A look back at simpler Christmas times

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In a song from the hit musical Annie there is a plaintive request for President Roosevelt to produce a new deal for the US economy in time for Christmas after the years of the Great Depression in America.

And in 1944, Donald Yetter Gardner released All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth which was covered by artistes as diverse as Nat King Cole and The Chipmunks.

Living with lockdown certainly puts Christmas present requests into perspective. You don’t need clothes, perfume or jewellery. What you really want is a visit to the theatre and a meal in your favourite restaurant. One thing is for sure, you’ll never take the freedom to do things like that for granted ever again!

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Christmas this year for many families is going to be especially heart-breaking. At a time of financial hardship, parents will try to do the best for their children who don’t always understand why they can’t have the latest toys.

Two youngsters share a cake at a school Christmas party in the 1950sTwo youngsters share a cake at a school Christmas party in the 1950s
Two youngsters share a cake at a school Christmas party in the 1950s

I wonder if we enjoyed Christmas any less growing up in the 50s when our request to Santa were very much simpler? Christmas today does follow many of the same patterns and traditions but with a great deal of differences also.

Our world was without computers and mobile phones, or any telephone except the one in the red phone box at the end of the street.

Arrangements for relatives to call would have been made by letter and they travelled by buses which ran throughout the Christmas period. Every Christmas card you received would have a note inside to give you their news.

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Today people don’t bother to write much in the way of personal messages, unless you get one of those news sheets which started to be in vogue. That Bill has finally put up the garden shed and daughter Phoebe raised thousands climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. You haven’t actually seen them in person for over 20 years!

Mother made the Christmas cake and pudding in early November. Heavens above that she ever bought them from a shop! The disgrace!

She certainly never bought one from Sainsbury’s, liberally soaked it weekly in brandy and passed it off as her own, as I have been known to do!

We took it in turns to stir the pudding mix and drop a silver sixpence in so that the lucky recipient would have good luck during the next year, provided they didn’t swallow it of course!

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Always lucky at Christmas were the binmen, milkmen, postman and paper boy who collected a tip from mother’s seemingly bottomless purse.

The run-up to Christmas started a week before, not around Easter as today, and we were encouraged to go round to neighbours’ houses on Christmas Eve to sing carols which was always successful as they never pretended to be out and could actually hear us without the noise of television sets.

We put the Christmas tree up well before the big day, decorating it with the glass baubles we’d known since we were small children, wrapping them in cotton wool after Christmas to put away for the next year.

Sometimes we made trimmings from coloured tissue paper and painted fir cones with silver paint. We put some of those on the tree and some in the hearth next to the little wooden Nativity scene which today has pride of place in my sister’s house.

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On Christmas morning we went to church, and couldn’t look into our pillowcases until we got home, although we had already had a crafty feel at the parcels that Father Christmas had left in the night.

The 50s were a time of great simplicity and naivete. We firmly believed that Father Christmas would come down the chimney with presents if we had been good all year.

We sent our requests to him by throwing the list on to the open fire, hoping that it would wing it way to him up that chimney.

We believed in Little Lord Jesus and that he’d been born in a manger, and in the shepherds and in the Three Kings following the star to Bethlehem.

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But then, Christmas was a religious festival and not a homage to the great God of commercialism as it is today.

It was a busy time for mother who never took off her pinny or stopped preparing and cooking meals. But she loved it and wouldn’t have it any other way. It was the best day of the year for her!

Today’s Christmas lunch seems to involve a battle with children to ban mobile gadgets from the table and to make sure the timing of the meal does not clash with any television Christmas specials. And not the Queen’s Speech at that! When we were young, listening to the Queen was all part of the Christmas tradition.

In the afternoon, we joined other children playing outside with spinning tops, doll’s prams and bows and arrows. Some lucky children had received scooters and bicycles, although they had often been renovated by their fathers.

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At night we sat round the table with the radio on, playing cards or board games or reading our Christmas annuals like Rupert Bear, and ate sweets, nuts, and dates, which only appeared at that time of the year, although father complained about cracking nuts open with the steel nutcracker and mother about the pieces of shell all over the floor.

These days everyone is busy and stressed. Presents are ordered from the Internet. Children don’t sing carols any more because of safety and Covid. No-one plays out on the road as there is too much traffic.

Few people go to church and when you were able to welcome visitors at Christmas it was only if they had texted or emailed first to say what time they would arrive.

Somehow, I don’t think we will worry next Christmas if we have a steady stream of callers, invited or not!

VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!!!​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.

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