Clongowes lies silent now. The crowds that thronged the chapel for the first Mass of Christmas a little while ago have departed and the empty corridors echo to our footsteps as we make our way through the darkness and the memories that rub shoulders with us on our solitary walk.
The school closed on Friday and it did not take long for the last of the boys (and staff) to depart for a much-anticipated, long-awaited break. Christmas has been celebrated more than 200 times at Clongowes (and for the first 52 of these the boys remained on campus to mark the event in the company of their Jesuit guardians).
In 1814 the Christmas celebration would have been more low-key with a far greater emphasis on religious services. The traditions we now associate with the day – a decorated tree, crackers, cards, gift giving, mince pies without meat, roast turkey and carols – are all the gift of Victorian Britain and were not common for some thirty years after Fr Peter Kenney took possession of Castle Browne.
While each of these commemorations of our Saviour’s birth has been similar to its antecedents and descendants, each has also taken on the garb and traditions of its own time. Many have been celebrated against diverse and tragic backgrounds ranging from World and Civil Wars, while the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness means that many of our fellow citizens will be without the shelter of even a manger this Yuletide.
As the decades rolled by the nature of Christmas celebrations in Clongowes have changed to rhyme with the times, but they have never lost sight of the essence of the feast and the birth of the Christ Child. This month we have witnessed many events that remind us of this, ranging from the Advent Service of Reconciliation by way of the joyful Christmas Lunch on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception to the annual Christmas Concert and the aforementioned Carol Service.
And so this is Christmas. Everywhere in the school there are decorations and reminders of the season that’s in it, from the tree in the concourse to the crib on the ref’ corridor, which lacks but one statue and which gives us fleeting pause for thought as we hurry by. The ghosts of the many Christmases Past mingle happily with their younger brother and give hope of many yet to come.
Finally, during this season of joy, we also remember in prayer all those of the broad Clongowes Family who have lost a loved one or who are struggling with health or other worries at this time. We hope and pray that all may come right for them and for all and we wish each and everyone a happy and a hope-filled Christmas.
Declan O’Keeffe, Head of Communications