Christmas day has changed over the years and today it is different from how I remember it as a child in the 50s and 60s. Media hype, materialism and consumerism has made it a bigger deal than it used to be. I think it is now a lot more pressurised and stressful which is sad, and I feel very sorry for the young people of today trying to cope with all the commercialism.
Let me tell you about my childhood Christmas Day.
Our house was decorated a couple of weeks before Christmas with cheap colourful, twisted ribbons of crepe paper spiralling from the lounge’s central light. We also had fold-out, colourful paper bells used year after year and hung from the ceiling. We would have a ‘real’ fir tree (and then later an artificial Christmas one) hung with decorations kept in an old shoe box from the cupboard under the stairs – fragile, coloured baubles and thin silver tinsel and coloured Christmas lights. Sometimes we made bells from the foil tops off milk bottles and cut out rather wobbly stars to hang on the tree. I particularly loved a clip-on metallic bird with a flexible tail that mum had brought and which I knew was very expensive. One year she found a dead branch from down the creek which she painted silver. It was the most unique, delicate, fairy-tale tree I have ever seen. An old Christmas wreath hung on the front door and I thought our small three bedroomed railway house which accommodated our family of seven looked like a palace.
Our Christmas day actually started the evening before, when slightly older sister and I put pillowcases on our bed ends and then tried to sleep. Mum and Dad woke us in the middle of the night for church – mid-night Mass. There was something magical about being woken in the dark, getting dressed in our best, often new home-sewn clothes and going to church along with heaps of other people in the middle of the night. Then after singing traditional Christmas carols celebrating the birth of a man who lived approximately 2000 years ago, and catching up with friends old and young, it was home again and back to bed. Father Christmas hadn’t turned up while we were out, so we knew we had to get to sleep quickly.
In the morning older sister and I woke to explore the goodies Father Christmas had left for us and we excitedly showed Mum and Dad our treasures wanting them to be surprised at what we’d received. I loved the little tin clickers and roll-out paper whistles which unfurled when we blew them. Then as a family we opened the other gifts that were waiting under the Christmas tree. These were gifts to each other and from relatives including books posted to us from Narnie, our grandmother. I used my buy a packet of cigarettes for each of my big brothers and wrapped these in recycled Christmas paper. The cigarettes cost 2 shillings and 6 pence a packet. (Disgusting things – the cigarettes I mean). Slightly older sister and I then got dressed (not in our best clothes) and went out into the street where neighbourhood kids gathered and showed each other their new treasures (only one big gift each).
Mum and Dad kept chooks and a day or two before Christmas Dad would have killed a couple of them and hung them upside down on the fence. Mum would then pluck them (the stink! poor mum), gut, stuff and cook them for our Christmas lunch. She had also boiled a ham in the copper in the wash-house and older sister and I would try to secretly burn the leather strap than mum used on the backs of our legs when we were naughty. No luck getting rid of that.
So, for lunch we would have roast chicken with stuffing, glazed ham on the bone, gravy, new potatoes and hot cooked peas (it had been my job earlier in the morning to have shelled these) – all the vegetables coming from Dad’s garden. The main course would be followed by Mum’s steamed plum pudding with sixpences and thruppences hidden inside, custard and homemade ice-cream. Our stomachs groaned with the pain of eating too much. After lunch older sister and I did the dishes (Mum did the big stuff like the pots and roasting dishes) and then everyone rested – on beds, the couch and the armchairs in the lounge.
After a bit of a rest, Mum and Dad went for an afternoon walk around the neighbourhood sometimes stopping for an over-the-fence chat with someone, or Mum pinching a little bit of some plant for her garden. Older sister and I played with our toys and coloured in the pictures in our new colouring books and teenage brothers and sister visited recent ‘crushes’ or mates. Sometimes we visited relatives, or they visited us.
Dinner that evening consisted of ham and chicken, bread, a fresh salad made by Mum (‘rabbit food’ said Dad) and Christmas cake. Sometimes after dinner we played cards – poker with matchsticks for gambling chips, and Five Hundred. Older sister and I learned these card games early in our childhood as we often had to partner someone if no-one else was available. There’d be lots of arguing and insults of poor play, but the animosity never lasted and there was lots of laughter as well.
Simple stuff really but very family orientated. Today, I think there’d be TV going in the background, cell-phone and texting to be done, and possibly internet play. I guess some things change but the importance of family, friends and love don’t.
Happy Christmas to you and those you love – from one grandparent to others.