Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.

[8] Christmas Day

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[8] The Days Were Accomplished That She Should be Delivered

As we continue to consider Christmas, today’s title is taken from the Authorized Version of the Bible. It was familiar to us, as was the whole of Luke Chapter 2, telling of the Nativity. Just as the words of the King James Bible and familiar Victorian hymns bring memories of times long ago, so the words of Luke’s Nativity and of familiar carols evoke the nostalgia of Christmas.

Father Christmas 0004

Father Christmas

Of course, Father Christmas visited us, as he has always visited children. I am fairly certain that he was not then usually called Santa Claus. I see this as one of many Americanisms that have crept into our language. But Father Christmas is very cosmopolitan, answering to many names and doing his work through the World in many ways. We use to say that “God moves in mysterious ways,” and the same is, of course, true of Father Christmas.

With his sleigh drawn by flying reindeer, he delivered (and still delivers!) presents to all good children on the night before Christmas by coming down chimneys, using his own magic to avoid the fire. We never see him so we can only imagine something of his methods. Like us, he must be helped now by modern technology with so any more children to cope with. In more modern times, he is believed to have an army of elves to help him in the production of toys. Nobody really knows but here is an idea of what their workshop might look like, courtesy of The Sims Freeplay:

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We used to put our stockings up in the living room, with its prominent fireplace, and we went to bed in sure and certain expectation. On Christmas Day, when we came downstairs, they were full of toys, simple toys. My favourites were jigsaw puzzles. There was nothing electrical or electronic. The nearest we saw to moving parts were provided by clockwork mechanisms. We were never disappointed.

Cooking

I have put ‘Cooking’ before Christmas Day because it involved much more than could be done on the day, especially for a large family. My mother had to a lot of cooking, both on Christmas Eve and from a very early hour on Christmas Morning. Of course, we had turkey but when I was very young, it was chicken. The transition had only just been made from a simple, unprocessed, dead bird that needed plucking to an ‘oven-ready’ bird, with its little bag of giblets. (The heart, liver and gizzard came separately in a bag, to be cooked, perhaps, with leftover meat later.)

Potatoes had to be washed, peeled and cut; Brussels sprouts were trimmed and cut; peas were delivered still in their pods! With six young children to feed, some of the work was done the night before. I will leave the full description of the meal until tomorrow.

Christmas Day

            We can forget about carols on the radio, television or any other devices to provide the background of carols. The children, with their newly opened stocking toys, were the main source of sound. This is where it gets a bit hazy in my memories. Somehow, we must have been entertained for a very long morning. Mum, after getting up very early to get the turkey on the way, spent most of the time in the kitchen. I presume we had a normal breakfast.

We had to wait for everyone to be ready before the presents under the tree could be opened. As we grew up it was always expected that all would dress up smartly. Not quite formal Sunday best, but not casual. Sometime a little after noon, when all were dressed and Mum could spare some time out the kitchen, it would start.

We sat in a circle and presents from under the trees would be given out. The wrapping paper was colourful but not glossy so we could write names on the little parcels. We did not have the modern name-tags with their hopelessly short ties. They were unwrapped, giving all of us something else to keep us occupied while we waited. Formal games were for later.

Perhaps this is the place to state the obvious. Presents from Father Christmas and those under the tree were, by today’s standards, outrageously sexist. Model cars and guns were for boys, dolls were for girls. Boys’ things were blue, girls expected pink. That’s the way life was.

Christmas Dinner

Sophisticated Animals 0005

It took a long time to cook everything. Our Christmas Dinner usually started about 4 pm. It would already be dark outside. The surprising thing about Christmas dinner is how similar it was then to now, just a little simpler. We weren’t a posh family with bread sauce and cranberries but we did have a pretty good roast turkey dinner. We had Christmas crackers with hats, jokes and little trinkets inside, just the same as today. We started by pulling them and we put on the hats and read out the jokes. (I don’t have to give examples of the jokes. The same ones keep coming around now!)

Then the full works: turkey, ham, sausages, stuffing (cooked inside the turkey), roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, peas, carrots and gravy, all as much as we could eat. You will understand that, for example, roast potatoes were not Aunt Bessie’s frozen roast potatoes. We started with just real potatoes, covered in muddy dirt, all prepared the night before. Those who could find a bit of room had seconds and then at last the remains were cleared away.

We had to wait a while for the desserts to be prepared. It would be Christmas pudding, mince pies and custard. The pudding contain sixpences, silvery coins about the size of 1p now, worth the equivalent of 2½p. (It was worth a lot more then!) The adults then would have tea. No one seriously considered coffee!

After dinner, there was the considerable task of clearing up and washing up (without the aid of dishwashing machines!) While Mum had a rest, the senior men of the house would do this. (I can’t say when it started but we three brothers usually did the washing up after Sunday dinners.)

There was never a specific agenda but we would spend much of the rest of the day with organized family games, card games, board games and word games. The children were familiar with various card games. The favourite was Crazy Whist. Monopoly was the original board game, but others such as Cluedo came along. Word games, especially our version of Call My Bluff, could occupy us for hours.

There was always the theory that a late Christmas Dinner meant that no later meal would be needed, but eventually, somewhere around 8 or 9 o’clock, more food would appear. Fresh, crusty bread and butter with cheese and turkey and ham left over. Mince pies and now Christmas cake. It was laid out on the table, on a ‘help yourself when you want’ basis and we were generally all tempted to have some.’ We kept going afterwards with bedtimes becoming a bit variable.

As we grew older, things changed little. Sometimes we had a four-day holiday. The remnants of the turkey would feed us for several days and the games of the first day could continue.

Having written quite a lot about Christmas past, I can see that it was quite similar to Christmas present. It’s an old tradition that doesn’t change much.

I have left a few more personal things about Christmas for the next blog(s) …

Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

5 thoughts on “[8] Christmas Day

  1. That sounds how it was. Just a few embellishments: I remember hanging pillow cases not stockings as there were so many Father Christmas presents. The time between waking and lunch was mainly spent enjoying those presents. Parents were keen to spread out the remaining presents throughout the day so maybe, as you said, we would get one at 12 or so and then maybe one more before lunch then more after lunch. As to the washing up, Dad and I used to do it before you three were old enough then we were retired I think … did I make the cup of tea?

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  2. And I have a feeling the ham was not served until tea or maybe Boxing Day … not with Christmas dinner.

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  3. Pingback: [88] Christmas Comes but Once a Year | Remembrance of Things Past

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