THE HOLLY AND THE IVY
How I longed to be in the top form at school, as only the girls of that form sang the carol The Holly and the Ivy at the Christmas concert. That stage was never reached, however, as my parents had transferred me to a convent school earlier, Christmas was still magic to me, my sister and seven brothers in the period between the two world wars, and the excitement began each September when my mother made her Christmas puddings. On the expedition to the grocer’s shop to buy the ingredients, I found it intriguing to watch the little trucks move along the overhead railway track to the station where the cashier officiated, followed by its return journey carrying the change and receipt. All the power for this journey was derived by a spring activated by the counter assistant’s tug on the handle above her head.
Mother unearthed an enormous earthenware crock to contain all the items needed for their production, and into it went raisins, sultanas, currants, chopped blanched almonds, breadcrumbs, flour, sugar, chopped peel, spices, stout and rum, and the mixture was stirred with a big wooden spoon by each member of the family, who had to make a personal, secret wish in the process.
Finally the pudding basins were filled, tied in cloths and boiled for several hours in the stone copper before being stored away in the pantry.
Unfortunately much of the fruit used had to be prepared beforehand.The raisins had to be stoned -1 helped with this sticky process -and the sultanas and currants had to be washed and searched for foreign bodies.
Excitement mounted as enormous parcels arrived at the house and were spirited away from watchful eyes. However, in those days children did not expect to receive the fabulous presents of today and the wrappings were of ordinary brown paper. Often many of the presents consisted of items actually made by members of the family – brothers, sisters and parents. One Christmas I made for my sister a pair of bedsocks (much needed in a six-bed-roomed, rambling house with no central heating), and was allowed to stay up late to finish them on Christmas Eve. Sadly, one sock was found to be twice as large as the other!
One year the three youngest children (myself, Kenneth and Dennis) agreed to pool our Saturday pennies to save towards presents for the other members of the family, but Kenneth refused to contribute until finally he gave his penny so that his name could be included on the presents. Once they had been bought he demanded his penny back, threatening to tell the recipients what their
When my sister was young she was shocked as one of these cheapjacks sold a chamber pot to an old country woman. It was unwrapped, and when the woman demanded paper for wrapping she was handed a piece about the size of a toilet roll, to the shrieks of laughter from spectators.
Our anticipation increased as father brought home packets of nuts, oranges, crates of Trask’s mineral waters and other items, to join the other things in the pantry, together with my special joy- boxes of crackers.
There also arrived pheasants, a chicken and rabbits from farmers as repayment for legal work carried out by my father in his spare time. One year mother won a goose in a Girl Guides Christmas raffle, but it was so tough that we all decided it had died of old age!
On Christmas Eve, the huge kitchen table was piled high with brown paper-covered parcels containing the presents, and the last two coming in from Midnight Mass had the task of creeping around to leave the packets in the appropriate bedrooms. In the morning the children were awakened by the bells from the Parish Church at 7am, and soon the rooms were filled with torn brown paper as the treasures were examined.
One Christmas I had expressed a wish for a handbag I’d seen in a shop window in the town.When I opened my presents I found not only that one, but several other handbags! On another occasion I received a doll’s pram I’d coveted, but it served my two youngest brothers as a go-cart on which they rode up and down the corridors to such an extent that the bodywork and mobility suffered badly.
At another time my sister, going around the bedrooms to help clear up the paper, found that the youngest member of the family Dennis, had poured her bottle of perfume (from her boy friend, later her husband) over his dirty vest. She wailed:“If only he’d poured it over a clean vest I could have put it in the drawer with my clothes so that the smell was used!”
My sister related to me the tale of a past Christmas when she, and her two eldest brothers, were given a drum, tambourine and trumpet as presents.They walked round and round the kitchen table playing these ad nauseam. However, all these instruments mysteriously disappeared after the Christmas dinner: it was easy to guess the reason, particularly as the older folk needed a doze after a heavy meal.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day were party times and involved the whole family and friends.There was no television, and enjoyment was achieved from party games and singing together. I doubt whether there is any greater happiness with the sophisticated entertainment available for people today, for it came from deep-rooted love and friendship.
presents were if he didn’t get his way!
Yeovil was a small market town in the 1920s when I was a child, and near Christmas the centre of the town – the Borough and Silver Street – had an atmosphere of magic with stalls lit by oil lamps and acetylene flares, and displaying a wide variety of articles – cough sweets and herbal remedies, local village produce such as meat, dairy goods, pies, cakes, sweetmeats and home-made garments.The whole was pervaded by a certain smell, and this, combined with the stall-holders and cheapjacks shouting their wares, created a never-to-be-forgotten mental picture.