This is what Christmas was like for one Sheffield resident in the 1950s
It was when my youngest grandchild explained to me that they had sent the code for the burglar alarm to Father Christmas so that he could get into the house that I realised Christmas as we knew it is rapidly changing. Of course, it does seem logical in a time when there are few chimneys for him to get down! At least the custom of leaving him a mince pie and Rudolph a carrot still prevails, writes Monica Dyson.
I only hope that the idea of a gender-neutral Christmas person doesn’t catch on, or people don’t start having Christmas dinner delivered.
We may complain that Christmas in the shops starts far too early, almost as soon as summer has finished, but I do remember when I was a child that preparations in our house went on for months.
Mother made her Christmas cake and pudding around October time. We helped to stir the pudding mixture and place a sixpence into it. It was considered very lucky if it was in our portion, as long as we didn’t swallow it of course. The house smelt wonderful with all the spices, and of course we were under pain of death to even peek into the tins where they were kept. I can hear the phrase now ‘not until Christmas’ which usually referred to the sweets, nuts and biscuits which had been painstakingly collected over the weeks up to the big day.
It was a very expensive time for mother as there was also the obligatory tips to the milkman, postman and binmen.
We made paper chains to decorate the house had a trip into the nearest woods to pick holly. Father painted the edges of the holly leaves to look like snow. We never managed to find any mistletoe. Fir cones were also a prize find. You could paint with glitter and hang on the tree.
When the Christmas tree was retrieved from the loft it was like greeting an old friend and we were allowed to decorate it with familiar baubles all having been wrapped in tissue paper. One year we had real candles on the tree which must have been a real fire hazard, a bit like the moment when the Christmas pudding was dowsed with brandy and set alight. There would be many singed eyebrows over the years.
We would carol sing outside the neighbour’s houses. No one ever pretended that they were out, and with no televisions they didn’t have an excuse not to hear us. There didn’t seem to be any worries in those days about letting children out after dark without an adult.
The 1950s were a time of real innocence and naivete. We firmly believed in Father Christmas, and we trustingly sent a list of our Christmas present requests winging up the chimney from the open fire. We’d already seen him in his grotto in Redgates so he should really have remembered what we wanted.
On Christmas Eve we put a pillowcase at the bottom of our beds for Santa to fill and we kept our eyes closed tightly so that we wouldn’t see him come before we went to sleep. When we woke up, we crawled to the bottom of the bed and in the dark carefully felt to see if the pillowcase had been filled. They were filled, but never terribly expensive things – usually an annual like Rupert Bear or an Enid Blyton book, games or jigsaws, colouring books and crayons.
On Christmas Day we weren’t allowed to play with any presents before we went to church, which was beautifully decorated and had a large nativity scene at the front of the alter. We loved the Christmas story and that baby Jesus had been born in a stable. We had no reason to disbelieve or question anything when we were children.
The road outside our house was filled with children who had been lucky enough to get a bicycle, scooter or doll’s pram. There were many skipping ropes, bows and arrows and spinning tops.
One Christmas my sister and I got a sledge but when it snowed, I was upset that people had put ashes on the footpath from their open fires to stop slipping. It may have done that but was no good for sledging! We couldn’t wait to get father to take us to the nearest park.
Many fathers managed to get to the pub before Christmas lunch with mother single-handedly preparing and cooking it, which included not just a turkey but also a piece of pork. We were eating meat up for the next week. She also had the job of washing up afterwards but managed to sit down to relax with a glass of sherry in time for the Queen speech at 3pm, with father nodding off in the chair.
Relaxation for mother was short-lived as there was a big Christmas tea to produce with cake, mince pies, jam and lemon tarts, trifle and of course cold turkey sandwiches.
Afterwards we all sat round and played games like Snakes and Ladders. It was some years before the obligatory viewing of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special.
On Boxing Day, we often welcomed friends or relatives who had been contacted usually by letter as few people had a landline telephone, and there was certainly nothing like mobile phones or computers with facilities to send emails or Facebook message They also made the journey by bus or tram as few people had cars in the 1950s, and public transport operated all through Christmas then.
We were spoiled for choice by pantomimes at both the Lyceum and Empire theatres and considered ourselves so lucky if we managed to get to both. I remember being spellbound one year by the flying ballet where the performers came right out over the auditorium on wires. Luckily, we live in a city where the tradition of pantomime reigns supreme, and we should have no excuse for denying our children or grandchildren its magic.