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Tales of Christmas past

Section:  On The Web

IN days gone by Christmas was an altogether simpler affair.
There was less glitz and sparkle, no such thing as Christmas jumpers or office parties and present piles were smaller.
We asked three readers to share their childhood memories of the festive season.

happy kids with christmas tree, gifts and vintage toys. antique sepia picture with original film grain

Gwen Kirkwood, Dumfries

DUMFRIESSHIRE author Gwen Kirkwood grew up on a farm in Yorkshire and says Christmas Day was just like any other Sunday as far as work was concerned.
“On a farm animals still have to be fed and milked and cleaned, but everyone helped and as much as possible was organised the day before,” she said.
The family observed the usual festive traditions and Gwen said: “My mother was inclined to be superstitious and did not allow holly or evergreens to be brought in until Christmas Eve. The Christmas tree was decorated then – not weeks before as often happens now.
“When I was very young we had tiny candles in holders which were clipped to the branches and a pink sugar pig as well as the painted glass baubles and a fairy for the top. At school we made paper chains and being a church school the vicar always visited.”
Carol singers came round on both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and when she was older, Gwen and her friend used to join in, particularly enjoying the mince pies and cups of tea they were offered.
One thing that is still the same is the excitement over Father Christmas’ visit. Gwen said: “We sent letters up the chimney. He always left the presents in our bedrooms and we always got up very early on Christmas morning. There was no central heating so the house was cold until the kitchen range was lit and warmed up. It didn’t spoil the excitement.
“One of my earliest memories was a big blue teddy bear with a bow, another was a doll’s pram and a sort of celluloid snowman. When I lifted off his hat he was full of small toys, tiny dolls, cot, chair, animals. There were games such as tiddlywinks, dominoes, drafts and later books.”
Food was an important part of the celebrations and they always had a goose with all the trimmings when she was young, later changing to a turkey. Yorkshire puddings with gravy were served as the starter and Christmas pudding with rum sauce was for pudding. Tea time included trifle, mince pies and tarts.
Gwen said: “Many things were not available during the war, including jellies. My younger brother and I saved our sweet coupons for a tiny box of Milk Tray chocolates and other favourite sweets. When available we had nuts to crack, dates, tangerines and oranges.”
The work – and the fun – continued on Boxing Day with a meal taking place that evening.
As for New Year, the family tradition was for a midday roast of pork and usually Christmas pudding again. Gwen said: “Again mother was a bit superstitious about New Year: she preferred a dark haired man to come after midnight and bring a piece of coal to bring good luck.
“I do remember the thrashing mill coming once on New Year’s Day and it was very busy inside and out as everyone had to work and the men were always fed.”

Sandy McKay, Eastriggs

CHRISTMAS was a magical time for the young Sandy McKay of Eastriggs.
He remembers “more white Christmasses, playing with sledges down a local farmer’s park and lots of snowball fights”.
The 59-year-old grew up in the small village of Sandend in Banffshire, surrounded by grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.
And Christmas was very much a family affair. He said: “My father was one of ten siblings and of those six families lived in the village, along with his parents and my mother’s family were in the next village.
“We visited all the aunties/uncles over the festive holidays, apart from the two families in Aberdeen, that was too far away on the snow bound roads.”
As a boy, he particularly enjoyed the village primary school party, followed by a dance for the adults.
His most memorable gift was a ‘Man from UNCLE’ spy set and he added: “Electronic toys were a far future time away, but we all seemed to enjoy the time-consuming toys of Meccano/Airfix sets for me and Spirograph/dolls for my sisters. Also we all received annuals like Oor Wullie or The Broons.”
Christmas dinner was special as the table was taken into the living room and the radio stayed on. However, the TV was not turned on until the Queen’s speech.
Commenting on the trend for Christmas lights, Sandy said: “Our village did not have street decoration, and although most houses had a tree/lights and paper decorations – which seem far better than the glittery ones we have today – there was no window or external house lights.
Discussing the differences in the festive season between now and then, Sandy added: “Christmas starts far too early now.
“As a grandfather, I am still a grump when we see what Santa brings the grandbairns; but the joy on their faces cannot be forgotten, and we still have the video of when our own kids opened their presents.
“I think as a society we are moving away from remembering the real Christmas message, and getting a more commercial version instead.”

Suzanne Storm, of Moffat
FAMILY was at the heart of Christmas when Suzanne Storm, of Moffat, was young.
She said: “It was always a big family get together with my mother’s sister and her four, so eight children. We were made to eat our Christmas lunch in another room!
“Christmas was always a family affair right up until my mother died. We all got together with her sister and family until we were older and got married and were all living too far away.”
Other traditions involved going to church on Christmas Eve then Christmas morning started with presents from Father Christmas.
She said: “We had a stocking on our beds from Santa too, filled with a satsuma, nuts, chocolate and a small gift. We all loved the stocking.”
There were more presents from their parents too: “My parents gave us lots, not high in monetary value but lots. I used to get things for my horse or girly things, clothes and make up when I was older.
Lunch was the main event with turkey and sometimes a goose, as well as “the whole works”. Suzanne, 69, said: “The food was always superb.
“We always watched the Queen in the afternoon, then we had to do a party piece. I was so shy and it was awful for me. We had to sing, or play if we had an instrument, recite a poem or mime something.”
And she’s still a fan of Yuletide, particularly the decorations: “I don’t remember lights in the town then, only in the shop windows. I love all the glitter and lights now. The tree in the town is such a great idea and the big switch on, the pipe band, which I love.
“Christmas now is lovely I don’t have to do the turkey bit. We have a buffet and get all the food in we never eat during the year, pate, lobster, or king prawns. Lots of cheeses, cold meats, salad, sausage rolls – there is so much more choice now.”

Young woman with christmas tree and gifts. Vintage picture

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