Christmas Then and Now


A busy couple of months means that I’ve been neglecting my blog. Apologies and Happy New Year!

I’m going to get back into it by doing a very simple point-by-point comparison of Christmas now and the way I remember it. I have done posts on Christmas before so I hope not to be too repetitive!

Santa Claus. As a child, I knew him as Father Christmas. I never heard the name Santa or Santa Claus mentioned apart from in songs or books. Everyone I knew called him Father Christmas. The name is now seldom heard. Children I know now only know him as Santa.

Since beginning this post I have looked up Santa Claus and Father Christmas only to find that they are completely different characters in origin who, at some point, became merged into one. I do learn a lot researching my facts for this blog!

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A traditional image of Father Christmas.
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Santa Claus.

The Christmas Pudding. This tradition probably doesn’t extend outside Britain. The traditional Christmas pudding (a rich, spiced, boiled fruit pudding – I know, sounds gross but isn’t!) is made several weeks in advance, usually late October. It’s supposed to get better with age, hence the early cooking date. My mum always kept with the old tradition which was that as the mixture is being stirred everyone in the household takes a turn at stirring and makes a wish at the same time. This all seemed so exciting to me as a child. Partly because making a wish is always exciting when you’re little and partly because it was the first sign of the Christmas to come. The other pudding tradition was that a silver sixpenny piece was hidden in the mixture. My mum was scrupulous about boiling and scrubbing them first! It was said to bring good luck to whoever found the sixpence in their portion on Christmas Day. With three children to keep happy, my mum was very fair (or maybe wanted to avoid any arguments!) and used to put three coins in the pudding. She then used to dish up carefully so that we got one each.

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A Victorian illustration.
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Advent Calendars. These were made of card with twenty-four little windows to open one day at a time. And there the resemblance ends. There were pictures behind ours – and NO chocolates! And  people actually reused them. We had the same one for years and we loved it. The excitement we felt when opening the last and biggest window on Christmas Eve and seeing the beautiful picture of the manger with baby Jesus lying in it is still with me when I think about it.

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Ours was a bit like this one.
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What children expect now.

Church.  When I was growing up, everyone in the village went either to church or to chapel. The Nine Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve was particularly exciting and it was an honour to be one of the children chosen to read a lesson. It was always really well attended as was the morning service on Christmas Day. It was lovely to walk to church all excited after opening our stockings and to see everyone we knew. Of course, it was probably often raining. I grew up in a particularly wet valley in Wales, after all. But in my memory we always walked to church on a crisp, cold, sunny day!

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The church we attended as a family.

Television.  We didn’t have a television until I was 12. Daytime TV was non-existent back then apart from a short children’s programme each day just after lunchtime and sport on a Saturday afternoon. But on Christmas Day there was always a circus on TV in the afternoon. The whole family would sit and watch it – with the curtains drawn as you couldn’t see the picture in the daytime. The image projected by TVs then was a lot weaker than today.

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A 1950s family watching television.

Christmas Stockings.
My grandmother who lived with us in the late 50s and 60s was a great one for telling stories from her childhood, many of them very funny as she had a great sense of humour. She was born in 1892 and it occurred to me years later when I was an adult that the stories we heard from Nana were first-hand Victorian tales. She used to tell us that as children (she had sixteen sixteen siblings!) they used to hang up stockings. Inside, on Christmas morning, there was always an apple, an orange and a shiny, newly minted penny. There was nothing else in Nana’s stocking and she always knew what was going to be in it but Christmas morning was as exciting then for children as it is now.
To this day, children here often find and an apple and an orange and some gold-covered chocolate coins in the toe of the stocking. Our stockings were brown hand-knitted knee-high woollen socks which had been knitted by an elderly relative years earlier for my dad to wear under his Wellington boots when he was out working in the forests. He had never actually worn them as they were coarse and prickly.

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This is one of the stockings my children used to hang up in the 1980s and early 90s.

Most of the images I have used are freely available on the Internet. As usual if anyone objects to my use of any photograph, please contact me and I will remove it.

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New Diaries, New Year’s Resolutions and Thank-You Letters.

Happy New Year to all my readers and followers!

As Christmas Day becomes a memory and we start thinking about a new year, I have been remembering what this time of year felt like when I was a child. I usually got a new diary for Christmas. These were not for noting appointments and forthcoming events as my diaries are now but for recording my life day by day. My mum always encouraged us to keep diaries and she kept a daily journal for many, many years. Some years I kept it up for a couple of months, other years I carried on for a whole year. Surprisingly, I still have a few of my diaries. In the photo, from left to right are my diaries from 1959, 1963, 1964, 19l66 and 1967. I remember loving the diaries for all the snippets of information in them. The Enid Blyton one, for example, has 64 pages of general information before the diary pages even start! These include articles on pets, hobbies, party games, how to start a club, the story of the Union Jack, how to look after a bike, two pages on how to tie different knots and – this is hilarious – NINE pages on road-building, with diagrams and photographs. In addition to the first 64 pages there was a snippet of information at the bottom of each week’s page.

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In the front of each diary I have written a list of Christmas presents received from various family members which brings me to the next part of this post – the thank-you letters. There would always be one afternoon allocated for this just before we returned to school. I would be sitting with my brother and sister with writing paper and envelopes and my mum hovering nearby encouraging us while we tried to convey our thanks to aunts and uncles we rarely saw. It was hard work, particularly when we were really young, but I’m sure the relatives appreciated receiving them.

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In the back of some of my diaries I have written a list of my New Year’s Resolutions. As with the diary keeping and the letter-writing, the one encouraging us to come up with a list of resolutions was always my mum. It was very important to her that we had started our diaries, written our thank-you letters and listed our resolutions before the new school term started. My 1966 resolutions included saving more of my pocket money, writing more frequently to my pen-friends, working hard for school exams and being kind and friendly in school and at home – exciting stuff! I think I probably wrote those knowing my mum would see them!

 

Twelfth Night Reflections.

As it is the 6th of January and I have just taken down my tree and my Christmas cards, I thought I would look back at Christmas 60 odd years ago. I have covered this before but I hope to mention some things which didn’t come up last time.

The build up to Christmas was nothing like as long as it is now but one thing which was always done early was the making of the Christmas cake and the Christmas pudding. My mum used to do these several weeks beforehand and it was always exciting to be a part of the preparation. It seemed very exotic when my mum added a small glass of sherry to the cake mix. When the pudding mixture was being stirred we three children all took a turn at having a stir and making a wish whilst stirring. Then came the bit where my mum concealed a silver sixpenny piece (carefully cleaned) into the bowl with the mixture. It was said that whoever got the sixpence in their portion on Christmas Day would have good luck. I have a feeling that when we were little my mum used to put three in our pudding so that we children found one each. Nobody would dream of putting a small metal coin into a pudding now in our safety-conscious age but none of us ever choked or broke a tooth!

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Our stockings were long brown hand-knitted woollen ones. I believe a relative had knitted a few pairs for my dad to wear under wellingtons when he was out at work in the forests. We had the same ones right through childhood and the feeling of those stocking stiff and full on a Christmas morning is still with me. There was always and apple and an orange in the toes, some chocolate coins, a new hankie, a new flannel and a new toothbrush, some sweets and a little novelty peeping out of the top – a small toy or a sugar mouse, maybe. Anything bigger than stocking size from Father Christmas (I never heard him called Santa at that time) was under the tree. We always had a selection box each.

After stockings and breakfast and before opening the rest of the presents we would walk to the village church for the Christmas morning service which was always one of the most exciting services of the year. The church would be packed, even though our village was tiny as everyone made the effort to attend on Christmas morning.

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There would be presents from a few relatives and presents from and to each other. Board games were very popular gifts and sometimes at Christmas there might be a compendium of games with five or six board games in one box. Other presents which were often given were paintboxes, weaving, sewing, raffia and painting by numbers kits, magic sets, dressing up outfits, Meccano and card games like Snap and Happy Families.

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In the 1950s in Britain chicken was quite a luxury and that was what we had on Christmas Day. Turkey came on the scene later.

The afternoon was always punctuated by the Queen’s speech. We listened to it on the radio through the 50s and then watched it on TV from 1961 when we got out first television.

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On Boxing Day there was always a circus on the TV in the afternoon which we all watched (with the curtains drawn as we did in those days!) whilst dipping into or selection boxes.

 

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Tree decorations were mostly baubles and the baubles were made of glass. I still have three of the ones we had on our trees when I was small.

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We always received a new diary each for Christmas and in the back of the new diary I would carefully write down my New Year’s Resolutions. The other writing task was the composing of thank-you letters to relatives who had sent us presents. My mum always made sure these were done before we went back to school.