I am writing this the week before Christmas Day 2017. This has prompted memories of Christmases gone by.
I was born in 1936 on a farm in West Wales. At that time we had no electricity – just oil lamps and candles. So no Christmas lights. My earliest memory is of a warm happy home decorated with lots of berried holly branches stuck behind every picture frame and sprigs of mistletoe hanging over every door ready for all those kisses. We had a homegrown branch of a fir tree to go with our log fires. The branch was decorated with tinsel and coloured baubles. We were all raised as Christians, and I attended a convent school, so the religious aspect of Christmas was a constant background to our celebrations, but not dominant. At this time in West Wales, carol singers came to our doors on New Years Eve.
At four or five years old I definitely believed in Father Christmas, so my brother and I sent many messages up the chimney. On Christmas Eve we hung at the end of our beds the largest stockings we could find. As we waited, hoping to catch sight of him, we were sure that we could hear the reindeers coming nearer and nearer. We could even hear the tinkle of their bells. We never actually saw him, of course, but we were always pleased by the gifts we received in our stockings next morning. In those days presents were small, usually a toy for my brother and a small doll for me, also some chocolates or sweets and always a tangerine in the toe of the stocking.
Life on the farm was always busy, even on Christmas Day. We had a large herd of cows to be milked, calves to feed, sheep to be seen and checked on. In the farm kitchen a large Christmas dinner was being cooked: a very large goose reared on the farm, huge joints of home cured ham, also potatoes, carrots, parsnips and cabbage, all home produced. There was also a large homemade Christmas pudding. This feast was not just for the family but also for the cowman and the other workers who lived with us in the farmhouse. We had beer, home-brewed specially for the occasion. After dinner, it was back to work for the adults, while my brother and I played with our presents, more having been brought by friends and relatives. Note, that I describe the midday meal as ‘dinner,’ and will call the evening meal ‘supper’. Supper, eaten once all the outside work was finished, consisted of all the leftover cold meats from dinner, with bubble and squeak made from the leftover vegetables and the wonderful gravy: my favourite meal.
The evening was spent listening to the battery powered radio, playing parlour games or, if we could persuade her, singing around the piano played by my Grandmother. We went to bed very tired and happy.
We spent many years having these innocent Christmas days, but this changed when our village had electricity, which brought with it television and advertising. Christmas became commercial and it became difficult for our children not to want what they saw advertised. I remember when my own children were about twelve, my mother asked them what they would like as a gift for Christmas. Seduced by the wonderful portrayal of a game on the television called Mouse Trap, they asked their Grandmother if she would get it for them. My mother searched the toy shops near and far until she found it. There was great excitement before opening the box on Christmas Day. What a disappointment, it was just a bit of moulded brightly coloured plastic which had been staged by the film on TV to look wonderful. I was so disappointed for my mother. We all learned a valuable lesson. As the years have gone by, Christmas has become more and more commercial, with advertising starting in September. This really upsets me, I worry about all those families who have to struggle with Christmas debt for the foreseeable future.
New Year’s Day
Enough of this moaning. I will tell you about the lovely things that have made this Christmas wonderful for me. Over the holiday I have seen all my children and most of my grand children with their lovely friends. I had phone calls and visits from friends who knew that I was stuck in my flat. Among many cards, I had a lovely hand made card addressed to ‘his lovely cousin’s Grandma.’ Another card came from an old friend of my daughter’s. We have not been in touch since they all left for university. During the last few years I have followed the lives of his young sons on Facebook. I did not think that he would recognise my present name, so I was delighted to receive a card designed by one of the boys. I also want to thank all the friends that I have made during the many years at work for giving me such thoughtful cards and gifts. I realise now that the heart of Christmas still lives, we all try to show our friends and relations how much we love and appreciate them.
I wish a happy and healthy 2018 to everyone.