Saturday, 13 December 2008
What Did You Do?
Becky was over for most of the day on Wednesday whilst the boys were both at school. Once again, it gave us time together that we had not experienced in a long while.
We had been watching a DVD after having a long chat. Suddenly she turned to me and asked how old I was when we first had a t.v. I questioned what she meant. She then asked "well, do you remember Christmas without t.v. and, if so, what on earth did you do?".
I was a little sad really when I realised that she had always known the t.v. I related to her how I was fifteen and a half before my Dad would allow the "goggle box" into our house. She seemed surprised.
So then I was able to tell her what Christmas used to be like. Christmas did not really get started until a week before, apart from the making of the pudding and the cake. Not like today when many shops and garden centres start displaying their Christmas wares at the beginning of October or even the end of September.
I went into what it was like to shop in those days, the things we were able to buy etc. but she really wanted to know what Christmas Day was actually like for people then.
Well, I used to wake up prior to dawn and would always open my presents much to the disappointment of my parents who always wanted to see my face when I did. Of course, I wondered why, because Santa brought the presents then and it had nothing to do with them!
When my parents woke I would go into their bedroom taking my treasures with me. Not that there was much in the way of treasures in those days. We still had rationing. There would usually be one larger present such as a doll or a scooter, then always a book and just maybe some crayons to colour with. The stocking always held tiny little things apart from gold paper covered chocolate coins. Always at the very bottom would be a Tangerine. They were still considered a luxury then and not commonplace as today.
My parents would exchange gifts and then it was off to get dressed. We took breakfast together before going off to church for the service. Very often, in those long gone days, it would snow at Christmas, a white Christmas was not a rarity then. I would fly into the garden to start making a snowman whilst Mum prepared the Christmas dinner which we always took early at around 1 p.m. Believe me, I was more than ready for it by then.
Oh the joys of being in the snow, stinging rosy cheeks, hands frozen even through gloves, but I could not get enough of it and the smell of cooking wafting from the house is something I will always remember.
Eventually I was called in to eat. As I said, we still had rationing. I cannot remember after all these years what was still difficult to obtain, but it always seemed that our table was groaning under a feast of absolute goodies. Kings could not have eaten better. We always ate in the dining room which was festooned with balloons and criss-crossed with paper chains that I had sat for days making.
Dad would solemnly carve the chicken and yes, it was chicken in those days, Turkeys were then for the rich, they were so expensive. Mum would buy a bird from our local butcher and pluck it and gut it herself. I used to watch with an air of fascinated disgust. Our plates would be piled high with vegetables, potatoes and the beautiful stuffing Mum always shoved into the bird. A large jug of steaming gravy, home-made bread sauce. I can taste it as I write.
Afterwards would come the Christmas pudding brought in from the kitchen where my Father had ignited it with alcohol. It was always blazing blue and fascinated me. You had to be careful when you ate it, as my Grandmother, who made our puddings, always put silver sixpences into it. That would not be allowed nowadays because of the safety risk. I was always so excited when I bit onto a sixpence in my helping. It was supposed to guarantee luck and wealth for the whole of the following year.
When we had eaten so much we thought we would burst and I had also been allowed a sip of Sherry, the table would be cleared. Then we would play games. Snakes And Ladders was a very popular game with us, or Mum would get the cards out and we would play snap. Whatever game was popular at the time. We would also play charades which was about the only game my two much older brothers would join in.
When we had tired of games, all donned their outdoor coats and we would go for a walk, looking into other peoples' windows to see their Christmas trees and all their merrymaking. Everyone seemed to have the same, a small tree in the front bay window and paper chains strung across the room. Everything was so cheering and so pretty, so very heartwarming. It seemed as if the whole world was happy.
After our walk I would usually read for a while or do some painting or colouring and then before we knew it, it was time for supper. Cold chicken and stuffing with tomatoes and pickles, heaps of bread and butter, mince pies, jelly and tinned fruit.
Then it was into the living room to sit in the lights from the Christmas tree, in front of a blazing coal fire where we would roast Chestnuts, eagerly waiting for them to pop and throwing them from hand to hand in an effort to cool them down before putting them into our mouths. How delicious they were. I miss them very much. No way of roasting them today.
The radio would be playing in the background. There would always be a carol concert broadcast and we would all join in. We just sat there, the family together, bathed in Christmas love and cheer, full stomachs, full hearts. Sometimes neighbours popped in to have a friendly drink and I would play with their children.
Before you knew it the day was gone. I would climb the stairs to bed, so happy, so contented, so full of the sights, the sounds, the smells. I remember once, walking across my bedroom to the sash-window and pulling the net curtain aside. I gazed at the snow covered garden, the trees looking as if they had been painted white, I looked at my snowman and smiled. I looked at the night-sky, such a deep blue and drenched with the brightest stars I had ever seen. I thought to myself, is there anything quite so magical as Christmas?
Becky sat there listening and then asked if we were ever bored, if anyone was ever bored in those days. I was able to give her an emphatic no. We were never bored. People shared more than they ever do today, entertainments were simple but were made by people themselves. Boys made models, aeroplanes and the like, or built go-karts out of old orange boxes and pram wheels. Girls did french knitting or sewed. We all had other toys to play with as well. Everyone read a great deal more than they do today. People talked and inter-acted a great deal more and there were some wonderful programmes to listen to on the radio.
Becky sat quietly listening and then said she thought maybe we were luckier in those days, that we had known Christmas as it truly should be, before the age of technology took hold.
I told her that if there were such things as time-machines, I would like her and the boys to be able to travel back and experience just one Christmas as we used to know it. She smiled and said she would like that as well.
I shall finish with a poem that I wrote about fourteen years ago, long before we had Grandchildren, but after I had lost my parents. It was written at a time when I was pondering on Christmas when I was a child, so I put my thoughts to paper.
I made a paper chain tonight,
The first for fifty years,
And I had such a sense of fun
And such a glow of cheer.
My mind went back to long ago
And then it seemed to me
I saw, once more, the family
All gathered round the tree.
Chestnuts were roasting on the fire
And Holly hung on walls,
The Christmas lights, in colours bright
Reflected on glass balls.
Lifted high in Father's arms
I felt the surge of glee
As he helped me place the shining star
Atop the glittering tree.
My Mother, brightly smiling
With joy, quite undisguised,
Gazed upon the happy scene
With lovelight in her eyes.
My Brothers' happy banter
Resounded round the room
As they vied with one another
At blowing up balloons.
I felt that I would break with love
For all that Christmas cheer ;
Then the glorious bubble burst
And I was lonely, here.
But deep I know this is not lost
People never really part,
While we hold memories in our minds
And Christmas in our heart.
Copyright Jeannette Oatley 1994
Have a happy weekend, dear friends and readers.