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  • Writer's pictureAnna | Not Needing New

Christmas Past


I still think Christmas is magical. Even though I know too much.


I remember the final year of orchestrating the suspended reality for my children and hearing the younger one say that it wasn't real, that the magic was more or less over, but I told her that there was still huge magic. Even when it sinks in that the Brilliant gift-giver will not be flying thorugh the midnight sky to you and to all children, there is still deep magic in the knowledge that you are lucky enough to have had a family who created that for you, and love you still.


Here are some snippets of memories from a house in Oxford, in the 1970s, when barely a photograph was taken but core feelings were etched forever, somewhere.



  1. We would choose a sock to be our stocking. It was never a 'real' Christmas stocking, made only to be a Christmas stocking, it was always one of your socks and you had to find the one you wanted on Christmas Eve and leave it out on the end of your bed. We had no fireplace, and there were just too many socks to hang across a mantlepiece even if we had one (we had one of those gas fires with a brittle biscuit bone-coloured grid that the blue flames made glowing hot). You were wise to choose a knee sock.

  2. At some point in the night our parents must have crept from room to room and filled the socks with bulging treats. They always tied a knot in the end. Sometimes it was hard to get the knot undone in the dark morning. The most exciting part was coming to, on your bunk bed and wiggling your feet under the blankets (duvets were not a thing yet) to hear the rustling sound of the unknown things in that sock and knowing that 'He Had Been'.

  3. Father Christmas (it was never Santa) was remarkably consistent throughout the 70s. There were some things that were ALWAYS in your sock. They were, a satsuma (at the bottom), a balloon to blow up and a few bits of chocolate money. Then you might get a couple of little things on top of that. One year I got the best thing ever. In the half light of my bottom bunk, while Sarah still slept above, I explored what FC had given to me, tipping the things out to check that he hadn't forgotten any important parts and I found something brilliant. It was a small, handheld wheel with a trigger that you could squeeze. The wheel, with a spiral pattern on the front, span around and dragged a flint over a rough steel lump. Sparks flew out everywhere and it made a hum. It was a tiny manually operated Catherine Wheel. I sat under my blankets, spinning out sparks in the dark with the firework smell burning into my memory. I was so happy.

  4. We would go from bedroom to bedroom to see what everyone else had got; to see who had eaten all their chocolate money and who had even bothered with the satsuma. Some balloons would be blown up. We needed to ensure FC had been fair. Children are very aware of that.

  5. We didn't go into our parents' room to open anything. We were a pack first and individual sons and daughters second. We amassed as children.


6. It would be a LONG time before we were allowed to open a single real present.


7. Everyone had to be washed, dressed, in receipt of breakfast - no fancy scrambled eggs etc, just drift in and get your weetabix. We had to wait for mum and dad to have the turkey on, the potatoes sorted, the pudding steaming - everything cooking, before we were allowed to gather around the tree in the Sitting Room and wait for our turns.


8. Mum and dad had a piece of paper and were ready to write down who had been given what by whom. It was organised. It started with the youngest, you witnessed what everyone opened and it was written down so that the correct Thanks could be issued in the early New Year.


9. The Pile under the tree was AMAZING. Huge. Raft-like. You looked at the labels on the big boxes at the back and hoped one had your name on. Here's one for Robert, for Duncan, for Lucy, for Mum, for Sarah, for Tom, for Rosie, for Matthew, for Dad, for Anna! Horray! one for the baby, one for all of us to share.

two small children standing with their arms around each other.
Sarah with her Christmas snake and me. In the sitting room with the stairs behind, Xmas 1979.


10. The paper was thin and the smell was talc and soap and the prickles of electrical plastic in polystrene. The batteries were always missing and plugs were not attached. Remote control cars had to wait. You promised the teddy that you would always keep his box. Until you forgot on Boxing day.


11. Christmas lunch was turkey. It was almost the only time we ever had a roast dinner. We had benches and not chairs. We pulled cheap crackers and wore the hats. We were so many that one year the guinea pig hutch was lifted into the kitchen and covered with a cloth. The youngest kids had to eat from that while squeaks and shuffles came from within.


12. No one liked Christmas pudding really. But mum always boiled it for three hours. We wanted the custard though.


13. It was the only time a cloth was put on that hard-working table. When my dad left home and my mum re-married, she sewed the Christmas table cloth into a dress and got the bus to the register office wearing it.



Not all of childhood was entirley magical, but those early Christmases, with sparks and satsumas and our parents banging wooden spoons on pans in the night garden to be the bells of the passing sleigh, they were magic enough.




11 Comments


mollymooandjonnotoo
Apr 28

I had one of those Catherine wheel spinners, they were amazing and would probably be illegal these days!

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cathy.hendry1
Jan 01

This conjures up such similar memories for me. The one thing I cursed myself for not realising (doh!) about the socks (my dad's) that we put at the end of our beds was that my parents could fill the other sock of the pair downstairs and just quickly swap them over with no palaver, I totally regretted buying my kids a special Christmas stocking each then having to creep around filling them and putting them back!

Lovely memories; I can still feel the excitement of feeling the heavy sock at the end of the bed and knowing he'd been!

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sarahsmail
Dec 17, 2023

Xmas in Ireland in the 80s sounds pretty similar. My mam always made Christmas special for us. I remember the brilliant dinner, the crackers, the presents. One year the electricity went completely and my mother cut the raw turkey up into chunks and made the most delicious turkey curry on our wood fired stove. We played cards and board games by candle light and had a brilliant time.

Fab writing Anna & I look forward to the novel/autobiography of your life!!

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susancara58
Dec 14, 2023

Loved this, I’m a bit older than you and in the states, but my mom is from Germany so Christmas Eve was big, we opened a gift then, and as teens all gifts, had eggnog (a bit of whiskey in as we got older), the stockings in the morning were the biggest hit as well and I’ve carried that on, so that my adult children are carrying on that tradition most ardently (and now they make me a stocking with all sorts of creative goodies when they come over!!) we had a sparse Christmas growing up but my mom made it magical for us and we always were thrilled, it’s so much more than the gifts!!!

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rhast7e
Dec 14, 2023

How lovely, Anna. I am a similar age to you but spent my childhood in South Africa so our Christmas was different to the UK traditions but there was always great excitement for what FC might have left us under the tree. I have wonderful memories of Christmases spent with our extended family.

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