Christmas

and other traditions

Christmas is a time for tradition and family gatherings. Although we moved around whilst Dad was in the RAF, we always got together for Christmas and New Year. My grandparents spent Christmas and New Year with us every year from 1971 until their deaths. Nana also joined us on a rota system as she had three other families to visit.
Christmas traditions were mainly kept up by my paternal grandparents, particularly Grandad who was very keen to maintain the traditions, especially at New Year. This was strange as we had little or no contact with the rest of his family during childhood.

He did once say that his mother would whitewash the kitchen every Christmas Eve, but that tradition is not something I will continue. However, my husband does make a habit of redecorating the house in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with the concern it is not going to be finished on time.

Christmas began for us, with the arrival of our Grandparents several days before the 25th, as they didn’t have a car, they travelled by National Express coach, and we went to pick them up from the nearest depot. Whilst doing this, Dad also took the opportunity to pick up some last minute items, for a home made Christmas present he was working on. One year it was a 6′ x 3′ piece of hardboard, which had to be squeezed into the caravan with us all. Unbeknown to us, it was as a subuteo base for Paul. Christmas lasted until Grandparents departure after New Year.

Christmas preparations had been underway for some weeks, although unlikely that they would have started quite as early as they seem to these days. The lingering smell of a homemade Christmas cake signalled the approach

In our family we eat cheese with our Christmas cake which I believe is a Yorkshire habit. We are a cheddar family, but I think it depends on preference. My husband has been converted too.

Closer to the date mince pies were made.

Recipe for Christmas Cake, although I do say so myself, this is the best rich fruit cake recipe I have ever tasted, and we have been using it in our family now since 1970.

INGREDIENTS
7″ CAKE
8″ CAKE9″ CAKE
Butter or Margarine
Dark Sugar
Eggs
Syrup
Plain Flour
S.R. Flour
Mixed Fruit
Glace Cherries
Ground Almonds
Sherry
Grated Lemon Rind
Bicarb. of Soda
Salt
Mixed Spice
4oz
4oz
2 or 3
1 Tablespoon
3oz
3oz
1 lb
2oz
2oz
2Tablespoons
1/2 Lemon
Pinch
Pinch
0.5Teaspoon
6oz
6oz
3 or 4
1.5Tablespoon
4oz
4oz
1.5 lb
3oz
3oz
3Tablespoons
3/4 Lemon
Pinch
Pinch
0.75Teaspoon
8oz
8oz
4 or 5
2 Tablespoon
6oz
6oz
2 lb
4oz
4oz
4Tablespoons
1 Lemon
Pinch
Pinch
1Teaspoon
BAKING TIMES180’c for 1 hr 150’c for 1 hr180’c for 1 hr 150’c for 2 hrs180’c for 1 hr 150’c for 2.5-3 hrs
METHOD Cream together butter and sugar.
Sift Flours, Spice, Salt, Bicarb.
Add to creamed mixture alternatively with eggs.
Add Fruit, Almonds, Lemon rind, Chopped Cherries and Sherry. Mix well.
Turn into greased cake tin and level off.
Cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper with a hole cut in the middle. Bake for the required time.
Our Recipe for Christmas Cake.

I usually make the cake during the last week of October, leave it until beginning of  December, feeding it weekly with a small eggcup of either sherry, brandy or rum and quite often a selection of all three! Marzipan at the beginning of December, and ice 2 weeks later.

PS. Don’t forget to serve it with cheese!

Unusual food began to appear – a box of dates, tin of Quality Street, satsumas. The turkey was ordered (I am often reminded of the occasion, when on answering the door, I announced that it was the man with the pigeon). Opening our shared-three-way Advent calendar was always exciting with Mum having to calculate how it was to be done fairly. Luckily there were three of us, and that divided into 24 evenly.

Christmas cards arrived from friends & relatives, some I had met, others I hadn’t. I would try and guess from whom by the handwriting on the envelope. Paul’s birthday on 17th was the usual signal for decorations to go up.

Our little tree followed us around the world, until being replaced in 1982, and it became part of the Christmas decorations in The Match Box Toy Shop.

Along with most children the most exciting part of Christmas for us, was the unseen visit from Father Christmas, and as the elves prepared our gifts, Christmas was often preceded by the smell of paint fumes, the sound of a sewing machine or hammering and banging  ‘wafting down the chimney’.  Although at the time I considered that the visit of Father Christmas was Christmas; I now realise without my family, our traditions, and the national customs we take part in, it would not have meant as much.

Below Father Christmas has been 1966, bringing some very un PC presents, although I wasn’t complaining!

In 1967, he had been busy making a train for Paul and cot for my dolls. Nurses outfit by Mother Christmas.

Christmas 1968, Father Christmas has been busy building a dolls house and garage. (I never could understand how this photo got taken!).

In 1969, we had a very special visitor to our flat in Malta. As our families couldn’t be with us at Christmas, we got together to celebrate with friends.

Father Christmas visits 1969

I was always excited to arrange our Nativity set, usually under our little tree amongst the cotton wool snow, and Jesus spent several years sleeping in a pink, dolls house bath. (I don’t think that is part of the story).

We were under instructions to handle the delicate clay figures carefully. They had been bought from ‘Peter the Potter‘ in Malta. and I can’t remember a time when Joseph’s head was not held on with plasticene. Gradually over the years, other heads & body parts were lost. Much later, I received a plaster moulding Nativity kit, to make a new set, which is still in use.

As a child, the visit of Father Christmas was magical and exciting, but I knew why we celebrated and the story of the Nativity as an essential part of Christmas, Father Christmas was the fun part, the Nativity was the serious part.

I enjoyed Christmas activities at school -crafting cards and decorations, but especially the Nativity play as a young child and the Christmas production as I got older.

My first part, aged 5, was as an Angel – twice that year both at school and in church. I recall, the church dress rehearsal, organised by a very correct lady who insisted we all had identical and precise outfits made from old sheets and tinsel, and we all had to wear shoe innersoles (sandpaper side up), on our feet and tied on like Roman legionaries. My outfit was reused for the school performance, but all I remember of that, is feeling ill, as I was coming down with a bug.

I remember learning carols on the classroom carpet,-  ‘Little Donkey’, and ‘Little Jesus Sweetly Sweet’, – but wondered why we needed to ‘wrap fur around his tiny form’, as we called the long school benches we sat on, forms.

Two years later, I got a part reading; ‘The Angels visit the Shepherds’ – I never quite understood what it meant, but have always remembered – ‘And suddenly there appeared a multitude of the heavenly host’.

Later on there were different school productions, such as Aladdin. Elizabeth even got the main part as Mary. Then High school Christmas concerts, and end of term assemblies.

Our celebrations continued to New Year, when we would have a party buffet (probably with the last of the turkey and ham) pickles, one of Mums Trifles, and later on her special recipe pizza. Not forgetting mince pies and Christmas Cake.

At twelve o’ clock the oldest, darkest male was chosen to bring in the New Year. He had to leave the house by the back door, and come in by the front, reciting the New Year Poem.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, HAPPY NEW YEAR,
PLENTY OF MONEY, AND A CELLAR FULL OF BEER.
A HORSE AND A GIG, AND A BIG FAT PIG,
TO LAST YOU ALL NEXT YEAR.
MINCE PIES HOT, MINCE PIES COLD,
BAKED IN A DISH, 3 DAYS OLD.
I COME TO YOUR HOUSE NEITHER TO BEG NOR TO BORROW,
 I COME TO YOUR HOUSE TO DRIVE AWAY ALL SORROW,
SO LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, SIT DOWN AT YOUR EASE,
PUT YOUR HANDS IN YOUR POCKETS,
AND PULL OUT WHAT YOU PLEASE.

This was followed by the singing of ‘Auld Lang Syne‘.

Christmas cheer.