Christmas was a time when all families, large and small, got together. Sometimes there might be as many as fifteen or sixteen of all ages crowded into a small terraced house. When they arrived Christmas Eve they were met by the smell of baking as their host hurried to get the last of the sausage rolls, mince pies and scones out of the oven.
Most of the houses with a scullery had an oven in the wall with a fireplace underneath and this was probably the only time in the year they used it. It was much easier to use an oil oven for everyday cooking. For the next two days the women all joined in to help with the work while the children played and the men sampled the old or mild beer from the earthenware flagons. These were lined up on the stone floor in the pantry to keep them cool.
No one worried about where they were going to sleep. The children were given priority for the bedrooms so they could have their stocking or pillowcase put at the foot of the bed. They were usually good and always keen to go to bed early that night.
Not many children waited until they got up before opening their presents Christmas morning. As soon as it was light enough to see they would be sitting up in bed and tearing at the wrappings. In houses where they had electric lights it would probably happen in the early hours and they would sometimes go to sleep again afterwards. Most of the presents given in those days fitted into a pillowcase.
At breakfast on Christmas morning a large ham was placed in the centre of the table. Bread already sliced and buttered, jam, marmalade etc were placed around it. Everyone had to help themselves. Nobody ever seemed very hungry. The children were far too excited to eat or had something better in their stocking and the adults were all saving up for their Christmas dinner. This was usually a cockerel but if it was a large gathering they might stretch to a goose or turkey.
Enough meat had to be left over for a cold lunch on Boxing Day. No matter how full up they were everyone had a piece of Christmas pudding. If there was no other reason they all wanted to see if they got one of the silver threepenny pieces that were always put in when it was being mixed. Some considered it to be a lucky omen if they did.
It seemed that no sooner was the washing up done than it was time to get the tea ready. Tinned fruit with fresh cream, jellies and blancmange followed the salmon, ham, sausage rolls and almost every kind of salad dish available. Then there were the mince pies, fancy cakes, sponges, chocolate log and of course the Christmas cake.
All sorts of party games followed until quite late and for what was probably the first time that day the ladies had a chance to sit down and partake of a glass of sherry or port while sweets and biscuits were passed round. No pubs were ever open that evening and the men were quite content to drink their beer and possibly the odd glass of whisky if they were lucky.
It was always said that Christmas was a time for children. So it was and still is. However, it must be added that once they had opened their presents they amused themselves and gave the adults the opportunity to spend a couple of days relaxing while they enjoyed what was often a rare get together with other members of their family.