I know that this must sound strange to many people, but I can remember when Christmas started … at Christmas ! .. Not, as I recently read … “during August” !
When I was a young child nothing much happened in our house until Christmas Eve apart from my dad ‘dispatching’ one of our chickens in the back yard and hanging it in the coal cellar (Yes, that’s where the meat was kept). Later my mum would pluck it and prepare it for Christmas dinner. To most people, in those days, ‘Turkey’ meant a place where they made strange smelling cigarettes.
On Christmas Eve my dad would bring home a small fir tree of some kind, which had probably been growing alongside the railway track where he had been working that day. He would also have with him a sack containing a limited assortment of fruit and nuts. No one ever asked where they came from, as wartime rationing (which continued for long after WWII) meant that an orange was something to be marvelled at: and I well remember that the first time I saw a banana I thought it was some sort of sausage.
From inside his overcoat pocket he would produce a bottle of Scotch whisky, which would have recently been ‘under the counter’ of the local off-licence (liquor store), which was run by one of his mates. He would return to the store later to pick up a crate of ‘Guinness’ and a bottle of ‘Tizer’ for me. Wine was far too ‘posh’ and was limited to sherry or port if any could be found.
My task was to make the paper chains, which I did with my mum’s help. She cut up the coloured paper and I glued the strips together with home-made paste, which didn’t always stick. Holly would be hung all over the place: and I suspect that this came from the same place as the little fir tree, which would soon be decorated with a few ‘antique’ glass baubles and some tatty tinsel.
My grandmother lived in the same street as us, and was a bit like a fairy godmother when Christmas came around, for not only did she make Christmas puddings for all the family, but somehow, managed to come up with a few extra goodies, mostly supplied by a local butcher (we never found out how she blackmailed him), and various friendly ‘black-market’ contacts. A few items had been ‘liberated’ by
dodgy members of our gallant allies, the United States Army.
On Christmas Eve I would hang up a pair of my dad’s long woollen socks, snuggle down under the blankets, watch the shadows on the wall made by a glowing fire and wish: but I never did get …
… that bloody train set !