The enthusiasm of Christmas Eve

Christmas has been part of all our lives as far back as we can remember. We can all remember the trepidation, the nervousness and that sleepless Christmas eve night waiting for the big man in the red coat to comes down that chimney, and leave under the tree that one thing you have always wished for. The customs and cultures surrounding Christmas has changed down throughout the years.
In the old days, children were usually charged with the responsibility of gathering the Yule-tide decorations and finding a holly bush loaded with berries was considered very lucky. Holly is a symbol commonly associated with Christmas and has been used in Yule-tide celebrations for almost two thousand years.
To the Druids, it was holly’s evergreen nature that made it special. They believed that it remained green to help keep the earth beautiful when the other trees shed their leaves. It was also their custom to wear it in their hair when they ventured into the forests to watch the priests collecting mistletoe. Holly was also once used for protection, and in ancient times, people would decorate doors and windows with it, in hopes that it would capture, or at least dissuade, any evil spirits before they could enter the house.
While Mistletoe isn’t very prevalent in Ireland, it can be found, and it was held in very high regard by our ancestors. In the Celtic language, Mistletoe means “All Heal.” It was believed to have all sorts of miraculous qualities including the power of healing diseases, banning evil spirits, bringing good luck and bestowing great blessings. In fact, even enemies who happened to meet beneath a Mistletoe in the forest would lay down their arms, exchange a friendly greeting, and keep a truce until the following day. From this old custom grew the practice of suspending Mistletoe over a doorway or in a room as a token of good will and peace to all.
There are many superstitions associated with Christmas Eve. It was once believed that on Christmas Eve, an angel stands on every spike of the holly leaves. It was also said that the Good People would come in out of the cold to find shelter in the holly branches and that the mischief of the evil spirits was suspended for this Holy Night. One lovely belief is that honey bees celebrate the Nativity by waking up from their winter sleep and humming a song of praise to Christ. Unfortunately, only those who have led a blameless life could hope to hear their song.
Now the songs we hear on Christmas are somewhat different. The midnight mass is the final port of call for some after they have had a few ‘beers’ or as friary Tuck might say nectar of the honey bees from his brew, he and his band of merry men enjoyed. The revelers’ sing song on the way home from their night on the ‘tiles’ will not be ‘O Holy Night’ but more like ‘Oh What a Night’. And the friendly greeting under mistletoe can carry on well after the midnight hour and hopefully those involved make it home for the turkey.
In the old days, people believed that animals celebrated the arrival of Christ and that the cows in the cattle-sheds and the deer in the forests went down on their knees at midnight. Others believed that animals were able to speak like humans on Christmas Eve – but it was bad luck to try and listen in! Now I am sure I did see a couple of the village ‘donkeys’ down on both knees crying ‘Oh god’ as they tried to get out what they joyfully put in their bellies earlier in the evening, some how I think that could be where this Irish Superstition may have come from.
All joking aside Christmas is the time of year we tend to leave all our cares and worries aside for the festive period. Maybe we should have a Christmas year festivity rather than just a week? Then we could have peace and good will for all no matter what day of the week, year it is.

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