Now that Christmas is upon us and we begin reflecting on the festive season from years gone by, what are your memories of Christmas past?
I find myself thinking nostalgically back to earlier times, reflecting on all those feel good memories of yesteryear. One memory that sticks in my mind is a snapshot of collecting holly laden with red berries with my grandfather on the frost-coated canal bank and taking it back to my grandparents’ home, where it was used as decoration above the eaves of the doors and above picture frames. Back in those days, the winters were freezing cold and we had coal fires and no central heating at our house! The snow often seemed to be up to my knees when we were sent home from school–the school milk having frozen solid in those tiny glass bottles and the boiler gone on the blink so deemed too cold for us to be there.
We didn’t seem to expect too much from Father Christmas back then either, [maybe a favourite ‘must-have’ toy or two, like a Tiny Tears baby doll which could both cry and wet herself! Or a new bike, toy pram, train set or doll’s house]. We were content with a selection box and a Christmas stocking filled with such delights as chocolate coins covered in gold foil, a chocolate Santa, a tangerine and a few small toys that would fit in the stocking.
Santa arrived at our house during the early hours of Christmas day. I knew he’d arrived as my legs felt heavy as the quilt on my bed was laden with gifts. In those days we lived near a dairy and the milk floats passed the house on Christmas day. So I would guess I must have woken at 5 am or 6 am as it was still pitch black outside. The first port of call would be to wake my brother up and we’d both creep downstairs with our presents and make a start on our chocolate selection boxes, even before eating breakfast. My parents would still be fast asleep upstairs for another couple of hours until my mother stirred to put the turkey in the oven and make other preparations for the day itself. My father would have gone to the pub on Christmas Eve, so he’d have quite a long lie in to sleep off the effects. I remember him telling me once he’d see Father Christmas at the pub that Christmas Eve and he’d relay my message of what I wanted for Christmas to the man. Unfortunately, Mother Christmas (my own mother) didn’t realise I wanted a Sindy doll that particular year. So I never received one, but I still had some lovely presents and it was made up for as the following Christmas, I received a beautiful singing/talking and walking doll in a pink lace dress! My mother had ordered her from a newspaper advert and I’d spent ages scouring that advert reading what this doll would look like, the songs she sang (Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and London Bridge is Falling Down!) and the phrases she would speak. The doll was very tall and almost the same size as myself and she smelled so beautiful, I can still remember that smell. Her brown curled hair was so soft too and her eyes opened and closed. She was a vision of perfection to me and I took her everywhere!
Back then, if we were up early as a child, you watched an old black and white TV where a star like Leslie Crowther, visited a London Children’s Hospital. The children there would be presented with gifts and the nurses made their uniforms look festive, decking their hats with tinsel. I used to feel so sorry for those kids being in hospital on Christmas day but they seemed to get some great gifts and plenty of attention, so maybe it wasn’t so bad for them after all!
My grandparents were early risers, so we’d run to their house which was just 3 doors away to show them all the gifts we’d got. My gran usually gave me a Bunty annual every year which she’d sign and my brother got a Beano or Dandy annual. She’d also give us money so we could buy what we wanted after Christmas. She was quite practical like that. Or other years, she and my grandfather would take us to a big store in Cardiff so we could pick our own presents. I remember having a small Singer sewing machine and my brother had a Liliput typewriter one year. Strangely enough, I was the one who used the typewriter the most as I loved writing stories and still do! But my brother did love the wooden fort our grandfather made for him one year. It was nice to receive homemade gifts as there was so much love, care and time put into them. I remember my uncle made me a lovely wooden doll’s house one year complete with furniture and wallpaper on the walls! It was treasured for many years.
Later on Christmas morning, my mother would get up and light the coal fire and set the table, which was moved into the middle of the room, for Christmas dinner. We’d have things on the table we didn’t use the rest of the year, like a special red table cloth with festive prints and matching serviettes. We always got to drink those miniature bottles of Babycham with the meal, which was usually turkey and the trimmings followed by Christmas Pudding, Mrs Peeks in the blue cellophane wrap which was boiled for a couple of hours in the already small, steamed up kitchen.
During the afternoon there’d be Christmas Top of the Pops, playing the Christmas number one for that particular year. This was followed by the Queen’s Speech. In the evening, the whole family would settle down to watch The Morcambe and Wise Christmas Show. They always had a special guest on who joined in the fun, like Shirley Bassey or Tom Jones. I’ll never forget the year, Ms. Bassey stood there singing ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ as Eric jammed her foot into a workman’s boot!
There would be so much eating and drinking that day we’d feel quite full by the time we got to our beds. Of course the evening was usually an anti climax because for me the expectation of Christmas on Christmas Eve was always the best part of all.