Perfect Stranger – Honor Carroll

Name: Honor Carroll

Cork Story: Cork Resident

Found: Carrigaline

Christmas season starts earlier than most for Honor Carroll, a pleasant and cheery mother of six from Carrigaline. For her, the Christmas baking doesn’t start days or even weeks ahead of time, but a solid three months before the big day. Using her grandmother’s traditional Christmas pudding recipe, Honor makes this desert in September with the help of her children. “If you stir the pudding three times clockwise and make a wish, it’ll come true by Christmas. Or so they say, anyway.” The alcohol and the sugar from the fruit preserves the dish, and allows the flavour to mature until it’s ready for eating during the Christmas season. Similarly, the mince meat for her pies is made in late November and frozen.

Honor’s dedication to family tradition doesn’t stop in the kitchen. The Christmas crib is set out promptly on the 8th ofDecember. On Christmas Eve, her youngest son, Chucky, lights the Christmas candle, and the majority of the preparations are made for the next day. The stuffing for the turkey is made, the final baking is done, and even the table is set. Honor said that when her children were younger, they used to wake her up at six o’clock in the morning in excitement, but now that they’re all adults their Christmas Eve looks a bit different. The pub after Christmas Mass is a main highlight, followed by a house crawl on the way home from the pub, not coming home until around five or six the next morning. “I’m sure if they looked up they’d see Santa Clause on his way,” she mused.

Christmas Day is a day of relaxation. Her son Chucky told me that his mother spends her whole day in the kitchen. “She pretends she doesn’t, but she actually loves it,” he told me as an aside. Dinner is eaten at around six in the afternoon, followed by presents under a real tree.

“When John was thirteen and Padraig was twelve [her sons], we lived in Fermoy in the north of Cork. They used to go into the woods to cut down a tree; there were some fierce wild woods back in the day before trees got so commercial. Anyway, I just remember them coming back through the woods with a tree on their shoulders, and it just started to snow. I remember them walking with the tree with the snow falling down around them.” Honor said that last year she introduced the idea of having an artificial tree instead of a real one, and was met with an uproar. (Chucky once again added that “Fake Christmas trees are shit,” and that they should fornicate themselves.)

Christmas is a joyous season for many, but it can also be a time to remember those who are absent at the holidays as well as present. The Christmas of 2009 was hard for Honor as her dear friend, who was a large part of her life and who loved Christmas, passed away, but she says it is important for one to move forward in life. She says it might be hard this Christmas, but it will be a significant one for her family, as it may be the last time her family is all together for the holidays. Her only daughter will be married shortly after Christmas, and one of her sons is flying home from Australia for the season. While it may be exciting to see what presents you receive, the real pleasure of Christmas, Honor says, is to be with family.

Just as diligently as the decorations are put up, everything is put away precisely on January 8th. Another whilforeign holiday season passes, and a woody new year begins in the Carroll household.

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