Childhood Christmas Reminiscences

These excerpts are taken from more extensive descriptions by their authors collected and written down later in life.

Rowena Bryan born 1905

Daughter of James Henry Bryan, a signalman and Clara Kate Topham, one of ten children, 5 boys and 5 girls. She was born "in a house on the High Street plum opposite London Lane".

Christmas mother would kill a couple of chickens, we'd sit around the kitchen table and pluck them. She worked hard at Christmas, all the family came home, that was before the war when everything was upset. Mother made her own mincemeat, cured our own hams because we killed a pig each year, made our own sausages. Christmas Eve we hung our stockings up on the bed, we didn't get much in them, little things ....... we had just ivy around the pictures for decorations nothing else.


Iris Orbell (nee Butler)

Iris Orbell grew up in Great Paxton from 1919 to 1939. She moved to Lancashire but kept many fond memories of the village and villagers some of which she wrote down and were related in a phone call when she was 103. She lived initially at the Black Bull, then in Church Lane near Manor Farm where she remembered the visits home made by the young Cardell brothers in their RAF uniforms.

The Christmas party, in the schoolroom was another great occasion in which once again, the whole village was involved. In telling of these events it must be remembered that children had either a penny a week pocket money, maybe only a halfpenny, but mostly nothing at all. Therefore any events would come as a real thrill even if they could only dance around to the gramophone music provided.

The school room was decorated with holly & mistletoes, and children were made busy making colourful paper chains - these were Iittle strips of colored paper about 3/4" by 4", glued into a circle, & then subsequent strips were looped in to form a long chain. Mothers then set out to make the jellies & cakes & sandwiches. The usual long tables were made to look extremely inviting. As every child arrived, even those from far outlying farms, they were given a little wrapped gift from "Santa", (the vicar) - these would be a small toy for boys, & a necklace for the girls. Everyone was expected to bring their own plate, mug & spoon, because there was no such luxury as a church canteen. The afternoon would continue with games and general fun, and then at 5 o'clock. parents would arrive to take home their tired and excited child. The evening then was for the adults - some preferred to play whist, whilst others danced to a gramophone. So small was our community, it seemed to me that only the sick & infirm, or very young babies did not enjoy at least some part of the day.

As in most other families, children hung up their stockings (usually socks) on the bottom corner of the bed knob. As treats were so few, it wasn't surprising that excited squeals of delight could be heard very early in the mooring. Socks were eagerly, but very carefully & slowly divested of their treasures

At the top always - always an orange. then a tangerine - slowly down - a rustle of paper- pull it out gently- aah! A packet of Dolly drops (we will have one of those, now!)

If the "present'. was small enough, then little fingers would discover a further package - a string of beads, or a bracelet (all selected from Woolworths - but no matter - they were a treasure trove indeed!). Then came the toe - aah! A twist of paper again - feel it! Might it be... Yes! A new Penny, bright and sparkling, directly from the mint! Shake the sock- nothing else - so we went through our treasure again. Such was the joy of a large family in the happy, hard-up days. Each child had much the same - no favorites & certainly no greed. There was always 2 oranges &, 2 tangerines per head; oranges were about 1d each in those days, so 24 of these would have cost an enormous 2/- out of Dad's small retirement pension - a lot of money Indeed! But it so happened that on one particular Xmas, Dad was told of a young family in the village who were not going to get anything - the father was ill & the mother in dire straits financially. "Right,' said dad "put 6 oranges & 6 tangerines into a basket & take them to Mrs. X, & wish her a Happy Christmas". We were horrified - we reasoned that we should lose 50% of our Christmas fare - but a lesson in charity was firmly given to us - One that we have always remembered. I know that many another sent their own small contributions- such was our community spirit.

For us, as for most if not all, a fine chicken had been earmarked for the Great Feast. Stuffing was made from real ingredients - each of us being given a specific task such as rub breadcrumbs etc. Potatoes and carrots were taken out of the 'pit", Brussels sprouts, still with the Ice on them, were picked fresh from the garden by cold fingers. The pudding had been made & stored weeks before - in our particular case, since mother had died & our big sister was in charge, a dear kind aunt would send us the pudding, cake and mince pies.

Christmas Morning, we went to church and sang carols. Then, Christmas dinner was a real Feast, & we made the most of it, I assure you. In the afternoon, we were encouraged to go for a walk, only to return, ravenous, for our tea & to play with any new games such as Snakes and Ladders Etc, which had come our way.

A truly lovely memory.

Bert Goodwin born 1921

Bert was born in Great Paxton and lived here in Accommodation Farmhouse on the High Street on the corner of London Lane opposite the Towgood Institute until 1941 when he joined the army, after the war he came back to St. Neots. Though he never lived in Great Paxton again, he retained a strong connection with the village for the rest of his life and researched much of our history.

Mother would, of an evening, begin to get the ingredients ready for first, the Christmas cake, and later for the Christmas puddings. My job would be to help stone the raisins, chop the candied peel into small pieces, and crush the whole almonds into a powder ready for the almond paste. All the cake ingredients went through the mincer, which was screwed to the table top. When the whole mixture was completed and placed in the baking dish I would be allowed to eat the tiny remains from the mixing bowl. After a few days the cake, already baked, was ready to be iced. The marzipan made from almond paste was spread smoothly over the cake top, and then the water icing smoothed over the top with a little smoothed down the sides of the cake. A touch of cochineal would turn the remainder of the icing pink and 'A Merry Xmas' would be written on the top by putting the icing into a greaseproof bag with a small hole in the corner and then squirting this to write the greeting on the centre of the cake. The remains of the marzipan would be made into rosettes around the edge of the cake and a fluffy pink paper around the cake would complete the decoration.

The Xmas puddings would be made of a mixture of flour, sugar, butter, raisins, currants, peel, eggs and lemon juice. The mixture when complete was put into pudding basins with a white cloth tied over each basin ready for several hours of boiling. We were prepared for the Christmas celebrations!

Although Christmas didn't hold too many fond memories for me, Xmas eve was always exciting. Many of the paper chains we made at school were put up, especially in the sitting room, which was only used on high days and holidays. I fetched holly with berries and Father got the huge Yule log ready and on Christmas morning, when a great fire had been made in the kitchen range, he would shovel red hot cinders from it and calmly walk into the sitting room, put them in the fireplace with more coal on top and, hey presto, another fire was alight! The only problem was that the room was filled with smoke!