Retro: Happy, healthy and safe Christmas to everyone

Councillor William Beckett. Commemorative Photograph Album, Preston. 1946-47 'Christmas Party, London Road Labour Club. 21st December 1946.' 'Image kindly provided by Michael Ball and comes courtesy of Paul Swarbrick at the Preston Historical Society.
Councillor William Beckett. Commemorative Photograph Album, Preston. 1946-47 'Christmas Party, London Road Labour Club. 21st December 1946.' 'Image kindly provided by Michael Ball and comes courtesy of Paul Swarbrick at the Preston Historical Society.
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In one of the songs 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 which lasted from 1929 until the early 1940s.

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

Today’s Christmas wishes could be a bit different. The list of ‘must-have’ top toys for Christmas 2016 as released by top retailer Toys R Us, includes Chiprobot Dog selling at £200, Furby Connect at £99, Lego Ninjago Samurai at £95 and Star Wars Spinning Light Sabre at £45.

I know it’s impossible to compare prices with those of toys when we were children, but don’t you think they are rather obscene? And totally out of reach of most family budgets, especially when there is more than one child. Most grandparents love to spoil their grandchildren, but would draw the line most firmly at paying these sort of prices.

I wonder if we enjoyed Christmas any less when I was growing up in the ’50s when our requests from Santa were very much simpler. Basically I think Christmas today follows the same pattern, but there are some things that are very different.

It was a world without computers and mobile phones, and in fact any kind of telephone except the one in the red phone box at the end of the street. We had no televisions in the earlier part of the decade, and no cars.

Arrangements for relatives to call would have been made by letter, and every Christmas card you received would have a note inside to let you know how they had been going on during the past year. You often got cards from people you hadn’t seen for many years. That hasn’t changed, but today people don’t seem to write much in the way of personal messages. If you don’t receive a card from someone you think they’ve crossed you off their list or died.

Mother made the Christmas cake and pudding in early November, and certainly could not buy one at Aldi, liberally soak it in brandy every week and pass it off as her own as I often do.

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

Always lucky at Christmas were the tradesmen, binmen, milkman, postman and paperboy who collected a tip from mother’s seemingly bottomless purse.

The run-up to Christmas started a week or so before, not around Easter as it does these days, and we were encouraged to go round to the neighbour’s houses to sing carols and they never pretended to be out, and could actually hear us without the noise of television sets.

We’d already put the Christmas tree up, carefully decorating it with the glass baubles that we’d known since we were small children and which we wrapped in cotton wool after Christmas was over, and put away for another year. Sometimes we made trimmings from coloured tissue paper. We had a little wooden Nativity scene in our house which had pride of place on the sideboard.

On Christmas morning we always went to church, which very few families do these days, and we couldn’t look into our pillow cases until we got home again, although we’d had an early crafty feel at the parcels that Father Christmas had left. One year my father, being of a theatrical bent, hired a Father Christmas outfit and left the pillow cases at the bottom of our beds. I woke up, saw him and was terrified. My sister missed the whole thing.

She was also upset the year she received a doll when one of its legs fell off on Boxing Day, which meant a visit to the Dolls Hospital on London Road.

The ’50s were a time of great simplicity and naiveté. We firmly believed that Father Christmas would come down the chimney with presents. We’d sent our request to him by throwing our list on to the open fire, hoping that it would wing its way to him up the chimney.

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

Of course Christmas was a religious festival and not a homage to the great god of commercialism as it is today. It was a very busy time for mother who never seemed to take her pinny off or stop preparing and cooking meals. But she loved it and wouldn’t have it any other way. The best day of the year for her was the one when her family were all round the table, eating Christmas dinner, pulling crackers and wearing paper hats.

Today’s Christmas lunch seems to involve a battle with children to ban mobile phones and tablets from the table, and to make sure the timing of the meal doesn’t clash with any television programmes, and not the Queen’s Speech at that.

One very big difference between then and now is that father would certainly not have had any part then in preparing or cooking the Christmas dinner, and in fact would have been hard-pressed to even help with the washing up. Men certainly knew their roles in those days and I don’t know what my father would have thought of my son who prepares and cooks the whole of Christmas dinner single-handedly.

In the afternoon we joined other children playing outside with spinning tops, dolls in prams, bows and arrows and toy guns, with scooters and bicycles for the lucky ones although they had often been renovated to look new by their fathers.

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

These days, everyone is busy and stressed. We order presents from the internet, children don’t sing carols any more on the grounds of safety. Nor do they play out on the road with their new toys as there is too much traffic.

Few people go to church and instead of welcoming guests at Christmas, that’s only if they have texted first, and if their visit doesn’t clash with any Christmas Specials.

Happy Christmas everyone.