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.



  1. I don't know why but this made me tear up..perhaps because it got me thinking of Christmases past... I have such happy memories... I wish we could all be together for one more christmas...

    what a truly beautiful post Jeanette....

  2. That was a lovely renedering of you past Christmas, Jeannette. It seems that in spite of those bad political and economical times, you had a lovely childhood. My mum was born during the war and she does not think of old times with happiness. They were a lot of children and the family was rather poor as my granddad suffered a bad injury and was disabled most of his life. One of my uncles - only 17 - was in a concentration camp in Germany for almost two years and another one was on the mountain fighting with the Italian Resistance. My mum remembers a piede of hard sugar as her first Xmas present. That's why she gave me every she (they) can afford when I was a child. I do not think I would like to go back in time and witness her Xmas days...All the best. Ciao. Antonella

  3. What a shame those Christmases of our childhood are now gone and replaced by wide commercialism. I enjoyed reading of your family celebrations Jeannette, as they reminded me of my own early childhood. It was truly an age of innocence and I wouldn`t have swopped it for the world.

    Love Sandra xxxx

  4. Yep, those days that'll never come back. Know what you're talking about. Precious memories, sigh.

  5. That was a lovely sharing with your daughter and the poem was beautiful. I know we were never bored without tv. I must have been around 5 or so when we got one and we only watched it rarely. One show I'll never forget was I Remember MaMa. I don't know if that was shown in your part of the world or not. I too have some lovely memories and it's good to tell the tales to our loved ones so that time will not be forgotten.
    'On Ya'-ma

  6. What wonderful heart-warming recollections Jeanette and a lovely, lovely poem

  7. lovely entry jeannette.great poem too i may add.take care love mort xxx

  8. Great memories to share with your daughter Jeannette. I can't remember very many happy Christmases from my childhood. The depression was so bad we were lucky to get a shoebox full of fruits, nuts and a little candy and maybe one toy. I was married at 17 years old and got my first TV.
    Lovely poem, Have a great weekend. Hugs, Helen

  9. I wish everyday was like the Christmas you described! I once spent Christmas in Portugal when I was 15. It was a simplier Christmas, but we were surrounded with so many family and friends, I didn't care I didn't have very many presents--it was less commericialized thatn it was back in the U.S. It was more of a religious holiday, and we had actual carolers at our door holding violins and was beautiful. Julie :)

  10. I loved reading about your childhood Christmases! Perhaps ya'll could try to recreate what Christmas was then in your home one year.

  11. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Jeannette. I think I'm older than you so experienced much the same as you only we didn't have rationing after 1945. My folks bought the first TV in 1956, so there were many holiday's without the "box." I can remember us all crowded in our little house at the time, my folks, my little brother, grandma & great grandpa were there as they lived on the property. Also frequently my aunt & uncle would drive over the mountain with my 2 cousins for Christmas dinner. Where they slept~I can't remember. I'll have to call them & ask them. But our holiday's were loaded with fun, few presents and no TV ! Linda in WA

  12. Hi Jeannette ,your entry today was so good and brought back such a lot of happy memories of Christmase's long ago .In our stocking we would have a pink or white sugar mouse with a string tail !!! along with some fruit and nuts .I bet Becky enjoyed sharing those precious memories with you Jeanxx

  13. How lovely to hear about an old time Christmas. Your did the same as mine, little golden chocolate coins & a tangerine plus other small goodies in my stocking...I always saved that for last too. I think I was 14 when Dad finally let us have a very small t.v. in the livingroom...then of course, he would pick what we watched! Some shows were considered too adult for us. lol. Love that you were able to share this with your daughter...Merry Christmas love, Sandi

  14. Our Christmases were like yours, I still have no TV and I like it that way! Dad was a butcher and used to bring home a few chickens which he'd pluck for neighbours. Chicken in those days was only for Christmas! We'd have bowls of sweets and fruit along with dads' stock of Watneys brown ale, a few Babychamsfor mum and squash and lemonade for me and my sister! We'd play Ludo, snakes andladders, card games and draughts. After tea my sister and I put on a show for mum and dad in front of the tree with it's real candles lighting up the branches, Health and Safety weren't around then! I remember we did Catch A Falling Star, Sailor and Silent Night. How did they ever keep a straight face?! Lol! I used to love the old presents like the John Bull Printing sets, Post Office and Sweet Shop sets. I feel sorry for kids nowadays, maybe if people refused to take the bait of excessive shopping we'd go back to those wonderful Christmases. Jeannette xx

  15. I enjoyed reading about your Christmas past with all it's tradition's. Our family on my Mom's side was large then and we had Thanksgiving dinner together every year. Those big family day's are past. On my Dad's side there was just his one brother's family that we visited and had memorable time spent together. Wishing you and your family a 'Merry Christmas'. mark

  16. Thankyou for reminding us of how it was ,it was all magic ,we didnt have much through the year so presents were a real treat ,and on the radio the Queens speech at 3 o clock was a must Jan xx

  17. Hi Jeanette. I sure do remember when we got tv back in 1953 and loved it. My cousins and I got just simple things for Christmas: a doll, tricycle then bicycle, a red wagon one year and fruit as you mention. I remember one snowy Christmas day my family went to a movie in the next town away with my aunt and her husband. Little things like that stick in my mind :).....

  18. I also remember life before TV. Your story was lovely. Sometimes I miss when life was simpler yet I love new technology as well.

    Hugs, Rose

  19. I found it interesting that she would ask what Christmas was like without television. Television was not then, nor is it now, part of Christmas for my family. In fact, I have always made it a rule that the TV is off during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My kids have the same rule in their families. My Christmas was much like yours when I was young. You brought back some wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing.
    Hugs, Joyce

  20. What a lovely entry Jeannette and a great poem, didn't know you were a poet too. Christmas in Scotland when I was a child was very differant from yours as my father worked on Christmas day. Christmas Day was not a holiday here until I was about 12 I think. I was up with the lark to open my pressies before my Dad left for work then Mum and I would go back to bed for a while we had our Christmas dinner when Dad got home again. Can't remember what we had but I think it was a big steak pie. love Joan.

  21. Thank you for sharing your memories! you write so beautifully...Hugs, Maire

  22. when our boys were little we all sat down & would color, or draw something on construction paper strip, then afterwards connect a chain, we did this nightly thru the month of Dec...our Advent... thanks for the memories...

  23. Wonderful story and I loved the poem at the end. You are a very talented writer!

  24. As a child, I too had simple Christmas's. We felt so lucky to get what little we had, we had a tangerine also!

  25. What wonderful memories and special time between mother and daughter.... :)

  26. What wonderful memories you have and how I wish we had a time machine as I'd take my children back to when I was younger to experience my childhood Christmas. Most families had TV's however, my dad didn't like them very much. He had a small portable one that we used to watch the news then it would be put away - it was never pulled out on a holiday. Anyway, I enjoyed your entry.


  27. This was just lovely and I would take my children and grandchildren back also to see how it used to be. We always got a orange, such a treat in our stockings and I remember making the paper chains also. We didn't have TV either until I was past 7 and listening to the radio programs on Christmas was so fun. I wished I had the experience of roasting chestnuts, they sound wonderful.

  28. Thanks for you Christmas memories, we always had TV but it seemed so much more interesting then, all the neighbours would visit etc, so different now that the commercial aspect has taken over.

    Take care


  29. Dear Jeanette,
    I don't think I have your email so I had to come here....Will you please put an entry in "CALL FOR SUPPORT" for me? Back when Danny died, a lady started reading my journal and started writing me and praying for me daily...Her name is JUDY PEARL LOVE...She was a widow like me after being in an auto accident 9 years ago, which took her husband AND her little 4 year old grandson's lives... She eventually found another love and was happy as could be, staying at the ranch with all their pets. Well, in Nov. he got pulled up under his tractor. He stayed in icu for 6 days, steadily getting better...then got an infection and died overnight. She is so devestated and heart broken that she just now posted about it. PLease, please post an entry for her..Here is her link:
    Thank you so much,

  30. I am sorry here is the correct link to Judy's blog.......

  31. Evening from a very cold Alberta -25C.
    You are such a marvellous story teller and yes, like others my eyes teared up thinking of Christmas past. I remarked to a friend that I really need to get some Christmas spirit back in my life. I do celebrate the reason everyday of my life but as strange as it may seem when my Mom passed away 13/12/1967 part of my Christmas heart went away. SHE was what maked it all happen. I remember on year we were all out of the house and she unwrapped all the gifts to see what they were and re-wrapped.
    I know that she gets to celebrate every year since with the Birthday child.
    I know all the years of catering took its toll by Christmas eve when we would just be exhausted.
    Enough about that...Thank-you so much for sharing.

    Love Alberta LORI

  32. What a beautiful entry Jeannette. So much simpler then, so much more meaningful. There was actually time to remember what the whole thing was about in the first place. A shame we can't have that today.

    Blessings ad I hope you get verrry good news!!!

  33. That was great memories. I have some to of traditions we did as a child.
    Take care, Chrissie

  34. Beautiful entry - made me think of my own christmas past.

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