Christmas in the 1950s always began with a party. My father worked for a company that produced electric lighting, regarded as a good employer to its few hundred workers.
Each year they held a party for employees’ children aged between five and 14. The party was held in the colourfully-decorated canteen on a Saturday afternoon, with plenty of lively party games, prizes for everyone, a huge spread for tea, and lastly, the excitement of Father Christmas coming down the chimney.
This chimney was constructed of plywood covered with brick-effect wallpaper, built from floor to ceiling in front of the hatch to the kitchen so that Father Christmas could use this as his entrance. A circle of chairs was placed a few yards from the chimney as a barrier to prevent inquisitive children looking up the chimney and ruining the illusion.
After our tea we gathered round the chimney and were encouraged to shout for Father Christmas, with huge excitement when his black boots were seen dangling down to the floor. Several sacks followed him, containing parcels individually named, all lovely games and toys chosen for each child after consulting the parents on the child’s interests.
O Christmas tree!
Also much appreciated at the party, particularly by the younger children, was the huge Christmas tree put up in the canteen for a few weeks. It was spectacularly decorated, including liberal use of twinkling novelty tree lights – an excellent display of the company’s own products.
Each year the tree was taken down on Christmas Eve to be sent to an employee’s home for their family to enjoy. The management chose the employee based on their year’s work, and we were thrilled when my father announced that the tree would be coming to us. He had to measure the height of our ceiling, so the tree could have a few feet cut off the bottom before it was delivered by company van. It filled the bay in our sitting room, complete with some of the decorations and lights loaned to us for the festive season.