By John Concannon
Long ago, and in the same house in which I was reared, the first Concannon Family Christmas in Livermore was celebrated by my Great Grandparents, James and Ellen Concannon.
That celebration was over 128 years ago, and with it came many of the rich Irish customs and traditions from their homeland of Ireland. Their monogrammed Irish linens and sterling coffee & tea set displayed in the winery are a constant reminder of Ellen’s gracious ways of entertaining and preparing a holiday table. Currently, our Christmas celebration is very similar to the old days, with our family staying home to enjoy decorating, baking, storytelling and entertaining. In our home then and now, Christmas is beautifully simple.
The weeks preceding Christmas are spent in joyful preparation, and Four Generations of Christmas traditions are enfolded into all of our festivities.
We put up the tree, decorating it with colorful ornaments holding stories of our family within them. As the antique Nativity Scene is placed, we are especially reminded of my Italian Grandmother, Nina, who lovingly provided these delicately carved and intricately painted figurines. And, no Irish home would be complete without the holly, a tradition my Mother, Helen, artfully continues in the making of beautiful Christmas wreaths of grapevines intertwined with holly sprigs and their bright red berries.
With my Mother, the Christmas baking begins early, right after Thanksgiving. First is the making of our traditional Irish Christmas Cakes, which are wonderfully delicious, moist fruit cakes soaked in sherry. These rich cakes are as indispensable to our Concannon Christmases as her Christmas cookies. As children, we watched her expertly hand cut sugar cookie dough into holiday shapes, my favorite being the Christmas trees which I was responsible for frosting. These, along with her jam cookies, rum balls and gingerbread men, were all brightly wrapped to give to friends and neighbors. Dad and I were responsible for the deliveries, always a day-long event as we were invited into every home to share Christmas cheer!
And as Irish hospitality is abundant in our home, Dad and Mom often invited out-of-town friends to share festive Christmas gatherings with us. Today, they also wonderfully continue bringing together the 3rd, 4th and 5th generations around my Grandparents’ vintage dining table to enjoy similar holiday dinners begun by my Great Grandparents in 1883.
One of my fondest Christmas memories as a young boy growing up in the original winery home was hearing the large mission bell in front of the winery ring on Christmas Eve, signaling that Santa had arrived! Like my father before me, my sisters, brother and I would scurry out the door to get a glimpse of him, but would only find the bell rope still swinging. Upon returning home, presents would have magically appeared under the tree, and we knew that Santa Claus had been here!
Traditions grow over the years as new customs are added to the old. As for me, I’m still hanging Mom’s wreaths as well as now getting ready to watch Christmas movies with the 5th generation. I love a good story, whether performed on stage or in film, and especially those told in many Christmas classics.
But no Christmas story is better than the ones our families gift to us. This beautiful season, I am wishing you the warmth of family and friends along with making great memories for your own special Christmas stories…
On behalf of the Concannon Family and From our Home to Yours:
Beannachtaí na Nollag duit: The Blessings of Christmas Be With You!