Barry’s Tea advert has me dreaming of Christmas past

I’m such a sentimentalist about Christmas. And it doesn’t take much to make me teary and nostalgic: a verse of Silent Night (especially the one from WW1 trenches), reading ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, Santa departing from the North Pole on the radio, The Christmas Carol on the telly (even the Muppet version),  rooting out the decorations and I’m done for. There’s a lump in my throat, a tear in my eye.

Now I add to all that – hearing a radio ad, the Barry’s Tea one about the train set. It seems to have a direct route into my store of Christmas sentimentality. Catherine Donnolly who wrote the script for the tea ad passed away earlier this year. Her husband Frank Sheerin told Joe Duffy the history behind the ad on Lifeline one afternoon this week– well worth a listen on the Podcast!


There is a 1950s feel to the ad, a time when imagination was all we had to conceive a vision of fantasy. Not for us trips to the North Pole or Lapland: everyone KNEW only Santa and his elves went there. Switzer’s and Cleary’s window displays and the Dublin Streets decorated with lights were our wonderland. Maybe that’s why the simplicity of this ad taps into a kind of collective nostalgia for those simple fantastical Christmases of pure make believe.


Although I never asked Santa for a train set, my brother did and I remember so well that Hornby clockwork train set as it went round and round the sitting room floor, carriages being loaded and unloaded at each circuit. My dad was the station master, directing proceedings ably during the hours between Mass and dinner. No lying about in pj’s in those days. Firstlt there was no central heating. Children had been up from  before 6 and had attended 8 o’clock Mass. Dinner would be on the table for 1 o’clock. Mum might be occassionally called from ministries in the kitchen to witness a derailments or other mishap.


A wave of strong feeling comes over me whenever I hear this ad, whether in the car, at home in the kitchen, or in a shop. It doesn’t make me want to rush out and buy Barry’s Tea, but it does makes me a little wistful for Christmases past,

In 1984 the Hornby set left the attic in 32 to travel to Naas and Grandad sat on the floor again explaining the world of engineering and transport to another generation and it was accepted with the sane verve and enthusiasm.

Two years later the Dad here, a car rather than rail man came home with a scalextric racing set – the feeling was the same although it was more involved with its ramps and chicanes and because there were 2 tracks, competition! And the voice of my own son saying: “You’ll never guess what Santa brought” and Dad as the main man, in charge of assembly and management, child relegated for hours to watching and assisting! What memories! I did miss the gentle “Toot toot”.

That radio ad evokes memories and yearnings that are so real and I know stored in the memory with a generation’s pasts and imagination.

This year I’ll spend my first Christmas in almost 40 years away from home – sharing my sister’s celebration. I’m so looking forward to it. How important to look forward as well as back!

Author: Breda Fay

I'm retired since end August 2016 and loving the new life! More time now for family and friends and to explore craft, history, travel and certainly more of a chance for, me-time. To paraphrase Seuss: I've no tears that (teaching) is over; but many smiles that it happened!

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