Ah, the Christmas holidays. Time off work and the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on the radio (a Christmas Eve tradition for many in the UK).
What better time to catch up with my geneapals around the world and give my blog a present – a post about a lovely seasonal geneameme thought up by well-known Aussie geneablogger Sharn White at Family History 4U?
Let’s jump straight in – it’s a long ‘un!
What kind of Christmas did you have as a child?
A family Christmas, sometimes with a friend to stay or coming round for dinner – turkey, Christmas pudding, sprouts, the lot.
Where did you spend Christmas?
For the first three years of my life, when we lived in Baghdad, Christmas was going back to England to stay with my grandfather, or Pop, as I called him. I don’t remember these times, but he gave me a lovely photo of both of us to remember him by.
Then, apart from one Christmas in Toronto, it was always at home with the family.
The Christmas tree
When I was little and we lived in a flat it was a tiny silver artificial tree, with coloured glass baubles to put on it. Later, when we moved into a house, we had the real thing, with all the joy of that pine smell, and the needles which you only stopped finding in furniture, carpets and clothes by November.
We were quite traditional and put the tree up on Christmas Eve, taking it down on Twelfth Night.
Decorating the tree
Oh, the best part of Christmas Eve! First we wound it round with lights, which often didn’t work, and then Dad had to check every bulb to find the one which had broken the circuit and stopped the rest working…
Then came the string of multicoloured glass beads, then the
argument discussion about tinsel or no tinsel, and then – the dangly bits! I don’t know if they were called baubles in those days.
We had old, old glass globes, which were very fragile but looked so lovely. I’d put them near lights so they’d sparkle their beauty more brightly.
As the years went by, we added more. The paper snowflakes and silver star I made at school, two clip-on birds, some traditional wooden toys, a fabric decoration my sister made, new (plastic) globes to replace the glass ones when they broke, sometimes sweets. They all lived in a box in the attic and each year we children wrote a message on the box. Unwrapping each one from its tissue paper nest was a treasure-hunt every Christmas Eve.
When we got a kitten we discovered that cats love Christmas trees, too. How she enjoyed climbing it to make sure that the shiny dangling things were arranged just right…
My mother wrote all the cards sent from the family (surprise!) but we added our names to them. Inside the family, Mum and Dad preferred home-made ones, so every Christmas I racked my brain to come up with new ideas for pictures to draw on the front.
Cards were put up on the sitting room and dining room mantlepieces and around the mirrors, and once those were filled up we hung them from strings or ribbons. I can’t remember what we did with them later. This was before recycling was widespread. I think I might have cut some up to use as gift tags.
Oh, yes! The excitement of that brightly-coloured felt stocking my Mum made, sitting at the end of the bed, with all those mysterious, promise-filled bulges! We had our ‘big’ present under the tree, to open before Christmas dinner, but the thrill of discovering what was in the little carefully-wrapped parcels was wonderful.
A bit of furniture for my doll’s house, a game, a book, a magic trick, gold chocolate coins in a piratical-looking bag… at the time it was magic, but now I think of all the thought and effort Mother Christmas put into filling my stocking and I wonder how she did it…
After the terrible shock of discovering that Father Christmas was really my parents (the trauma! My dolls and I were horrified!), most of my presents were from family members.
Did I make any myself? Jewellery for schoolfriends, yes, but I can’t remember any particular hand-made present for my family, though I’m sure there were many when I was small. I do remember giving my father (notoriously difficult to get presents for, since he said he had everything he wanted) books of vouchers I made – for washing the car, for example. Probably just what he always wanted.
My favourite Christmas present
Ooh, tough, this one. My parents asked me what I wanted (within reason), so they were all favourites at the time. Perhaps one doll, who was lifelike and completely beautiful, and who I adored. But then again, I think books were the best because they gave me whole new worlds to live in, and paper friends to go back to whenever I wanted.
… and the Christmas present I never got
A bicycle. The roads were just too dangerous where we lived. So I never did get a bike.
Living (mostly) in the UK, we had very traditional Christmas food. Mince pies on Christmas Eve – later on, making them became one of my Christmas jobs. A huge dinner at about one, with turkey, roast potatoes, sprouts, two kinds of stuffing (a Mum special) and then… drumroll… just when we thought we were full to bursting, the lights went out and Dad (Mum, after his death) emerged from the kitchen with a flaming Christmas pudding. Somehow we all found a tiny bit more room and ate the rich moist pudding with brandy butter. Making the brandy butter was hard work, but if you did it you were allowed to scrape the mixing bowl.
A special Christmas recipe
I went on making mince pies – the mincemeat and pastry, everything – until recently, when my late partner became too ill to swallow them.
The recipe I wish I had was my grandmother’s one for Christmas cake. Goodness, but she could bake. She passed the recipe on to my mother, her daughter-in-law. It was rich, moist and (in my mother’s version) well fed with brandy. The best in the world. But sadly I don’t know where Mum kept it – perhaps in her head. I wish I’d written it down. (How often do we find ourselves saying that?)
I suppose every family that observes it has its own Christmas traditions, evolving over the years. Ours were fairly run-of-the-mill: dressing the tree on Christmas Eve and taking it down on Twelfth Night; opening presents around the tree at about 11 o’clock; that Dickensian dinner at one. I had the job of taking photos after Dad died. I wonder where they’ve got to?
Then there was Top of the Pops on the telly in the afternoon, with the parents making the traditional parental comments about horrible noise and turn that down. And then a cuppa and a slice of glorious Christmas cake at tea time. We sang carols round the tree and there were phone calls to make to friends and family far away.
The next few days were about eating leftovers (oh, yum!) and writing thank-you letters (“Ohh, Mum!”).
Music was always part of Christmas in my childhood. Carols at school, which I still know by heart. Parodies of carols I wrote for my friends, some of which I remember. Carols round the tree with various rates of success and not a few giggles. I love carols.
My favourite Christmas carol
This is another tough one. I moved from Away in a Manger to the ones with glorious tunes like Angels from the Realms of Glory and O Come O Come Emmanuel as well as the ones which are fun to sing, like Hark the Herald Angels Sing and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. But I think my favourite is Adeste Fideles, or O Come All Ye Faithful, because of the intriguing story behind it.
I was in a Christmas concert when I was five. Or was it a pantomime? I can’t remember. All I do recall is that Mum sewed a felt number on my nightie (we were playing numbers. No, I don’t know why, either). She said that when I came on stage I looked for my parents, didn’t see them, and my eyes flashed fire. Well, if it’s true, at least I didn’t burst into tears…
At senior school I was in the school play. It was so much fun, though I didn’t enjoy learning my lines. My favourite role was in The Admirable Crichton, by JM Barrie. I played Lady Brocklehurst, a formidable dowager who would have given Lady Bracknell a run for her considerable money. I’d wanted to play Tweenie, the maid (truer to my roots?), but Lady B was a fab cameo part.
What were they like? Cold. Snow, usually after Christmas, so that meant making snowmen and avoiding snowballs. Just the weather for snuggling up with a book.
That’s my geneameme. Thanks, Sharn! Do have a look at her post and follow the links to the other Christmas geneameme answers.
I’ll be coming back over the holiday period with a true Christmas story I discovered during my genealogy researches this year. Be warned – it’s not a cosy tale.
Now all that’s left to do this Christmas Eve is to wish you and those you love a very