Thursday, December 09, 2010

Thursday 13: Childhood Christmasses

Thirteen things I remember about Christmas during my childhood:

1. The Christmas tree. We had what today would be a small artificial tree (in the sixties that meant bright green tinsel) which sat on the broad windowsill of our living room. I think the tree usually went up a couple of weeks before Christmas, and was a cause of big excitement.

2. The tree excitement was as but nothing compared to the excitement when the other decorations went up. We lived in an old beamed farmhouse, and a few days before Christmas my parents would hang crepe paper streamers from the beams, criss-crossing the ceiling of the living room, while we were in bed asleep. The next morning we would make the thrilling discovery that the house had magically (or so it seemed) been decorated, and Christmas must be just round the corner.

3. Christmas stockings were filled overnight by Father Christmas. Not the big, decorated Christmas stockings my girls have, but our own everyday long socks. My brother and I were allowed to open our stockings (stuffed with small gifts) whenever we woke, so long as we didn't wake our parents!

4. Downstairs we would find a present each, and a joint gift, usually a game. Everything else had to wait until the afternoon.

5. Church in the morning, about which I remember very little except that we went and there were carols - this was to the village Methodist Church, of which my parents were members, and which was dominated by my dad's extended family. I don't think the service was any more child / family oriented than usual for a Sunday.

6. Christmas dinner (which is what we called lunch, English terminology for meals being erratic and confusing!). Earlier or later depending on where Auntie and Uncle (my mother's adopted parents) had to drive from. Uncle was a Methodist minister, so couldn't leave until after his morning service. When they lived in Norfolk, we would wait for them to arrive and eat later; when they lived in Cornwall, they didn't arrive until the evening so we ate without them earlier.

7. Dinner was always traditional - turkey and all the trimmings, followed by Christmas pudding made according to Auntie's recipe.

8. The turkey was delivered several days before Christmas and, this being before the days of freezers or fridges large enough for a big bird, was stored in the cellar - hung up I imagine, otherwise the mice would have got it. There was one year when a mouse got into the pantry and nibbled the Christmas cake that was waiting to be iced.

9. No after dinner drinks at Christmas or any other time - we never had alcohol at home, being a good Methodist family. In later years my dad might have the occasional glass of beer and my mum a very rare glass of wine or sherry (until she discovered she was allergic to red wine) but both my parents were always more or less teetotal.

10. Serious present opening after lunch. As we had very few relatives to give us gifts, my mum always bought us quite a lot of low value presents so we would have the fun of lots of unwrapping. I carried on this tradition with my daughters - I enjoy shopping and wrapping, and they enjoy opening.

11. We never put presents under the tree. They were stacked up on the sofa in what we called the "end room". Our house was long, with a large farmhouse kitchen, our family living room, and the end room on the ground floor. The end room was what I guess in earlier days might have been called the "best parlour" or some such. We only used it if we had visitors, on special occasions, and for music practice (the piano was in that room). At Christmas it was warm and cosy with an open fire. The presents magically appeared on the sofa overnight, delivered by Father Christmas. We knew that they were gifts from our parents, grandparents and so on, but I think we must have imagined Father Christmas to be some kind of cosmic postman. Peeking through the door to see the sofa piled high on Christmas morning was another big thrill.

12. Playing games. As a family we enjoyed board games, and there was always at least one new game to keep us busy at Christmas.

13. Tea time meant turkey left overs, salad and bread rolls (always bridge rolls, I think), followed by mince pies and Christmas cake, homemade with marzipan, icing and our usual cake decorations. I remember a Santa on a sleigh, some little fir trees, and a Merry Christmas greeting. After tea more playing with new toys and games, then tired and happy to bed.

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