Thursday, 16 December 2010

Thoughts of Christmas past

I bought a pack of dates today - just like the dates mum used to buy every Christmas. She was the only one who ate them though! They still have the same cream plastic "stabber" down the centre of the box, pretending to be the branch that the dates hung from . . .

These always formed part of the Christmas feast. Keeping them company on the sideboard, would be a box of Turkish Delight, a semi-circular box of "pretend" orange and lemon slices, and a box of Manderin oranges, each fruit wrapped in tissue paper with a delightfully foreign print on it. Sometimes they still had a little stalk and glossy dark green leaves and they seemed so exotic.

Back in the 50s and early 60s, turkey was still relatively rare as the main component of Christmas dinner. We, along with many of our neighbours, had a capon - which was a sterilized male chicken of almost turkey-like proportions. This would be stuffed with Paxo Sage and Onion stuffing (there was no other), and accompanied by sprouts, carrots and roast potatoes. Even if mum had ever heard of bread sauce, it never put in an appearance on our table. Mincemeat and Christmas pudding were always of the "boughten" variety - though my gran had always made her own, along with pickles, chutneys, jams and jellies. Somehow these skills skipped a generation with my mum . . .

Sometimes we had a proper (fir) tree, and I can remember having some little painted crinkly tin candle holders which fixed on the branch with a crocodile clip type attachment. You actually LIT the candles (Health and Safety would have 40 blue fits these days). We had glass baubles to go on the tree, but sadly more and more got broken each year and we no longer have any of the original ones. They weren't exotic - just simple spray-painted balls - some with dimples in. Tinsel went a long way to making up for any shortfall in baubles.

On a couple of occasions, I remember we didn't have the money for a tree, so mum and I went and cut off a big branch of gorse (or furze as we called it), which we painted with a thick paste of flour and water and then sprinkled with coloured glitter. One year we had a beautiful branch of Silver Birch, which was so graceful, and looked lovely on one end of the sideboard, glittered and decorated with the smaller decorations.

Mum and I would spend an afternoon in the run up to Christmas pasting together paper chains to hang up. You could buy packets of paper chain strips made from thin sugar-paper.

Mum always bought a few extra things each week in the run up to Christmas, to spread the cost. Peak Freans cheeselets were one extra - you can still get them, but I'm sure they tasted better back then. There would usually be a box of chocolates (Milk Tray) and a tin of biscuits. There was always a tin of ham too, though sometimes we would have a piece of boiling bacon on Boxing Day, though normally it was a brace of Pheasants which dad would bring home from Romsey.

No wine of course, but a bottle of sherry, a bottle of Advocaat, sometimes Dubonnet and a few light ales in case any of the neighbours came over.

When I see what some people are putting into their trolleys during Christmas week it makes my eyes water! We try not to go too over the top - I tend to be buying ingredients so I can make our Christmas treats, which is so much more satisfying. A new Christmas ritual in our house is to share a bottle of Cava as we open the presents - it feels quite decadent! My neighbour down the hill breakfasts on smoked salmon and scrambled egg on toast, with Champagne to wash it down! Good on her.


  1. Hullo BB, Hope you're getting more in the Christmas spirit as it gets closer. I find I am having to push myself to look forward to Christmas this year somehow.

    We too made the paper chain decorations and shared the delights of cheeselets, milk tray and a box of Quality St. Common items too in the drinks section although we substituted Dubonnet with whisky and there was also home made rasperry and ginger wine for us kids - made from a concentrate syrup you could buy in the shops. I seem to remember it took some time to mature though. We would also have 4 cans each of Tennants lager and McEwans export for visitors. I thought advocaat {it had to be Warninks} was nectar from heaven made up with lots of lemonade.

    We too had the clip on candle holders but these changed to electric lights. G's Swiss Mum used the proper candle holders with the clips you describe right up till she died although they were supplamented with electric light and only lit as the family sat round and sang carols on Christmas Eve. Christmas Dinner was served on Christmas Eve in the continental way too which I always thought was lovely and is the tradition the family still keeps.

    As you can tell from the length of the comment - this was a very evocative post.


  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much Al. Sometimes I wish I could whisk myself back to childhood, but at least I can keep the memories alive in my head.

    I like the idea of your Continental Christmas with the meal preceding the Main Event! We also celebrate on Christmas Eve as that's our middle daughter's birthday, so think of us having Venison steaks (from the Balmoral Estate, no less!) and something in the claret line . . .

    Isn't it funny how folks just bought a 4 pack of light and dark beers (for guests). When you think of how people pile up the booze these days - and that's just for whoever's IN the house, not the neighbours across the way . . .

  3. This all sounds so familiar, and right now I am eating dates! I refuse to pay the price of a fir and so bring in a standard holly in a pot (given us by our son two years ago); this year it has berries for the first time, very festive. Alongside it sits a potted bay. We make our own cheese sables and almost everything else, even our own Christmas cards and Christmas newsletter to friends we have not seen all year. Hope you have a festive time.

  4. Dates,figs,Chinese ginger, Turkish delight,Cadbury's foil covered tree decorations and A crate of Davenports beer for the village Carol singers (bought by my Gramps)and a big tin of Quality street for the holidays :0)

  5. have you tried chocolate covered dates, they are yummy. I'm struggling too to get into the Christmas spirit, probably wont really feel it till i finish work on Wednesday x

  6. I enjoyed this post so much--slightly different list of holiday treats. My mother and I were the only ones who really liked dates. They were [and still are] "Dromedary" brand, a plain cardboard pkg over-wrapped in a dark orange cellophane. She stuffed the dates with a dab of peanut butter and rolled them in granulated sugar.
    It was important to have a box of ribbon candy--and I'm not sure we even liked it--but it was part of the tradition.
    There were gold foil-wrapped milk chocolate "dollars" for our stockings--greatly treasured.
    So glad you wrote this up and that your memories are inspiring others to share as well.