good old squeeze, “Me and your Father” fingers crossed, “We’re like that.”
The crib in the Black Abbey was different to all the other cribs in town because it had little lights in the sky above the Holy Family. The sky had been painted a beautiful dark blue to depict night time. Fairy lights were sticking through holes in the canvas, being stars. Angels were singing the Gloria and flying.
If those angels were hanging from some form of string, I never saw it and if the Gloria was some record player in behind the painted sky, it most certainly never reached my consciousness. The combination of the Gloria, the stars and the flying angels had me completely lost in Bethlehem. I went back many times to be lost again to that sparkling sky and take the short cut home.
A dark lane by the old walls of Kilkenny where a legless woman might follow you. To this day I don’t know if it was a drunken woman or a ghostly woman with no actual legs who would float along behind you, probably without eyes or at the very least with black blood oozing out of them. I supposed that she came from the same place as the Banshee. I wish I had known then I wasn’t on her list of names. I could have carried Bethlehem home. Instead the return was a breath held sprint down a crooked path. A bit like the Holy Family flying into Egypt after the joy of him being born and visited by Kings.
A later Christmas memory had me the maker of the papier mache donkey for the school crib while Tess Cullen got to make the Virgin Mary. She had her lovely; blue and white with black lines to show the way her veil fell in womanly shapes over her shoulders. Tess was a great artist. You couldn’t argue with that and though I put as much artistic talent into making the donkey that carried Mary, I knew there was no way a donkey would sparkle no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t help thinking, if I had been the one making Mary I would have used a little Jack Frost on her veil to show how close she was to heaven.
Banshee: An otherworldly woman heralding death. It is said that she only heralds the deaths of those carrying the old Irish names that are beginning with O or Mac.
First published in The Little Book of Christmas Memories by Liberties Press 2013
Drawing by Kathy Tynan