The late Mickey Bean Nilag MacNeil (Migi Mac Bean Nìlleig Ruairidh Eòin a' Phlant) from the rear of Iona, Victoria County in reminiscence about Christmas customs as celebrated by the Gaels of his locale during his youth and an older time. Included among the special days observed were The Evening of the Bannacks, Christmas Day, The Great Christmas, and the Day of the Three Kings.
Beannachdan na Nollaig Oirbh!
Uair dhen t-saoghal, an toiseach ... tha mi 'creidsinn fhathast, ma dh'fhaoidte aréir na h-eaglais, gu bheil e ann (Latha nan Trì Rìghean). Ach Latha nan Trì Rìghean: chanadh `ad sin ris an Nollaig Mhór, ged nach eil uiread sin 'ga thoirt dha an diugh, air tàilleabh gum biodh an Nollaig againn as deaghaidh Feasgar nam Bonnach - air a' cheathreamh làtha air fhichead, agus Latha Nollaig air a' chóigeamh latha air fhichead dhen a’ mhìos. Na trì rìghean... bha a' latha sin an tacsa ris an Nollaig Mhóir.
Uell, an nuair sin Latha na Nollaig gu Latha nan Trì Righean... dà là dheug as deaghaidh na Nollaig a bha Latha nan Trì Rìghean. Siod agad a' latha a chaidh na rìghean gu stabull, aréir a' bhiobaill, aig an àm a thàinig Crìosda do 'n talamh. `S e na trì rìghean a chaidh `ga choimhead `s a thug na preasain uige. Bha sin na bu mhotha an uair sin `na latha eil' a thànaig air an t-saoghal - na h-uaislean móra sin a' dol 'ga choimhead. Sin agad ceann na Nollaig mar a chanadh 'ad.
A-nist, bhiodh feadhainn dhe na seann daoine... bhiodh `ad a' deanamh deisealachd airson seo, airson a' latha fa dheireadh. Feadhainn dhe na seann daoine, anns a' mhìos November - null a' sin, bhiodh 'ad a' gearradh connadh, 's a' spleatadh connadh, a' cuir connadh mu seach, 'ga tharraing astaigh `s deanamh a h-uile sgàth cho math's a b'urrainn dhaibh deiseil airson nuair a thigeadh an Nollaig nach biodh aca ri sgàth dhèanamh gus an déidh Latha nan Trì Rìghean. Bha connadh gu leòir ac’ astaigh. Cha robh cion-connaidh air an teine. Uell anist, bha bucaidean do dh'uiste ri `n taobh. Dh'fhaodadh `ad beòthaichean a bhiadhadh 's beòthaichean a bhleoghainn. Cha robh `ad a' dol amach a dh'obair. Cha robh obair ann. Cha robh ann ach an tuathanchas. Bha biadh gu leòir aca 's an t-seilear, 's biadh gu leòir ac' a ghabhail. Dé an còrr a bhiodh dhìth orra?
Ged a shaoileas sinn an dràst' nach robh `ad anns na h-àmannan sin cho math dheth `s tha sinn-ne, `s ann a bha `ad na b'fheàrr dheth. Cha robh cùram idir orr'. Bha t'airgead 's do bhiadh a' tionnadh astaigh ugad 's tu 'cadal air tàilleabh gu robh na beòthaichean a's an t-sabhal agus a' mhuc a thogadh tu 'fàs reamhar. `S e an cùram a tha 'gad mhilleadh. An diugh, cha n-eil e gu deifir co-dhiubh gu bheil thu 'nad mhaighstir-sgoi,l no gu bheil thu `nad dhotair; tha thu an greim.
Bha `ad a' deanamh deiseil a dhol dha `n aifreann Feasgar nam Bonnach. Anist an toiseach, cha bhitheadh `ad a' dol a ghabhail comuinn air an Nollaig idir. Corra-dhuin' a bhiodh a' dol a ghabhail comuinn, ach cha bhiodh an uiread a' dol a ghabhail comuinn.Uaireannan, thadhladh `ad 's dhannsadh `ad air Feasgar nam Bonnach - dhannsadh.
Ach an toiseach anist, anns na h-àiteachan seo, cha robh eaglais againn idir. Dh'fheumamaid a dhol anull gu Eaglais Eilean na Nollaig. Bhiodh 'ad a' fàgail tràth feasgar no 'n déigh meadhon làtha. Dh'fhuiricheadh 'ad thall a's na taighean. Bhiodh rud ac' a dh'òladh `ad 's dhannsadh `ad. Startadh `ad dhachaidh. Uell, bhiodh aca ri coiseachd, mar gum b'eadh, coiseachd dha 'n Mhaise. Uell, an fheadhainn a bha `fuireach ach goirid air an taobh seo - cha robh e cho dona. Ach feadhainn a bhiodh amuigh againn-ne (muinntir a' Chùil Bhig), bha pìos ann. Ach cha chuireadh e sìon orra! Bhiodh òrain aca 's bhiodh `ad gu math sunndach, toilichte.
Bhiodh an t-suipear aca nuair a thigeadh `ad dhachaidh on aifreann. Bha feòil-cruidh, feòil-muiceadh aca. Bhiodh `ad a' marbhadh caoraich, uain, `s bhiodh maragan aca; bhiodh gach seòrsa. Bhiodh bòrd dha rìreabh ann! Bha am biadh seo `ga dhèanamh aca fhéin. Cha n-e biadh-stòir mar a gheibh thu an dràst' `ga thoirt dhachaidh. Agus bha e `na bhiadh nach itheadh `ad a h-uile làtha. Agus creid thusa gun còrdadh gearraidhean do dheagh aran milis leotha.
Boxing Day 's Christmas trees ... cha robh an leithid sin ann. `S e na stòraichean a thug sin amach.
At one time, in the beginning... I think its still the case, perhaps, according to the church, that it's still that way (the Day of the Three Kings is celebrated). But the Day of the Three Kings, they called that The Great Christmas, although it isn't observed to that extent today. We kept Christmas after the Evening of the Bannocks, on the 24th of the month, and Christmas Day on the 25th. The three kings...that day was part of The Great Christmas. Well, at that time there was Christmas Day to the Day of the Three Kings. The Day of the Three Kings was twelve days after the Christmas day.
There you have it, the day that the kings went to the stable, according to the bible, when Jesus was born. The three kings are the ones who went to see him and gave him presents. That was a day greater than any other the world had seen - those distinguished gentleman traveling to see Jesus. There you have it, the end of Christmas as they used to say.
Now, some of the old people would...they would prepare for this - for the last day. Some of the old timers, around November, would cut and split firewood, haul it in and store it and set everything up as well as they could, so that when Christmas came they wouldn't have a thing to do until after the Day of the Three Kings. There was lots of firewood put by. The fire didn't lack for fuel. Well now, there were buckets of water on hand. They could feed and milk the cows. They weren’t going off to jobs. There weren’t any jobs. There was nothing but farming the land.
There was plenty of food in the cellar and lots to eat. What more could they want? Though we think in these times we are so well off, they had the best of it. They had no worries. Your wealth and sustenance was turning over for you while you slept on account of the cows in the barn and the pig you raised getting fat. Worry is your ruination. Today, it doesn't matter if you're a doctor or a school teacher, you're cornered!
They got ready to go to mass on the Night of the Bannocks (Christmas Eve). Now at first, they wouldn't go to take the sacrament at Christmas at all. An occasional person would, but most didn't. Sometimes, they would visit and dance on the Night of the Bannocks - they would dance.
But at first, in these parts, we didn't have any church. We had to go across to the Christmas Island church. They used to leave early in the afternoon or after mid-day. They would stay over in houses, have something to drink, dance and start home. Well, they would have to walk, as it were, to Benacadie Pond. It wasn't so bad for nearby people on this side. Those of our folk (from the Rear) had to go some distance. But that didn't bother them the least little bit! They had songs and they were happy and in good cheer.
They would eat supper when they arrived home. There was beef and pork. They used to slaughter a sheep - a lamb - and they would have sausages. There was every kind. Indeed, the table was a banquet! It was homemade fare that they prepared themselves. It wasn't store food like you take home now, and it wasn't common everyday food. Believe you me; they were festive with lovely slices of sweet bread.
Boxing Day and Christmas trees... there was no such thing. It's the stores that brought that out.
©Recorded, transcribed and translated by Seumas Watson