Sean O’Connell – Family Gathering Christmas 2017

O Connell LE P&W June 2024

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing June 2024.

Family Gathering Christmas 2017, story by Sean O’Connell.


Family Gathering Christmas 2017 

Our family Is now long scattered, living mostly in the Home Counties of England. The family consists of our two daughters Catherine and Una and Joan’s nieces Patricia and Paula and their brother Ciarán. The three of them came to live with us when their parents were killed in the car accident in 1975.

The family likes to get together as often as possible, but it is traditional that everyone comes together at Christmas time. This year, after discussion, December the 19th we agreed as the date for the family gathering.

While Christmas dinner was intended for our own family, members of the extended family sometimes asked if they could join us. This year Paula’s 3 children, and two of her brothers, Desmond and Brian will be joining us, Paula’s husband, Andy, and Una’s husband Michael, make a total of ten persons dining. We extended the dining room table to its full length and the kitchen table was added at the end to accommodate everyone.

By noon all have arrived, some staying in the local hotel while others will be driving home after the dinner. The house is filled with laughter and banter. It is strange that I had not missed these sounds until I hear them once more in the home. Now we know that the family is complete again.

I often wonder if all parents notice that when a family member comes to stay overnight and then goes to visiting, you lie in bed, half asleep waiting for the sound of the key in the door. Then, knowing that they are home safely, you can drift back to sleep. It may be the parental instinct of wanting to care for your children is awakened when they are back home.

Joan and I decorate the room with holly and festive garlands, the decorations include the Christmas tree that we bought when Catherine was a year old. It was one of the first imitation Christmas trees on the market but very realistic. The Crib takes pride of place under the Christmas tree.

It is now time to lay the table and do the preparations in the kitchen. The majority lend a hand, some are in the kitchen preparing the vegetables or making the various stuffings for the three-bird roast, while others help in the dining room. The traditional Christmas tablecloth with an elegant festive motif is used, with a gold runner down the centre of the table. The black and white dinner service, in the sideboard since last year is taken out. Because of the occasion our Waterford wine glasses are also used. Some find an opportunity to chat and have a drink and sometimes issue unnecessary instructions to those laying the table. The instructions are often greeted with cries of “come on then you show me how to do it” or “put down that glass and give us a hand.” Comments and answers are greeted with smiles.

Everyone contributes in one way or another to the dinner, no one comes empty handed.

Joan’s contribution Is her now famous Syllabub trifle. The trifle has macaroon and amaretti biscuits, white grapes, and strawberries. It is assembled in a deep glass bowl so that one can see the construction. The macaroons in the bottom of the glass dish are softened with sweet Sherry. Then there are alternate layers of mixed grapes and halved strawberries and amaretti biscuits. These layers are softened with some Brandy. The fruit and biscuits are covered with a whipped cream. The whole construction is topped with a syllabub. The syllabub is made with icing sugar, lemon zest and a little drop of Brandy. Just looking at it in the glass bowl acts on one’s anticipation, like Pavlov’s bell. The common name for this dish is Boozy trifle a very fitting name!

The 3-bird roast has two different stuffings, one is made from sausage meat and breadcrumbs and herbs, and the other is breadcrumbs, herbs and finally chopped onions. The Birds are prepared by laying a boned Capon with legs and wings still attached with the skin side down. A layer of sausage meat stuffing is spread on the bird and two duck breasts are placed one at each side of the capon. A little of the breadcrumb stuffing is place between the two duck breasts. Sausage meat stuffing is then applied, and two pigeon breasts are placed one at each side. The whole assembly is carefully rolled up and stitched.

The heat in the kitchen and the smells of the various ingredients used fill the whole house with the smell of Christmas. It may be that the same smell is there at other times of the year but at Christmas it is special.

Someone in the dining room has found a CD of Christmas music, and family members join Bing Crosby singing White Christmas. Even though we have heard this tune in every store that we went into, for the last weeks, hearing it sung by, I think, Una and Ciarán, brings the spirit of Christmas nearer to me. While our family are not a von Trapp family but when it comes to singing, I enjoy listening to them. A family singing or laughing together or even just being together at Christmas time, emphasises the true meaning of Christmas, that is, extending love and peace to everyone.

It is time to eat. Every dish, from the 70’s style Prawn Cocktail starter to the flaming Christmas pudding, draws compliments from around the table. It may be the wine had influence.

Little did we know that this dinner would be the last family Christmas we would spend together. Later that month, Joan was taken ill, and she died the following February.

The married ones now host their in-laws at Christmas. They also issue invitations to others in our family to join them.


© Sean Connell

I was born in Lismore Co Waterford in 1933. After Leaving Cert ,I trained as a Radio Officer and then went to sea for about 3 Years. On coming ashore I joined ITA as a transmission engineer. I was married in 1958. In 1966 while stationed in Belfast I applied for a position of Lecturer in Telecommunications in City College for FE London and was offered the post.  I remained at City College until I was invited to go into Secondary Education to introduce Electronics into the curriculum. No money in the budget so no Electronics. Same story with another school who made the same offer to me.  I stayed in that school and retired when I was 55 years of age as Head of Lower and Middle school. Now living in Co Clare with my daughter. I will send two items as attachments to emails.

3 Replies to “Sean O’Connell – Family Gathering Christmas 2017”

  1. Thanks for publishing this piece of writing. It is intended as the final chapter in a memoire that I have just finished and hope to have published here. it is the first time that I have attempted to put thoughts to paper and may not have observed rules that established writers follow.

  2. A really lovely piece Sean, LE have done a wonderful presentation and I’ve so enjoyed reading the piece. Well done, and many more, Eileen

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