Remembrance of Things Past

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


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[88] Christmas Comes but Once a Year

I am going to do a mixed post, partly about Christmas but also a reflection of a year of blogging. It’s more or less a year since I started.

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Christmas

I have done some memories of Christmas in [7] Christmas Preparations, [8] Christmas Day, [9] Christmas Carols and [10] Christmas Traditions. The first two are general memories of the festive season – when cooking a full Christmas dinner was a much more significant task than today. You may find more about our primitive kitchens and cooking in [68] Cooking with Gas and [76] Cooking Part 2

You will know how much Music can bring back memories – especially if you have read [26] Music (1), [32] Music (2) and [34] Music (3), which list my favourite musical memories, so you will understand why Christmas Carols concentrates on the carols we sing at Christmas. We still start our family Christmas family by listening to the carols from Kings College Chapel, Cambridge as we drive to visit relatives.

The last Christmas Blog is more of personal blog, concentrating on our family traditions. Even before Christmas proper we now always have to see the film It’s a Wonderful Life, although I suspect that this tradition may have started later than the sixties. (The film is much earlier.)

I could now add Miracle on 34th Street and many of the familiar Christmas pop songs. Rocking around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee was an old favourite.

As early as [3] The Church I wrote about the part that religion, particularly the Church of England, has played in my life, and of course this comes to the fore at Christmas. The series about St Andrew’s, only just starting with [81], will show other close connections with the Church that are gradually disappearing. It’s hard to explain but I like the words of hymns, Christmas carols and Bible readings partly because of the archaic language which we no longer have. Younger readers may not understand why it used to play such a dominant part in our lives. [15] Highlands School (1) and [16] Highlands School (2) in much the same way show the part religion used to play in schools.

Review

[21] Review and [50] Half a Century looked backwards and forwards about this blog and I feel much the same now as I did when writing them. I would like suggestions from readers about possible topics but don’t seem to get them. Comments are always appreciated, preferably on the blog rather than Facebook. (When I post a link on Facebook with a picture I get many comments about the picture, generally points in the blog, which the Facebook viewers have not read.)

From the WordPress site and its apps I see the statistics about this blog and so far I’m up to 15000 hits. I put in lots of Tags and so some of these hits come from searches. It can be quite amusing to find what people look for.

What people see in Facebook is not predictable but posting on Saturday seems to get the most views. Very few actually follow the blog so I share each new post on several Facebook groups about the fifties and sixties. Most are now getting two to three hundred hits. The few comments I get have all been very positive. (I have been amazed at the spam comments. So far I have about 350 genuine comments, of which about half are my own internal cross-references. But over 800 spam comments have been automatically removed for me.)

I can still see at least another twenty topics that I am working on and expect to keep going at one a week for a few more months. After [69] Elizabeth Martha about my grandmother you can expect some more personal memories about Mum and Dad; there are several about St Andrews to come; and I have basic subjects not even started!

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The Gospel of Saint John

I will end with the first words of this book of the Bible that somehow remind me always of Christmas. They are part of the traditional Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, where they form the last of nine ‘lessons’ (readings from the Bible). It’s the part I like best.

It’s a very philosophical (or theological?) passage and I can’t claim to know what it means. Perhaps it’s meant to be mysterious rather than literal. (The Church has argued for centuries about the precise definition of the Trinity of God.)

Here, firstly, is modern version, from a New Testament by J B Phillips:

At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression, that word, was with God, and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning. All creation took place through him, and none took place without him. In him appeared life and this life was the light of mankind. The light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.

A man called John was sent by God as a witness to the light, so that any man who heard his testimony might believe in the light. This man was not himself the light: he was sent simply as a personal witness to that light.

That was the true light which shines upon every man as he comes into the world. He came into the world – the world he had created – and the world failed to recognise him. He came into his own creation, and his own people would not accept him. Yet wherever men did accept him he gave them the power to become sons of God. These were the men who truly believed in him, and their birth depended not on the course of nature nor on any impulse or plan of man, but on God.

So the word of God became a human being and lived among us. We saw his splendour (the splendour as of a father’s only son), full of grace and truth.

I can’t see this as either meaningful or mysterious.

Here is what I think of as the original version, the original Authorized Version (also known as the King James Version.) Perhaps the meaning is even less clear but the language is so much better.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe.

He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light.

That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

You may take this passage how you like and you may draw your own conclusions about why I put it here. Perhaps it’s just because it reminds me of Christmas when I was younger.

To me Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it.


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[10] Christmas Traditions

I keep wanting to write: “Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without …” but it doesn’t make good literary style to repeat myself too much. But Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without – family Christmas traditions. So, for my last Christmas blog, here are some more personal memories of traditions specific to our family. (Just because I says it’s the last one, it doesn’t mean I can’t do another one, maybe next year.)

All families have their traditions. They do things the same way every week or every year. Sometimes just doing something once makes it a tradition. Things, like Christmas, that happen just once a year are an easy target for traditions. (You could probably also describe our weekly Sunday tea back in the sixties as a tradition. I may say something about it another time.)

The same but different

There were many alternative methods to do things at Christmas and not everyone did things the same way. Even for the simple things, once a method is established, it often becomes something you would never think of changing. Here are some examples.

Some people had a star at the top of their Christmas tree; others always had a fairy. We always had a fairy because – because – because we always had a fairy! If someone who put a star on top wanted to marry someone who only considered a fairy, well, some serious negotiation was in order!

Some people left stockings upstairs in their bedrooms, some downstairs. Ours were always downstairs, and ours were always pillow-cases! Of course, Father Christmas, with his infinite knowledge, always knew exactly where to deliver.

Some people had Christmas dinner at about midday. Ours normally arrived at about 4 p.m. and that became the expected time.

Some families delayed opening crackers until desserts appeared. We always had ours at the beginning.

Households had their own traditions for present distribution. In our house, presents were always given out together, a little after noon on Christmas morning. The youngest children had the responsibility of fetching them, reading the names of recipients and distributing them. When all presents had been opened, we would go round the circle and announce who had what. (This probably developed when we had all grown up a little. When we were very young, present opening was spread out a little.)

It can be a surprise to grow up and discover that other families actually do things differently! But, of course, we always knew that our way was the right way.

Here are some more specific family traditions. As the say on all the best television shows: … in no particular order.

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Walnut Whips

I have mentioned these already. We would have a box of Duncan’s Walnut Whips for Christmas. The box sat on the sideboard. They were not for general consumption. No one but Dad ever touched the box. The walnut whips were prizes, awarded only by him for winning various games. He would decide when a prize was in order. He tried to be fair – so if the same person kept winning, prizes were not always forthcoming.

Word games

Mostly we played word games, often the ‘Call my Bluff’ one that involved defining unknown words found in the dictionary. We just called it the ‘Dictionary Game.’ We wrote possible definitions on little bits of paper and tried to guess which was the right definition.

There was one year when the word ‘yerba’ came up and was defined by someone as ‘little squares of toast with sardines on top.’ Of course it doesn’t mean that. (It’s a South American type of tea-like drink. I’m sure you all know that now.) But the definition stuck. There would always be times at Christmas in later years, when conversation dropped, when someone suggested it was time to “bring out the yerbas!” We knew what they were talking about. Sadly, they never appeared.

In the same game, something else was once defined as an ‘airtight sandwich box.’ So, if you were stuck for an idea, years later, you could write ‘airtight sandwich box.’ It wouldn’t be right but it would bring a laugh.

Ping Pong

Sometimes you remember the little things. Our Christmas tree decorations were simple. Our grandmother used to put up table tennis balls, wrapped in pretty handkerchiefs. When the tree came down, we each had a ping-pong ball. They were the best bits of the tree for me. It was the only time of the year we ever had them and they didn’t last long.

Bubble and Squeak

Christmas Dinner always produced lots of leftover food. To some extent, this was deliberate. The Boxing Day meal, as well as more turkey, always included ‘bubble and squeak,’ cooked by frying a mixture of leftover potatoes and vegetables.

To some, it makes Boxing Day dinner better than the day before. To me, it’s a familiar memory, a tradition, but something I would never consider eating. My diet has never included green things like cabbage or Brussel’s Sprouts. (I could always find plenty to eat, though. The turkey sometimes kept going for a week. I remember turkey rissoles, turkey soup …)

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Angel Chimes

There is a contraption called ‘Angel Chimes,’ driven by the heat coming from small candles. By means of a little propeller, the heat turns the top of the device, driving little metal angel figures round, where they strike bells to make a continuous chime. Such a device would always grace our table for Christmas Dinner. It just about lasted for the meal.

As the candles burn down, they eventually go out. We would always place bets as to which would last longest!

We didn’t know then the connection between bells and angels …

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‘Every time a Bell Rings …’

It’s a Wonderful Life is a film, made in 1946, is now considered one of the most loved films in American cinema and has become traditional viewing for Christmas in many households. It stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams to help others. His imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence. Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would have been without him.

I consider it to be about the best film ever made. (Bringing up Baby is a close second.) If you haven’t seen this film, find it and watch it now. Have a box of tissues ready. We certainly didn’t see it in the fifties or sixties. Now we have it on DVD. Christmas starts when we sit down and watch it. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it. This year we were lucky enough to be able to see it in a local cinema a couple of days ago, the first time we have seen it on the big screen.

As George’s little girl, Zuzu, says in the film, ‘Every time a Bell Rings, an Angel gets his wings!’

Now I have to decide what to write next …

 


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[9] Christmas Carols

[9] Bedecked with Bay and Rosemary

This is a little interlude about Christmas songs and carols. It is definitely about Christmas past but some may date from a little later than the fifties. All Christmas memories become a sort of global memory to me, so let’s not worry too much about dates.

We used to sing carols much more then – at church, at school and sometimes, at home. Sadly, carols are becoming a little obsolete now. With the dawn of records – that’s what we used to call vinyl – and CDs etc., we are much more likely to be singing a popular modern tune.

Two of the early songs I remember were Mary’s Boy Child sung by Harry Belafonte in 1956, and The Little Drummer Boy (or Carol of the Drum), also from the late fifties. I’m having difficulty tracing early versions of Little Drummer Boy, but I think my early memories come from the Beverley Sisters’ version of 1959.

The Rock ‘n roll era brought Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, sung by Brenda Lee in 1958. From about the 1960s, pop songs have appeared regularly aimed at the Christmas shopping clientele, including the re-release of Mary’s Boy Child by Boney M in 1978. Prominent in my mind as I write is All I want for Christmas is You, by Mariah Carey, the song which featured in the 2003 Christmas film Love Actually.

I do like some of the more modern tunes but I still prefer the old-fashioned carols. (Grumpy Old Man!)

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The Streets of Ilford

My main memories of carol singing come from the first half of the sixties. (I won’t always restrict what I say to the fifties.) For most of my childhood, I went to church at St Andrew’s. I also went to Cubs and Scouts there, sang in the choir there for a few years, and spent a few years going to their Youth Club. (Given the number of saints available, it always seemed strange that our two nearest churches were both called St Andrew’s.)

The Youth Club always did the same thing in the two to three weeks before Christmas. We sang carols in the street and collected for charity. We would move along the street, stopping under a lamp-post to sing two or three verses of a carol, while one or two volunteers went along ringing doorbells.

They were mostly familiar songs, always from the same books of music. There was a rehearsal evening at Church and then we sang for about two weeks – two hours every evening, Monday to Saturday.

It was a quiet area of town and I don’t remember ever being disturbed by traffic of any kind. I assumed that the aim was to cover the whole parish. We certainly covered a lot of streets. Of course, for the members of the Youth Club, it also offered a chance for the boys and girls to get to know each other. Singing under a clear sky and discussing the constellation of Orion could be quite romantic. Perhaps that’s why I remember it!

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Nine Lessons and Carols

The still familiar service of Nine Lessons and Carols has always been one of the high points of Christmas. It combines familiar words with the opportunity to sing along to all the well-known hymns and carols.

The format was defined in 1880, and revised in 1919, specifying precisely the nine Lessons. (In Church parlance, a Lesson is a reading from the Bible.) Those who have been paying attention will know by now that these were always from the Authorized Version.

Since 1928, King’s College, Cambridge have held this service in their chapel every year, sticking to the prayers and Authorized Version lessons in their original wording. The service mixes familiar hymns (sung by the choir and congregation) and less familiar carols (sung by just the choir). In general the hymns are the same every year and the carols change, normally including one or more brand new carols. It always starts with a processional version of ‘Once in Royal David’s City,’ with the opening verse sung as a solo by a treble chorister. Several of the choristers will have rehearsed this solo but the chosen one does not know he has been selected until a few seconds before the start.

The service from King’s is always broadcast live on the radio and it continues to mark the start of Christmas to me. We drive to visit relatives, leaving on the dot as the solo begins on our car radio, in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. As we drive, we sing along to the familiar Christmas hymns. I recognize some of the choral anthems from a period in my life in a school chapel choir. I love all the familiar words of the service, especially the Bidding Prayer and the Ninth Reading, which starts ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …’ Somehow modern English versions don’t have the same poetic effect.

I can’t claim that this habit dates back to the fifties but I do remember our local version of the service. Our local church, St Andrew’s, always used to have this service on the Sunday before Christmas, in a similar but shortened form. (They didn’t have the help of King’s College Chapel Choir!) I presume that this tradition continues now. It was then an ever-popular service, which brought in the highest congregation of the year. The pews of the church were packed and extra chairs were brought into the aisles.

I suspect that modern churches have their own versions of this, with more modern carols and readings from modern versions of the Bible. I will stick to the King’s College version.

 Bring in the Boar's Head [Illustrated London News]

The Boar’s Head

The tradition of eating a Boar’s head at Christmas pre-dates our chicken and turkey, going back hundreds of years. Several places continue this annual tradition. My title today comes from one of my favourite carols, a lesser know one from our Youth Club repertoire then. The carol, aptly entitled, ‘The Boar’s head’ apparently originates from Queen’s College, Oxford, where they continue this annual event.

It is what is known as macaronic verse, mixing English and Latin. The carol starts:

The boar’s head in hand bear I;

Bedecked with bay and rosemary;

So I pray you my masters be merry;

Quot estis in convivio.”

 

Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century. I prefer the language and music of the first Queen Elizabeth!

 

Not quite finished with Christmas reminiscing. I may have left some of the best bits until last …


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[8] Christmas Day

[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.

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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

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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) …


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[7] Christmas Preparations

[7] The Ghost of Christmas Past

Plants & Flowers 243

I am having some trouble finding what to write about Christmas. (Not Xmas, always Christmas) Of course, Christmas has changed but it has always been Christmas. The changes have been gradual, shaped by changes in the house, work, cooking and life in general. You will get a picture of what it was like if you take modern Christmas, emphasize its Christian roots more, simplify it in the light of things we did not have in the fifties, and bear in mind the pictures I have given of how we coped with cold. You also have to realize that, so soon after the Second World War, life was more austere in general, simpler and less commercialized.

And, of course, back in the fifties, I only saw it from the viewpoint of a young child. I can’t guarantee getting dates right because my early Christmases merge together in the mind. We had our established traditions by the time I left for University. It’s difficult to remember when each one began. What follows will be a mixture of about a dozen early Christmases.

To our family in the 1950s, Christmas was a holiday lasting not much more than the two days, the Bank Holidays – Christmas Day and Boxing Day. People at work had less time off then. Christmas Eve was a normal working day. New Year’s Day was not yet a public holiday. (Let’s not worry about Scotland, where Hogmanay has been more important than Christmas.) If we were lucky, the time off work extended to include the previous following weekend, or the following weekend, but no more.

Nowadays we cannot fail to notice the approaching festivities from about mid-October with massive advertizing campaigns on television and elsewhere, but back then we knew nothing of television adverts and almost nothing of television. In the environment of our house and school, we didn’t see much of the High Street shops.

School life was different but term continued until about two days before Christmas. In the preceding weeks, we would have had the stories of the Nativity and learned to sing new carols but, in the context of the general curriculum, this was just continuing religious education and singing.

As young children, we were not aware of days and dates and I can remember once, at a very early age, being told that the next day was Christmas Eve. It was a mild surprise, only vaguely exciting. 

Shopping

There was no Internet and the only way to shop was to walk or take the bus to Ilford or to other, nearer but smaller shopping centres. Everything had to be carried home. At least some food such as bread and milk was delivered to the door.

My first memory of Christmas shopping for presents must have been at about eight. I went to Woolworths at Gants Hill, perhaps a mile away. I may have walked or taken a bus but I certainly went on my own. I may tell you more about Woolworths later but it was a general shop, selling from household goods to toys, all very cheaply. It didn’t take long for me to complete my shopping. I had bought seven presents for a total of 3s 6d. That is 17½ pence in today’s money! (When we had typewriters, there were keys for ¼, ½, and ¾, presumably to make it easy for our complex currency, with four farthings in an old penny.)

Preparation

All I can say about what went ahead of the day itself was that most of it was invisible to me. One or two special food items would appear – some mixed nuts and a box of Walnut Whips. A bowl of nuts with a nutcracker was always there over Christmas and the Walnut Whips – well, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Walnut Whips!

My only other memories of Christmas preparations were of my father carefully deciding on the wine order. For the rest of the year, alcohol rarely appeared in our house. We had bottles of (sweet) sherry, just in case relatives appeared. They stayed in the cupboards. In the fifties, apart from in pubs, alcohol was only sold from a few Off-Licences. Dad would carefully read the catalogue from our local wine dealer and select maybe one bottle of wine for Christmas and one for Boxing Day, to be delivered for Christmas. We, of course, had soft drinks. I think they were possibly Ribena and Tizer, both real treats for us.

Decorations

In writing these blogs, I am frequently struck by the way we ignored all Health and Safety. Even though I lived through the period, I am amazed at the casual way we lived with dangerous and hazardous substances and situations, particularly fire. I have already considered the everyday use of explosive gas and highly inflammable paraffin.

In our main living room, as you now know, we had an open coal fire. In the cold of winter, the flames would burn high. So what did we do at Christmas?  We brought in a pine tree, the most easily ignited kind of wood, dropping masses of in flammable needles, and then we filled the room with decorations made of thin paper! I think we all did well to survive.

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It always started with a tree, a real pine tree, bought and decorated about two days before Christmas. There were no fancy devices to hold it, so it was stuck in a bucket of earth; no magic aerosol spray to stop the needles dropping. The unmistakable smell of Christmas came from the turpentine smell of the tree.

We had the same tree decorations that came out every year in a box, which lived in the loft – simple glass balls, lengths of silvery tinsel, coloured lights and a fairy on top. We recognized it all from the previous year and the familiarity helped to create the Christmas mood.

Then there were the room decorations. Made from thin, multicoloured paper, they unfolded to stretch across the room. They were looped all round the walls and across the ceiling, fixed with drawing pins [US: thumb tacks or push pins]. The paper was so thin that they folded back to a compact form for storage until next year – this also may them very easily ignited!

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I am both surprised and disappointed that Wikipedia has never heard of paper chains because we often made them to supplement the other decorations. Imagine a strip of coloured paper about an inch wide and ten inches long. (I refuse to use metric units.) One inch of it at the end has the kind of gum that is activated by licking it. Lick the end, wrap round and fix to make a large cylinder of paper, about bracelet size. All you have to do now is repeat, interlocking the hoops to make a chain. Different colours are random but looped circles are always different colours. A length of chain can be pinned to the wall just as the other paper decorations.

We also had sprigs of holly and ivy and just a little mistletoe. These were much more readily available then. Perhaps the fact that Dad worked in the fruit and vegetable trade helped.

Well, it was easier than I thought, more than enough for one blog. I am keeping to 1000-1500 word posts so you will have to wait for more ….