Originally published December 2007
The days are getting shorter and colder as the winter approaches and it already seems a long time since we had any warm days with those sultry evenings we so often complain about. However, I am sure none of us would like the weather to be the same all year round. No matter how uncomfortable it might be sometimes it is never quite as hot or cold as it is elsewhere.
Generally, we adapt quite well to the changing conditions. Those of us who can, look forward to spending our holidays during the summer months when it is warm and dry. In the winter when it is cold and dull we have several celebrations to look forward to. These include Christmas when nearly everyone likes to see seasonal weather with a moderate fall of snow.
The actual celebration of Christmas used to be confined to just two days or three if it happened to fall at a weekend. As the days got shorter it conjured thoughts of happy family reunions with lots to eat and drink. Everyone huddled round a roaring log fire exchanging stories while the children amused themselves with their new toys.
Most family budgets were stretched far more than they are today and it entailed a lot of planning. All through the year, whenever they could afford it, housewives purchased a tin of salmon or some kind of fruit when they placed their weekly order with the grocer. This would be stored away safely in the sideboard or a cupboard to ensure they had plenty of goodies when the time came.
Many of the shops ran Christmas clubs so a few coppers could be saved each week and when it was changed for goods they gave as much as one and eightpence in the pound interest. Needless to say, it never amounted to more than a few pounds but however much there was it all helped.
Every family celebrated Christmas in a traditional way with lots of socials and parties but their status and means dictated just how far they went. Many enjoyed the religious side of it and large congregations attended the special services. Everyone liked the carols, especially when rendered by school children or a trained choir.
As it got nearer the Salvation Army paraded the streets and played them while they did a house to house collection. Sometimes there would be a small band of children, huddled under the light from a candle in a jam jar hung from a pole, singing outside your front door for a few coppers.
A week or so before Christmas Day many youngsters went off to well known locations to collect bunches of holly for decoration hoping to find it full of red berries: – Even though it was said they were an indication of a very severe winter. Those with a good knowledge of the area knew where to find the best as well as the whereabouts of the trees most likely to bear mistletoe. Most households had a sprig hung over the doorway so if they wished they could steal a kiss from any unsuspecting visitor.
Children of all ages were kept busy at this time making new paper chains and trimmings and putting them up with those they had kept from last year. It usually required an adult’s help with jobs like blowing up the balloons and pushing the drawing pins into the walls and ceilings. They had to be sure that if they fell down they would be well clear of the fire.
Almost every family had a Christmas tree. It was best to buy one with a root so the needles didn’t drop and it could be planted in the garden later. Some traders, worried they might be used again next year, soaked the roots in boiling water so the tree only lived a short while.
Once it was firmly held in a pot or bucket this too had to be trimmed up with baubles, ribbons and various decorations. These were kept from year to year and every household had a favourite fairy that was placed on the top.
There were no tree lights but metal clips could be attached to the outer branches to hold small coloured twisted candles which were lit up for short periods. Obviously at these times the tree was never left unattended.
Small presents for each of the family were often tied on or placed under the branches to add to the decoration. In the evening, when they were all sitting round the fire, they would then be handed out.
to be continued . . .
valley lad – [TWENTY NINE part one]