Christmas -a time for the family

'Uncle Joe', the G.I. who brightened my family's wartime Christmases with tins of fruit, ham, steak and a good supply of orange juice.

‘Uncle Joe’, the G.I. who brightened my family’s wartime Christmases with tins of fruit, ham, steak and a good supply of orange juice.

These days the commercialism begins with shops displaying Christmas cards as early as September, and a gradual stream of merchandise follows everywhere you turn. We’re bombarded by advertisements for children’s toys, and decorated trees start appearing in houses, shops, and pubs long before Christmas.

How different it was when I was a child, being brought up in the war! The first few years are a little hazy apart from the odd recollection of hastening to the shelters at the sound of sirens or alternatively gathering under the dining table with plugs in our ears, but I remember Christmases towards the end of the war much more vividly.

My parents became friends with an American G.I. who subsequently became our Uncle Joe. Lots of goodies were given to us – tins of fruit, ham, steak and lots of orange juice along with lovely Christmas presents sent over from America for me and my brothers and sisters. I remember so well one particular gift I had, a paper cut-out book based on the American cartoon characters Blondie and Dagwood. A series of films was made in the 1940s following the adventures of the Dagwood family.
The years that came just after the war hold the really special memories. In the late 1940s we looked forward to the festive season by making our own paper chains with loops of coloured paper and writing letters to Father Christmas, strongly believing he’d come down the chimney on Christmas Eve.

Just before Christmas we’d be invited to a party organised by the firm for which my father worked, and I was lucky enough to also go to my grandad’s firm’s party. I still have the Our Girls’ Tip Top book given to me at one of these. My grandad became a special part of Christmas because on Christmas night we would eagerly wait for our uncle to collect us in his large expensive car and transport us to grandad’s house. It was such a treat to travel in such style, and once there we’d gather in the parlour where a lovely tea would be laid out. With aunts and uncles, we’d sit around the table tucking into mince pies, tinned fruit and evaporated milk and a blancmange-type sweet called ajunket.

After this substantial tea we’d all go into the front room – a room hardly ever used except for special occasions and we’d open our presents from aunts, uncles, grandad, and grandma.

I was never disappointed with anything I had, and I still have the Lassie Come Home book given to me on one of those occasions. I would read a few chapters a night to my younger brothers and sister before they went to bed.

Some of the books Irene Purslow received as Christmas presents after the war, including Our Girls' Tip Top and Lassie Come Home

Some of the books Irene Purslow received as Christmas presents after the war, including Our Girls’ Tip Top and Lassie Come Home

As I grew older and became an avid film fan, I looked forward to the film albums I Invariably received over the years.

While the table was being cleared in the parlour to make way for the adults to play cards, we’d gather round the piano and grandad would lead us into a sing-song. In his younger days he’d played piano at his local cinema accompanying the silent films.

Our Christmas day would end after playing a few games and reading our books while the adults played cards and had a drink, then we’d be taken home in that lovely posh car again.

What a difference to the Christmases we experience today with television and the need to spend, spend, spend being the main priorities.

I find even more distasteful the idea of hotels stimulating Christmas with their turkey and tinsel weekends as early as October.

How lovely those old-fashioned Christmases were, with the emphasis on families getting together and generally enjoying themselves, but never forgetting the true meaning of Christmas.

Irene Purslow