“I Hate Youse All!” A Christmas Memory

I love the Feast of Saint Nicholas because he is the patron saint of children — I have been putting my kids under the protection of his prayers for half my life, and I do believe his prayers have enormously helped a severely autistic little boy named Nicholas, who has made great strides these past few years, under the Bishop of Myra’s patronage.

A few years ago, as we were putting up on Christmas tree on St. Nicholas Day (it was different when I didn’t work full time. By now the shopping was done, the cards were out…) I decided the tree would hold only our St. Nicholas and Santa ornaments. I think it was the prettiest tree we ever put together.

Read about the real Saint Nicholas. I don’t mind his legendary and commercial equivalent. So few people realize that when they say Santa Claus, they’re calling out “Saint ‘cholas” that I believe it’s probably an ultimate good.

But this day never comes without my remembrance of “Uncle Charlie”, a family friend who once appeared on our doorstep, decked out in all of Santa’s raiment and tripping in his boots only slightly. He had apparently been Santa for a party at the local soup kitchen (or the local bar; this was never clear to me) and — just a trifle in his cups — had decided during his walk home that he would stop the house of his friends and give all the kids “a treat.” And if the friends wanted to toast the season with him, all the better.

By the time “Uncle Charlie” reached our house, he had toasted the season well into the next decade, and as he sat in the kitchen, his shirt unbuttoned against the heat, a wee dram in his big paw, he clucked at the few children to be found in our house and then, grinning from ear-to-ear, said, “I hate ye’s all!”

We didn’t take it personally. My family, their circle of friends, they were always fans of self-denigrating irony. The joke, of course, was that Santa Claus could never hate anyone, but if he could, he’d hate us all.

Of course, there is a very thin line between hate and love.

But in truth, that was some of the merriest hate I’d ever encountered. And when “Uncle Charlie” buttoned up his Santa tunic to finally go home — or to wherever the next drop would do him — he made those bustling old man sounds and breathed his whiskey on us (not yet stale, it was a good, strong smell) and said, “ah, I love ye’s, all! Merry Christmas to ye’s.”

I miss that generation — the folks who said, “ye’s” for “all of you” (in Brooklyn, it became “youse”) and who would go on an occasional toot with the understanding that it was not an everyday thing, and no indicator of a breakdown of the social order, but just a gentle tippling among friends, and a buzz alighted, and meant to bring a good sleep. That was the generation that went through the depression, and fought the second World War, and then went on to raise a generation that could do nothing but deconstruct, and without even an appreciation of the fact that, in reality, the word itself, “deconstruct” is an oxymoron and an illusion.

Unlike the Word.

Happy Saint Nicholas Day, everyone! I hate ye’s all!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Kathleen

    lovely. My Sligo-born grandma Katie used to say “Ye” and “Ye’s”, and even write it on birthday cards. Thank you for a lovely glimpse of a simpler time.

  • HelenOE

    There’s a better St Nicholas site at http://www.stnicholascenter.org

    I’ve been reading up on St Nicholas because my medieval recreation group is putting on a St Nicholas party (yeah, kind of a frivolous reason, and I’m not even Catholic) and I’ve come to the conclusion that Diocletian (or maybe it was Galerius) did the world a huge favor when he tossed Nikolaos in prison for refusing to sacrifice to Jupiter. It seems to me that the qualities that differentiate a saint from a common or garden variety pious young man are the ones that were forged in that prison: a really fearless faith, unshakable confidence in the willingness of God to hear & answer prayer, and an unswerving devotion to the person of Christ. Even the rather startling story that Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea and slapped Bishop Arius for contending that Christ was merely a created being makes good sense in this context.

  • http://scrutinies.net Dorian Speed

    That’s a great story. In our family, an esteemed great-aunt-cousin-something once said, immediately upon finishing Christmas dinner, “Well, when you’ve got your coat on, it’s a sign you want to leave.” And left. That was about 30 years ago but it’s a permanent part of our family mythology now.

  • http://thecatholicgiftshop.com Cathi D

    I honestly thought one of my uncles was your Uncle Charlie. I still am blessed to visit Ireland every few years to see family and I absolutely love the lilt on their tongue when they say “Ye’s are all welcome here”. Thanks for sharing this memory with us.

  • Saint Nick Fan

    Loved this post. I pulled one on my old Irish mom this a.m. Last night I snuck a 9.5AA bright, red high heel from her closet and when she retired for the night, I put it at her breakfast place on a lace doily with a Saint Nick card shoved in it and a box of Hyland’s Leg Cramps homeopathic remedy crammed in beside. I think the entire neighborhood heard her loud, uproarious Irish laughter well before 7am today. They always had Saint Nicholas’ Day in Ireland in the 30s and 40s so when I do little sillies for her each Dec 6, she just loves it. I think it helps her weather the holidays without Dad just a wee bit better.

    As Mom would say of my pranks, “Sure – its not off the ground y’licked it!”

    Translation: I take after her.

  • Anglican Peggy

    My grandparents from Butler P A, used to say y’ins which stood for you-ins I don’t know if folks in those parts still do since I havent been back in a while, but I sure did love how it sounded.

  • James

    One could look at the secular use of “santa claus” as some sort of compliment (perhaps backhanded) to the real deal. HOWEVER, when you look at the history (or rather metamorphosis) of the great saint to the current rendering, the Catholic neutering by those hostile to all-things-Catholic is inescapable. Remember how Easter is also portrayed by our worldly friends. Since the world is the domain of the evil one it would be good to keep that in mind.

    -a pragmatist keeping guard.

  • CV

    In Pittsburgh it’s Yinz, although we were never allowed to use that expression while we were growing up. My mom insisted on proper grammar!