Please be warned this is a word heavy post.
In the early years when I was really small and my brother was a baby we went and spent Christmas with my grandparents at their home. It was always Christmas Eve when we travelled. I remember the night, the cold the snow and being cold in the van and us singing songs like Jingle Bells and various carols on the journey and every so often being given a barley sugar or cough candy twist to suck on. All the stars twinkling and being too nosey and wanting to see everything that was going on. We were always well wrapped up and had blankets over us as well on the back seat of the car.
My Nan's house was always warm and welcoming the log fires throwing out some heat and the Rayburn in the kitchen. We were always bundled out of the cold into the heat and then stripped down either in front of the Rayburn or the fire and put in our gym jams (thick winceyette or brushed cotton) given a nice hot drink and then bundled up in bed with thick quilts and lots of blankets. Then waking up at my Nan's before my mum and dad and pottering down the corridor to find my Nan and Pop and cuddling up to them both in the big wooden bed and waiting for Mum and Dad to wake up and the gazunda under the bed! Its funny what kids remember.
When Mum and Dad were up and we were washed and dressed (we were made to wait) then going into the best room with its thick green velvet curtains, the Joanna, and large sofa and chair where the Christmas tree was and to find our pressies under the tree in our "sacks" which were cotton pillowcases and the opening of the pressies and the excitement from the children and adults alike the thing that really used to fascinate me about the Christmas tree was that my Nan always put chocolate Christmas bells and fancies on the Christmas tree for us youngsters. That was the first time I came across such favours. They have been a feature of my Christmas tree ever since together with candy cane sticks; so really I am carrying on a long held tradition. We were also given pink sugar mice. I have some moulds so if I remember I might well make some this Christmas and revive another tradition.
In later years we spent one more Christmas with my grandparents when I was about seven years of age. It was the Christmas that I was bought my first pair of roller skates. It was thick snow and ice outside of the house. The pavements were uneven at my grandparent's home and Dad took me outside to try them out and tried to get me to use them on an ice ridden pavement. I was not having any of that - he was of course jesting and it was totally tongue in cheek. Its something I have never forgotten.
The lovely thing about going to my grandparent's home was that Nan would do a big Goose for Christmas Dinner (It was only in later years that I found out that the Goose who used to run around the Orchard in the summer actually became Christmas Dinner). The cooking of dinner was always started early and of course we had to go to Church as well. Nan's cottage was brim to full because she would never let anyone be on their own on Christmas Day. My Aunt and Uncle would come with their daughter, my Great Aunty Ivy, my Uncle and his two children my mum, dad, brother and myself, Uncle Pat, my Granddad the vicar, Grandma (an old lady who lived with my uncle and she was always included too. There were also a myriad of visitors throughout the day. There would be a high tea for everyone as well and the ladies really did work in those days because the main Goose or whatever always took hours and hours to cook and then there was everything to go with it. The cottage was always warm and snug with roaring fires especially if it was really cold. It was traditional at Christmas to always listen to the Queen's Speech on the radio and we had to be all done and dusted and the washing up all done by the time of the Queen's speech (at the time my grandparents did not have a TV) we did. It was also very traditional for the children later in the afternoon after High tea to perform a party piece a poem, a dance, a reading a little play to entertain the adults and sometimes games would be played too like Charades. Which was then followed by my Dad playing the piano and the raucous singing of Christmas Carols. It did not matter that we were out of tune as long as everyone enjoyed themselves. I think we have lost something over the years people knew how to have fun and were not restricted by this or that.
As I have said in later years we stopped going as Mum and Dad ended up having so many presents from family, and friends for us that they had trouble getting the suitcases and all the presents in the car without us seeing them which is a shame really as we used to love and go and spend time with them.
Our Christmases for the best part were always full of magic, full of excitement the land of make believe. That's what Christmas was for us growing up as children. My Dad had a lot of fun with us as did my mum. When there was a thunder storm in the summer it was always "Santa Claus" turning over his sacks of toys and that we must be really really good to get a present i.e naughty or nice. It was only as adults that we found out that mum was terrified of thunder and lightning and so as not to alarm us she used to keep us occupied with the story of Father Christmas turning his toys over. Very creative and loving my parents. We were bought up to believe in the land of make believe and to use our imaginations, also dressed liberally with real life practicality as well, but being taught the difference between escape to make believe and existing in reality.
For both my brother David and I, Christmas was very special. In the days when we had a proper fire we used to write notes to Father Christmas and pop them into the fire and they would go up the chimney. This was before the days of the gas fire. Then the gas fire was fitted which caused great consternation from both my brother and I and this also caused a problem for my brother. He wanted to know how Father Christmas was going to get in when we were all fast asleep in bed. Dad came up with a story that Father Christmas would park his sleigh on the roof with the reindeer (and if we listened carefully we might just be able to hear the jingle of the bells) and that instead of coming down the chimney he had a magic key that would give him access to the house. My brother was not having any of that and it terrified him to think that Father Christmas could come into the house at will. In the end I think Dad calmed him down by saying that if David was not a good boy and was not fast asleep in any event he would not come. Needless to say that little boy slept soundly come Christmas Eve.
My father's main hobby was photography and in the attic of the Council house we lived in he built a large photography attic. The first of many such rooms. He showed mum it and because we pestered he took us up as well. Whilst we were both up there and after mum had gone downstairs Dad threw his voice and became the voice of Father Christmas talking to us both about what we had been up to. I suspected my Dad and turned round swiftly (and from all accounts in later years Dad said I nearly caught him) saying it was him, but he smoothed it off and my brother believed him. We both came down from the attic full of it and highly chuffed and we were very special in that we had actually gotten to speak to Father Christmas.
Mum also included us in the Christmas pudding and cake making. Mum had a big massive Pearsons baking bowl one of the beige ones and she always used to make the Christmas cake and Christmas pudding and each member of the family had to have a stir of both the pudding and the cake to put good luck in it for the year to come. After the puddings were made and had matured and before serving mum always used to put a silver sixpence into the pudding; something that my Dad's mum always did. They never cooked the puddings with the coins in them. Yet again the silver sixpence represented good luck for the year to come. Needless to say at a later date I ended up breaking the mixing bowl by accident. I was not very popular. Still remember that to this day.
I also remember mum buying in bits and bobs as she could afford them for Christmas starting with the baking ingredients and then buying bit by bit like I do when I can afford them. What must be remembered is back then money was really tight. Mum did not work as she stayed at home with us until she started home working making belts for a local factory which meant she would still be there at home for us. Mum and Dad gave us what they could and we were always pleased. We rarely asked for anything not like the kids do today. We instinctively knew not to. The catalogue companies were the only way people managed to get things then and the monies were collected every week to pay for them.
Items were recycled through families and if they were really in good condition were gifted on as sometimes it was the only way they could give something nice to one another. If you could not afford it then you would have a go at making it and if you were not particularly gifted in that department another family member would make it. There was a whole different way of going on a lot more give and take and families being together and helping each other rather than being jealous and defensive. Dad having spent time in the Middle East with the Air force had developed a liking for dried dates and figs so mum always allowed for the purchase of these and when I saw these being brought into the house I knew it would not be far off Christmas;
More intriguing for me was the first time Mum and Dad ordered a large hamper out of one of the Catalogue companies -think it was Littlewoods cannot be sure and that arriving at the house and mum excited and unpacking lots of goodies. I think it was the first time my mum had had such a thing and I think her excitement makes it stick out all the more for me. Her family had it really rough when she was growing up and I mean really rough so to have new things and be able to afford things she had only dreamed of (which were probably more of the norm for other people) meant an awful lot to her.
In the few days running up to Christmas Eve mum would buy in the fruit, the little tangerines in little orange nets, the loose nuts Brazil Nuts, Almonds, Hazlenuts and Walnuts, the monkey nuts in their shells, salted peanuts, Turkish delight and a small tin of Quality Street (not the big tins they are today). Apples, pears and Oranges and bananas were also bought. Things that we all take for granted today but which were so hard won back then.
The tree would also go up a couple of days before Christmas Eve and would be taken down by 6 January (Twelth night). Mum would arrange for Dad to get the tree and the big tea chest out of the attic in which all the Christmas decorations were stored. She would call us into the front room; it was nearly always near dusk and in the half light where the fire was roaring and start to put the tree up. It created its own magic being in the warmth of a cosy fire and the half light created its own ambience which I really remember. The tree it was an artificial one and not much to it green and silver but mum had that tree for many many years. We were allowed to watch mum put the lights and the decorations on but at that time were not allowed to help but we could watch. As we got older that changed. Each ornament would be removed from the tea chest wrapped in tissue and then carefully unwrapped as it was memories of people gone by who had given or bought the decorations so really was a treasure chest of lovely baubles most of them glass, paper concertina chain garlands, paper bells and the crowning glory on the tree was the Ballerina Queen Fairy in her Tutu. It always fascinated me. Then in later years mum also used to buy hollow chocolate fancies to hang off the tree. Its the reverence and care that went into this saving the treasure for future years to come and cherishing them; a ritual a confirmation of special little treasures.
Christmas Eve was always a flurry of cleaning and baking. It is a long family tradition from both sides of the family that the Christmas baking was always done on this day. I still carry this on. I still have memories of mum having a big blue and white meat platter that my grandmother (mum's mum) had bought for her being loaded to the gunnels with sausage rolls, coconut cheesecakes, schoolboys earholes (jam tarts) and mince pies that she had baked that day and being placed into the cool of the larder ready for the next day and the Christmas cake all iced and decorated being covered in tissue paper and also being placed back into the cool of the larder.
Christmas Eve, we would be got ready for bed with new gym jams in front of the fire and given a nice warm drink. Then we would hang our socks up off the shelf of the fire hearth. A glass of port would be popped on a little glass tray in the fire hearth each (a thank you and some sustenance to Santa Claus for bringing our presents) with a mince pie apiece. We were then bundled off to bed. With our pillowcases placed on the bottom of our single beds. When we were asleep Dad would creep in and retrieve the pillowcases and fill them. When we were very small some of the presents would be left under the tree and some in the pillowcase at the bottom of the bed together with our socks in which was placed some nuts, a brand new penny, a tangerine and some sweeties. This was always left on the bottom of our beds too.
Apparently Dad always had a late night on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day because the pair of us were so excitable and would wake really early. I remember one year in particular where David woke up about 2:00pm and came into my bedroom to tell me that "Trish he's been he's been". Unfortunately Dad had only been in bed about 3/4 of an hour and was not amused. Needless to say I got into trouble for waking my brother up when it was the other way round. We were told to go back to bed and get some sleep and then Dad would call us when he was ready. Both of us settled back down, but Dad sure did have some close shaves.
We always used to get into bed with mum and dad when we were younger and open our Christmas presents all together (I think this was more so that they knew what we had had from who and so that we could write our thank you letters). Then it would be tidy up time, dispose of the damaged wrapping paper and then on with the chores for the day and getting ready for lunch. When we were a lot lot older my Dad used to disappear to the pub for a couple of hours whilst mum got on at home. In later years I also used to go with him as did my brother. One particular year my grandparents came and we took my Pop down to the pub. He really liked it and made himself comfortable and really enjoyed himself. My grandfather had a reputation for never being drunk until that particular Christmas he got tiddly and we had one heck of a job getting him out of the pub he had enjoyed himself so much. My Dad was fretting over producing Pop tittled to my grandmother and her reaction well as long as he has had a good time that's all that matters. And he did I had to get behind him to guide him out of the pub at which he was protesting quite prolifically.
We have had a lot of special times over the years with people who were our elders and who have now passed on and now we in turn are the elders. However for me at the root of Christmas is the story of celebration of the birth of the Christ child and the love of family and of friends. Spending quality time with people that you love and respect both family and friends and that are an essential part of your well being but most of all sharing what you have between each other. That for me is the light of Christmas.
Sorry its been a long post (and I hope I have not bored the pants off of you) but I certainly was very lucky and privileged to have parents who made so much of Christmas for the pair of us. For that I am forever thankful.
Catch you soon.