Each year when Christmas comes around, it brings very poignant memories of my childhood when the festive season comes around. For me, Christmas began at the end of November when my mother would make a traditional English Christmas cake. This was a cake filled with mixed fruit and very rich in taste. It took almost a day to make; first the dried fruit was soaked overnight in alcohol, usually brandy or whisky. The next day, the cake was made; with a fight between my brother and I over who would lick the spoon or have the bowl leftovers. We did not have an electric mixer then, just the spoon and elbow grease; (stirring and mixing with the arm) the butter and brown soft sugar, then the flour and spices, eggs and dried fruit (now softened in the alcohol) would be slowly added. The greaseproof paper would be lined in the cake tin and the cake finally put in a low temperature oven for 3 – 4 hours. Then the Christmas puddings would be made, and money would be put into the puddings, usually sixpences (cleaned coins of course) and wrapped in cheesecloth and stored in a container until Christmas day.
For we children, my brother and I, we only had candy at Christmas and Birthdays, and even fruit was not seen until holidays. Dad would in September, take the apples off our apple tree, wrap them in newspaper or brown paper and put them in a box under the bed, where they would stay until a few days before Christmas. Christmas was a big occasion; we only got candy and fruit then, so it was eagerly looked forward to. From December 1st until 25th, so much took place in our house, it was winter time for us, so the fire in the fireplace was always lit; it was dark late in the afternoon; and cold outside all the time. The Christmas tree would be brought from the shed or attic and decorated; the house downstairs would also be decorated, and we would look forward to and anticipate the presents we would get. Early in childhood we would spend every night at the bedroom window looking to see if we could see Santa Claus traveling the world collecting the requests of children so he could deliver their presents on Christmas Eve.
At school, we had the Christmas play, (I was always an Angel) and various concerts where I was given solos in the choir, and shows put on by different classes. We would buy presents for our teachers and school friends. It was a very busy time for us all. The week of Christmas, our mother made our Christmas tarts, these were tarts filled with mixed fruit with a pastry top. These also went into the pantry to wait for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My brother and I would wrap ourselves up and go Carol singing around the streets, standing outside the front door and singing Christmas Carols, few people had TV then, so could hear our singing, and when we knocked at the door and said loudly “Christmas is coming, the Goose is getting fat, please put a penny in the old man’s hat; if you don’t have a penny a halfpenny will do, if you don’t have a halfpenny, then God bless you.” This would usually call someone to the door to say to us “lovely singing children” and we would usually get a few pence or even three pence or sixpence. It was freezing cold outside and we would wear old darned socks as gloves, nothing in our house was wasted!
My brother was four years younger than me, and he did not like the Carol singing, but he loved the money. One year as we were saying our little spiel, instead of saying, “if you don’t have a halfpenny, then God bless you” he said something very rude instead, I was furious with him, but we still got money. Christmas Eve took so long to arrive at, but finally, we were bundled up to bed very early and found it hard to sleep because we knew the next day there would be Christmas presents at the end of our beds. We always had a pillow case with our gifts in, and very early in the morning we would wake, usually around 5am and our sack would be there, I would race into my brothers room, wake him up and we would then begin to unwrap our presents. Our parents included in our pillow case, our gifts of chocolate from our relatives, so we would make ourselves sick eating that, mindful we would not get any more chocolate until Easter.
Mum and Dad would try to sleep in and would get up on Christmas Day around 8am; we of course by then were feeling sick from all the chocolate we had eaten, only to be called down to a big breakfast of bacon, eggs, bubble and squeak (left over mashed potato and vegetables made into patties) and tomatoes, and try not to vomit as we ate this greasy concoction on top of all the chocolate and candy. It was a wonderful time with Christmas dinner at 1pm and Christmas tea where we ate the fruit pies, Christmas cake, and other goodies like a chocolate log, which was a chocolate sponge with thick cream in it. We had already had an apple and an orange in our pillowcase with the chocolate and candy, but Christmas day was a feast of food. During the day, we would play with our toys, color in with our new crayons and if it was snowing, or had snowed, we would go out and slide on the snow, which usually after a few slides turned, into ice. One year we got a joint present of a sled and it had also snowed on Christmas Day so we went to the local park and sledded all day down a big hill.
It was a magical time for us, and I can honestly say there was not one bad Christmas as I recall. It was the only time also when my parents did not argue! We also celebrated the 26th December which was called Boxing Day, nobody cooked on Boxing Day, it was left-over day, but usually we were so full from Christmas Day, we hardly wanted any food until later in the day at tea-time. When we got a TV set, we would wait for the Queen’s speech, which was usually at 3pm each Christmas Day, and watch Christmas shows, it was a magical time. When I moved to Australia in 1974, I had to get used to a hot Christmas day and to be honest, it was never the same. My children do not know anything else, they did spend Christmas day with us when they came to visit in 2006, but that was the only time they had a cold Christmas. I did experience a cold Christmas in 1995, when I went to Denver, Colorado for a visit, but my next experience of a cold Christmas in 2004 when I went to the USA with Alan, and it actually snowed over the Christmas period. I was so thrilled, and it was cold also.
For me the holiday season as I now call it, is a magical time, we have a small tree and I make Christmas cakes, just like my mother did; only mine are now made in Muffin tins. I try to replicate the experiences I had as a child as much as I can. Of course I no longer go Carol Singing, or go sledding, but it is always a magical time for me. I wallow in the memories of childhood, and try as much as I can to be charitable at the holiday season. My parents always gave to charity at that time of the year and if I can I always practice the same gesture. Alan and I this year, along with our friends Jean and Korinne will not be exchanging presents but giving our gifting money to St. Judes’s hospital here in the USA. Having experienced a family member with Leukemia, my granddaughter is now in remission after two very heavy years of chemotherapy and hospital visits (she was diagnosed also on her 7th birthday) St. Jude’s is a hospital where parents do not pay anything for their stay or treatment of their children.
I hope your memories of the holiday season are as richly filled as mine are. Or if not, you are now experiencing a better holiday season. To all of you who read my blog, and follow my fan page, Alan, Jean, Korinne and myself, would like to wish you a very happy holiday time. We wish you a wonderful season, and a wonderful new year.