THE FAMILY CHRISTMAS PARTY
Christmas is a magical time for most children, but for me in the 1930s it was more so. That was because of my Auntie Lily’s Christmas party on Christmas Day.
First there was the joy of the Christmas stocking, then more excitement mid-afternoon when we all met up after a long walk because there were no tramcars on that day.
There was my paternal grandmother, her two daughters and two sons with their respective spouses and children.Ten of us cousins all bursting with excitement. But Lily and Charlie, who had saved up all year to provide this entertainment, were childless.
The parlour door was taken off to make room for a tresde table to reach through into the kitchen. Parents sat at the parlour end and we children at the kitchen end, where our auntie could supervise us as she served the tea and food.The adults had cold meat and pickles, and we had potted meat sandwiches followed by tea cakes and buns, all home-made.Then there was a luxury – wobbly, shiny j elly on a bed of custard.
After tea the table was taken away.We children knocked balloons around as parents shouted:“Mind the gas mantle!”. Grandma would sit on the horsehair sofa nursing the youngest child, then father played the piano while Uncle Charlie sang his party pieces.
The song Abide With Me was a signal for grandma to have a good cry.We children were waiting for the time when our auntie came into
the room carrying a clothes basket full ofbrown paper parcels.We all had to sit on the floor while she called out our names so that we could each receive a present and give a thank-you kiss. Each present had to be admired by all before the next one was given. There was no rush.
My cousins, George and Albert, were twins so they always got the same and knew what was coming.
After a suitable interval, gifts were given by each auntie and grandma in the same way.These were very inexpensive gifts – maybe a torch or purse, boxed board game, French knitting set or toy kaleidoscope.We children were delighted with them.
We played party games, too – the silly ones in which the young ones were sent out of the room and the uncles set the scene.We were brought in one by one and shown a basin of water with a sixpence in it.The, blindfolded, we were asked to get the money out. Easy – but when the blindfold was taken off we realised wed been fishing for the sixpence in a chamber pot filled with weak tea.We were all familiar with chamber pots and their contents in those days! Other games were Postman’s Knock and Poor Puss.
At around midnight one year my aunt wheeled in a barrel of ice cream.This was a tub suspended in a larger tub of crushed ice, on wheels. She’d hired it from the ice-cream makers and decorated it with crepe paper. Midnight ice-cream didn’t seem to upset any tummies, as I recall.
The Christmas tree stood on top of the piano and was decorated with small novelties and sweets. During the evening Charlie would lift it down and put it on an improvised turntable on a stool so that we could view it. Our names were drawn out of a hat and we each had a pick. Everyone took his or her time over this until the rest were shouting impatiently for them to get a move on.
These jollifications went on until the early hours of Boxing Day.Then, when everyone was tired out, the best was yet to come. Uncle Charlie would take us home in his motorbike and sidecar in relays. Some of the party would set off walking and he’d pick them up on his way back from the first trip. Father would pull his cap down round his ears and sit on the pillion, with Mum in the sidecar and me on her knees with scarves wound round our heads. Crash helmets were unheard of. Uncle had a leather helmet like the First World War pilots. It was wonderful riding through the deserted streets on a very cold Boxing Day morning.We all slept for the rest of the day.
When the war started those happy times fin-ished.The older cousins were being called up, and one uncle and one cousin were soon to be prisoners of war. Grandma passed away and the families broke up.These are precious memories to me. I feel that we had much happier times with our simple toys and games than the children of today, with their sophisticated videos and computers.