Paper candles burning bright


Many years ago my parents procured a shop-sized roll of Christmas wrapping paper whose pattern became the unmistakable trademark of our family Christmas. When I first remember that roll it was too heavy for me to lift. By the end of its life several years later the thick cardboard core was covered with just a few thin layers of paper that no one wanted any more.

The pattern was distinctive: Candles blazing on an orange background. Endless candles burning throughout my childhood, bridging the gap from primary to secondary school. Some years even my school books were covered in that paper.

The cardboard box that held the stones that held up the Christmas tree was also covered in that paper. And in the strange way that memory is both reliable and unreliable, when I close my eyes I can still feel and see that paper, and yet what I see is more the essence of the paper than anything I could accurately reproduce.

But when I begin with the paper, I can gradually see everything else as it was in my childhood home at Christmas: the white tablecloth, the serving dishes of celery and carrots, the gas fire, holly on the picture frames, the World Book encyclopaedia, the piano, the brass and wooden ornaments on the black mantelpiece. Voices calling in the hall and cousins arriving and the smell of red wine.

In this way I can always go home for Christmas. If I could find a scrap of that paper somewhere, maybe through some alchemy I could use it to travel back in time, or maybe the spell would be broken forever.

Wishing a joyful Christmas or happy holidays to all the regular readers of this blog and to any newcomers.

12 thoughts on “Paper candles burning bright

  1. Clare, this was a (and I never use the word) “delightful” piece. That’s the most apt description I can come up with. Thanks for posting it. Congrats on your publication and best wishes for a paper-filled Christmas.

  2. I’ve just read a piece Colm Toibin has in The New Yorker about his family Christmas (specifically the pudding) and I enjoyed yours just as much, if not more! The ‘Morning Fire’ flash is just exquisite too – I think you might have a flair for this fiction writing, Ms O’Dea!

    1. You’re too good to me Safia. I really appreciate your support and positive attitude. Let’s see if 2015 makes room for two new Irish authors!
      I had a look at the Christmas pud piece, from 2010 I think. Excellent, but I was never a huge fan of the pudding myself. Had to be drowning in brandy butter (the pudding, not me).

      1. The competition is very stiff though, isn’t it? Doesn’t help we newcomers when successful Irish novelists start writing short stories and bringing out collections either! Have you noticed that? Just spotted a typo in my previous comment BTW – though it might be mistaken for a pun since your story involved fire 😉
        Onwards and upwards with the writing in 2015!

  3. I’m a little late reading this, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Your writing is elegant. Congratulations on the publication of “Morning Fire.”

    1. Hi Nicki, thanks for stopping by and thank you for the encouraging words. I’ve just ordered your book Tiger Tail Soup on Amazon. Looking forward to reading it soon!

  4. Jesus, that’s a wonderful piece, Clare. Has me all misty-eyed and wistful, a truly dreadful state of affairs. Very Merry Christmas to you and yours in both Switzerland and Ireland.

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