I spent one Christmas in Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham, England with my friend Marilyn Draper. I cannot remember why I did that, nor do I remember our hosts.
My Mum came to the U.S.A. for my ordination to the priesthood in Dec 1976. She was with me for my first American Christmas, spent in Fitchburg with the late (and sorely missed) Al and Doris Williams.
Two years ago I was in Beaufort, S.C. for Christmas. It’s a lovely town.
One year long ago, (maybe 1982) I flew home to Bristol on Christmas Day to be with my family. ‘Twas an overnight flight (Boston, to New York City, to London); thus I arrived in the U.K. on Boxing Day. My family members had a delayed Christmas dinner at the home of my oldest sister Maureen. I fell sound asleep at the dinner table.
Back in the fifties of the 20th Century, Mum and my oldest sister Maureen would make Christmas Puddings and Christmas cake in November.
A silver sixpence, if available, would be hidden within the pudding. So we each ate the pudding (smothered in custard) very carefully, hoping to encounter the riches of a “tanner” in the slice we happened to receive.
The Christmas cake would be covered in marzipan and hard icing. I always enjoyed the marzipan more than the cake or the icing.
Chicken was a luxury, so our Christmas meat was usually pork.
I clearly remember my first sliver of chicken. A neighbour named Cliff Witheredge gave Mum and Dad an old hen, way after her laying years, from the hen-house in his back garden on Gratitude Road. Mum knew how to pluck and dress it (a dead skill these days). So we each had a wee bit of chicken alongside the pork that Christmas).
“Father Christmas” (never “Santa Claus”) left our big gifts in a pillow case (not a stocking) at the foot of our beds in the wee hours. I remember getting a child’s tricycle, and later a scooter.
But the best part was on Christmas Day at about 4:00 p.m. The small gifts (and the childrens gifts to each other) were stacked under the Christmas tree in the “front room”.
Dad would be “Father Christmas”, and would hand us each gift, (lots of socks, handkerchiefs, and underwear!)
But that’s also when I received my first “Phillips” electric razor, and became a man!
A couple of years after I entered the work world I chose not to give individual gifts to my siblings.
Instead I bought a family gift - viz four high stools (they were on metal tripod legs, with wooden seats), to supplement our insufficient store of dining table chairs.
Those stools became part of our family life for very many years. I even remember that I bought them from a shop on Park Street, Bristol.
After Christmas Day we lucky English and Welsh people could look forward to Boxing Day (Dec 26th).
Back thenBoxing Daywas not a holiday in Scotland. Instead the Scots had New Years’ Day for their extra holiday, but Jan 1st was not a holiday for the English and Welsh.
In England I enjoyed Boxing Day even more than Christmas Day for the pressure was off.
For “tea” (the evening meal) we would enjoy cold meats, pickled cabbage, pickled onions, beetroots, sausage dogs, and mashed spuds, with leftover mince pie or cold Christmas “pud” for “afters”.
Of course those were not necessarily better days than these. But my memories are precious so I am glad to share them.
I also confess to teary eyes as I think about my Dad (who died in 1974), and my Mum (whose death was in 2001).