Mammy was making butter for the Christmas dinner; the turkey had been plucked and was now hanging from the rafters of the outhouse with sacking over it. The cake was made and iced and fingers had been smacked with the wooden spoon when they hovered over it in an attempt to scrape off some of the rich sweet icing sugar.
"Away with ye now" called Mammy,
"Wrap yerselves up warm and head up to Catherine's, take the small churn with ye, and tell her I'm making butter and there'll be some for her. Be sure ye tell her that the dinner'll be on the table this year at one o'clock and could she make it down the lane in time and not three o'clock like the last few years?" she sniffed.
"Tis well for her, a single woman and no man to tell her what to be doin', and me to make her dinner for her on Christmas day." she grumbled. It was an ongoing complaint and Pat and Maggie barely heard it anymore. Pat was eight and Maggie was six; they were far more pre-occupied with what Santa might bring for Christmas, suffering from the strain of being angelic for the past month in case Mammy wrote him a letter telling him to pass on by, she threatened them regularly with this whenever she thought they were stepping out of line. Mammy was the strictest Mammy in the village, there was not much love for anyone in her heart but herself the neighbours said.
Pat and his sister Maggie drew their winter coats tightly about them, it was Christmas Eve and it was bitterly cold. Maggie wrapped a woollen scarf around her head and Pat pulled the cap down over his ears.
Frost lay thickly on the lane, on the ditch and over the hedgerows. Sadie Pender, who considered herself the best educated woman in the village, having, as she frequently pointed out, spent a whole term at the convent learning better things than the rest of them, was strongly of the opinion that it was minus five and that there was an anti cycling over Ireland this very night. The local weather expert, she frequently called anticyclones anti- somethings!
Carrying the small churn between them they skipped up the lane in the twilight. They loved going in to see Catherine, she was 80 years old, bent over with arthritis, her gnarled fingers barely able to hold her knife and fork, but she was kindness itself and loved them dearly. She was Pat's Godmother and had a special place in her heart. Maggie, she thought, was a little too like her Mother for her own good but would, she prayed, grow out of it. She offered them tea and hot buttered soda bread to ward off the cold. Heating their little hands in front of the fire they sat and chatted to her for nearly an hour before Pat remembered that they had been sent for a purpose, and jumping up hurriedly, nearly knocked the kitchen table flying. Catherine stood at the door, her shawl pulled tightly around her, and waved them down her lane. When they reached the road they turned and waved back at her and, struggling with the weight of the now filled churn they headed down towards their own lane.
"D'ja think Santy will remember us this year Pat?" Maggie worriedly asked Pat, her big brother and man of great knowledge, in her opinion.
"Sure he will, didn't we do everything we were told, didn't we say our prayers, and didn't I milk the cow and pluck the turkey for Mammy and didn't you keep the hearth clean and keep the sods of turf burning and didn't you go for kippin's to keep it lit?" he said. "What more could we do, and didn't we say the Rosary every night and didn't we do our sums and spellin's and we didn't give Mr Burberry cheek, so surely Santy will come". On this comforting thought they continued down the lane.
Mr Burberry was the schoolmaster, prolific in his use of the ruler across bare knuckles, a big florid faced man with the distinct odour of Jameson about him.
Suddenly Maggie pointed to the sky, the moon was brightly lighting the lane for them, which was just as well as the churn was so heavy they couldn't manage a lantern to light the way. "Look Patsy, there, see, something cycled across the moon, I, I, I think its Santy!" she cried. Looking up quickly Pat was sure she was right, something was crossing the sky, lit by the moon. "Quick, quick" he called, "run, if we're caught outdoors while Santy's on his way we'll never get a present". Struggling up the lane, they almost fell in the door, spilling some cream. "What ails ye" asked their Father, sitting smoking his pipe beside the open hearth. "Santy, Santy is coming" cried Maggie. An hour later, supper over and tucked up in bed Maggied tapped on the wall separating her room from Pats. "Do you think he saw us Pat?" she asked softly. "No, I think we made it in in time, now go to sleep".
Christmas morning dawned, the family headed down the village to the parish church for Mass, afterwards, a hearty breakfast having warmed them up, presents were opened. Pat loved his new train set, and Maggie thought the blonde haired, blued eyed doll in the crinoline dress was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.