I suppose the first Christmas I remember, was when I was very small and at that time living at 13, Exwick Hill. It was a very small dark house but I remember it being warm and cosy as it had a big black leaded stove in the main room and I am not sure if at that time we had electricity but in my mind I get the impression of soft lighting as you would get from an oil lamp, there would be no sign of Christmas preparations leading up to the day as there is today but there was great excitement about the arrival of Father Christmas.
We were not rich and like everyone at that time there was a fear of getting into debt so presents would be simple and decorations were things like paper chains, holly and mistletoe. On Christmas Eve I would be put to bed early, and sometime in the night a pillow slip with presents in would be put at the foot of the bed, and when I got up there would be the tree in the corner of the living room all lit up not with fairy lights but with
small candles which were in holders attached to something like a small bulldog clip, when I think now how dangerous that could have been, I shudder. I was very small then so memories are vague but I do remember the feeling of warmth and love.
Sometime during the festive season there would also be a visit to Fairyland at Waltons Department Store, and a walk round the town to view the Christmas windows and debate which ones were best. As I got older, of course I was old enough to be involved in the preparations , we had by this time moved to the house in St Andrews Road, it was a bit bigger than the other one but at that time there was still a range for cooking in the living room. There was a kitchen or rather a scullery with a sink and running water and a very large copper for boiling the washing.
On Christmas Eve my Father would take me up to the woods along Mill Road, we had to go through Mr Downes farmyard to reach them and there we would dig up a suitable tree to take home to decorate. When it was finished with, it could then be planted again, the decorations were as now, tinsel, glass ornaments, and paper and always a star or fairy on top. Paper chains and the greenery picked from the hedges decorated the room.
Entertainment was from the radio, or we played table games. And we all had to stop and listen to the Kings Christmas Day Broadcast.
Of course during the war things were a bit different, as food and clothes were rationed but I suppose having a father who worked on a farm made some things a bit easier as there was always, vegetables rabbit, milk and cream and apples saved from harvest and my mother was a good cook and knew how to use the rations to advantage.
Church was the most important aspect at this time with its crib, most of the people here went to church and the religious festivals were well attended.
There were a lot of hand made gifts at this time - knitted socks and gloves, tea and egg cosies, embroidered hankies etc. All put in a pillowcase with any other little treats saved from the sweet ration, and despite restrictions most people made the best of the special day.
© 2011 Nell Tolley
These memories of Nell Tolley were originally published in the Guinness Newsletter and is reproduced with the permission of the author.
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