Patrick and Timothy led the parade homeward, stamping their foot prints in the fresh snow while Maggie hand-in-hand with Bridget followed, the two of them chatterin’ away like the long-lost sisters they were. John and Johannah watched their children laughin’, the boys now playin’ at who could run the fastest, and for all the pain of the last months, they were about seizin’ these moments to savor the way Christmas should be.
Of a sudden, they were home and the girls flung the door open, pullin’ it against the piled-up snow, leavin’ the fragrance of the roastin’ goose and ham to drift down the path to Johannah’s nose. Christmas in Tipperary would smell the same as it always had even if this Christmas parsnips would replace the roast taties of the past. “Ye be closin’ that door before the wind blows the fire out,” Johannah shouted, half-laughin’ at the children, so excited they were. John and Johannah ran the last wee bit into the house where the children hung their wraps on the hooks and danced around Maggie, noticin’ now the long sack she had over her shoulder, once hidden under her coat.
And like a chorus, the three little ones called out, “What’ll ye have there? Show me,” then “Show us,” and “Let me see,” all the while a pullin’ on their sister and her sack, the leather strap anchorin’ it over her shoulder.
“You be leavin’ yer sister alone, there. Ye could be a hurtin’ her.” Johannah paused, “or hurtin’ what she’s got there in her sack.”
Those were the words that caused the bairns to be steppin’ away from Maggie, their eyes grown large as they imagined what might be in the woolen bag. Still it took but a moment for the noise to once again fill the room.
“Do ye have a dog in there, a wee puppy?” called Bridget determined to feel her way to the answer as she reached up pattin’ the sides of the sack.
“Be leavin’ her alone,” Patrick spoke now, takin’ charge like the oldest lad he was. “If tis a puppy, ye’ll be scarin’ it. But if tis sweets, ye be mashin’ them fer sure, so leave our Maggie alone.”
“Here, our Maggie,” her da called out from the straight back chair by the side of the fire. “Sit yerself here on my knee, and ye three, sit down on the floor in front of us. Give our Maggie a bit of breathin’ space, will ye?”
“Thankee Da. I do have some gifts for the house, some from her ladyship and some from Miss Elizabeth. First,” and she dug her hand into the bottom of the sack, “here Da, you must share this with Ma.”
“What’ll ye have there,” asked her da as she passed him a wee sack.
“Wait, Da, I don’t want ye to be lookin’ in there until ye have this one as well,” and she pulled a second bag and passed the two of them over.
“Come here Johannah. You be openin’ this one, and I’ll do the same with this other’n.”
“Be careful Ma,” shouted Maggie. “Don’t be spillin’ it, nor you Da. Give it a care now. Just look in the sack or be smellin’ it.”
Johannah lifted the bag to her nose, drawing it nearer and nearer until it was right close, and a smile colored her face pink. “It’s tea, it is, fine tea,” and she sniffed again. “Ah Maggie, ye must be tellin’ her ladyship how thankful we are for the fine tea.”
At that, John kneaded softly the sack in his hand, then pulled the thin string bow at its mouth. He peered into the darkness, then wetting his finger, he poked it into the grainy substance.
“Da, Da, what it is it? What do ye be havin’ there,” called little Bridget, her anxiety at the wonders too much to contain.
John licked his finger. “It be sugar, sugar for Christmas tea,” and he looked down at the children. “Yer ma will put a taste in yer tea after the Christmas feast.”
Shyly, Maggie spoke up again. “Ma, here’s a wee joint of beef. Tis cooked already, but her ladyship thought we might enjoy it along with our Christmas. And Miss Elizabeth sent some sweet biscuits for the bairns and some wee apple tarts. And,” pulling some ribbons from the bottom of the sack, “Miss Elizabeth sent these for Bridget.” Ceremoniously, Maggie pulled two pair of ribbons, one bright red and one bright green from the sack and passed them to her sister. “I have matchin’ ribbons, so we can be just alike when Ma braids our hair the mornin’.”
“Ye must be certain to tell them all we are most grateful for the fine gifts,” Ma said, then “Now we must be after getting’ the feast on. Maggie, ye can be helpin’ me to get our dinner onto the sideboard. There be ham and a goose and brussels sprouts and some bread sauce. And Patrick, you be off runnin’ up to your cousins to tell them that Christmas dinner is a waitin’ them.”
And for the rest of the afternoon, there was no thought about what anyone missed this last year, not a thought given to the poor tatie harvest nor to the terrible sickness not too long gone, only the warmth and love that filled the room, the family once again under the same roof.
Snowy Scene from https://www.dochara.com/the-irish/irish-christmas/christmas-in-ireland/
Cookies from https://recipeland.com/recipe/v/irish-ginger-snap-cookies-51934