It used to be that the Christmas season started in December, but now it seems to start anytime from September onwards. This is a shame really: our happy memories of Christmas past can potentially be lost in the marketing hype which seems to go on for ever. By the time we get to Christmas Day we’re exhausted and often ‘over it’.
I’ve been thinking of Christmasses when I was young. I was born and grew up in England, so cold, snowy, wet, foggy winter weather is not unfamiliar. Even after over 40 years in Australia I still have the occasional memory lapse and forget to reconcile Christmas with Queensland-style hot weather. I can easily relate to all the ‘traditional’ Christmas scenes that we see on everything from Christmas cards to wrapping paper and the words of many Christmas songs.
What was Christmas like when I was growing up? Here are a few of my memories.
Our Christmas tree was an artificial one and we used the same decorations year after year. I remember a snowman and santa claus – the rest were baubles. The tree was liberally decorated with tinsel. We used to argue over whose turn it was to put the angel on the top. Funnily enough this same argument was played out between my daughter and I when she was young!
Snow was great just after it had fallen. First thing in the morning, you could go out and walk over the pristine snow – it would crunch under your feet. The only other marks there would be the dog’s footprints or even tinier prints from the various birds that were still around. We would get wrapped up with boots, scarves and gloves and warm coats. I don’t remember hats. The aim was to be the first person to walk on fresh snow and leave our own footprints. The few photos I have of this time are black and white, if they had been in colour our cheeks would be red from the cold. The skies were often clear after snow – unusual for winter in England. Snow was never quite so nice after we’d had rain – it would turn to slush and go a dirty brown colour.
|View of my parents’ snowy garden –
brussel sprouts under there somewhere
We weren’t a large family, so we didn’t have lots of relatives living close by. Two regular Christmas visitors, however, were my dad’s uncle and cousin, who lived quite some distance away. They would visit my grandparents and us once a year. The cousin usually gave us a sixpence each, which was a lot of money in 1950s England. It was a really big treat if my maternal grandparents made the long trek from the other side of the country to spend Christmas with us.
Christmas dinner was chicken, not turkey, with roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, peas and gravy. The chicken was chosen from among the hens we had in the shed in the back garden or the allotment – a poor hen who was past her laying prime. My dad would dig up the brussel sprouts from an often frozen garden – I hated them! We’d have christmas pudding with custard, and hope there was a sixpence in our piece of pudding. Ham, christmas cake, trifle and other goodies were for later in the day.
I have an older sister and younger brother. In the days leading up to Christmas we would systematically search the house for presents – when my parents were out that is. The most likely place was a built-in cupboard in my parents’ bedroom. My brother would be posted as ‘guard’ to let us know when mum and dad were coming down the road. My sister and I would then peek into the packages to see what was there – this was before they were wrapped in Christmas paper. I must admit my sister was more daring than me.
My mum and dad would put the presents out on Christmas Eve once we’d gone to bed, so we’d get up early on Christmas Day to open them. Depending on what we’d received, we’d play with the various toys. My mum has recently shared some of the funny things that happened. One year they bought desks for my sister and I – but these had to be assembled; which was a bit tricky after a few celebratory whiskies!
Growing up in England gave me a very strong grounding in Christmas carols, songs, and other hymns. A more recent memory is singing along in the car with my daughter to a cassette of Christmas songs by well-known singers such as the Chipmunks – Santa Claus is coming to Town never sounded so good.
Everyone’s memories are different – even if two people experienced the same thing at the same time, it’s likely they would remember it differently. What can you remember? Memories can be prompted by photos, talking to others, all kinds of memorabilia. Do try and write your memories down so your family has some insight into what it was like for you growing up. After all, we’ll be ancestors ourselves in due course.
So, what was Christmas like for you when you were growing up? I imagine it was quite different from my experiences.
Happy Christmas to all and best wishes for the year ahead.