So when did Christmas become Christmas day? What I mean is, at what point did Christmas become all about Christmas Day, writes Barney Felce of The Pomfret Arms.
As far as I remember it used to begin around about a week before Christmas day itself, then it continued until around the 3rd January.
First thing to do was get a Christmas tree. Sometimes it would be from a farm or somewhere in the country, but usually it would come from the local greengrocers back room. The room would be rammed to the rafters with trees of all shapes and sizes. Pound a foot was the general rule and we would spend what felt like hours trying to find one that would fill a quarter of the living room. Getting the tree home was the next part of the adventure. Strapped across the roof of the car or walked along if the car wasn’t starting that day (weather dependent).
Next was finding a bucket that was big enough to fit the roots in and give it plenty of growing room. Roots were essential as obviously we would plant the tree after the holiday and re-use it the following year. That never happened, they were always dead by then. Into the garden next to dig some soil and find some bricks to support the tree in the bucket. Drag the whole shebang through the house on a tea tray dropping needles all over the gaff.
We were now ready to position the tree. This was mainly about rotating the tree until there were no patchy bits showing. The red crepe paper would then appear and the bucket would be wrapped up. Lights out and plug in for a test. Fast forward a couple of hours to the point where the lights are actually working. That could be because all the bulbs have been in and out thirty odd times, or the towel had been thrown in and Daves Electrical had been visited for a new set.
Then the tinsel, there were some tatty ones and some snazzy thick ones with gold and red shininess. Same ones every year. Glass baubles, the robin with one eye, and all the other nik naks and trinkets. Top of the tree would have the angel on it, not a star or a fairy, but an angel. If the angels dress is looking a bit tatty then the crepe paper is back out, white this time, and a new outfit is designed and sellotaped together.
Finally all sorted out, big light out and sit back in awe of the beautiful twinkliness. A little bit later the big brother would come home and strip the whole lot down and do it all again. So that would be the tree done and dusted in around six or seven hours.
Another thing that just doesn’t happen anymore is the room decorations. Elaborate geometric designs from corner to corner with interwoven loops and carefully placed hanging things, I don’t know what to call the hanging things, shiny round things that fold down flat to be put away in the Christmas decs box until next time. Paper chains to be stuck together, can you buy paper chains anymore?We used to get them from the local post office. I wonder if they still sell them there? These days you might see more lights on the outside of the houses, but theres nothing on the inside. They used to go up on about the eighteenth of December and they would stay up until the evening of the sixth of January. Then the bareness of the room would be awful. The horrible realisation that it was all over for another year. Just horrible.
Anyway back to the week before Christmas. So we have the tree and the decorations in place. Its probably about time to go and reserve the two essential Christmas magazines. Radio Times and TV Times. They will come a few days later and even the covers of these will make us excited. If you ask anyone now who was on the cover of seventies Christmas TV and Radio Times they will surely say Morecambe and Wise. Probably dressed in a Dickensian style with top hats, britches and glasses. I would imagine they weren’t on the cover every year but I expect they did a few. Thinking about it now Radio Times would often have an illustration of something suitably festive. A snow covered village or a shepherd or something of that ilk.
Then we would read them from cover to cover and plan out the viewing. This was pretty tough as we didn’t have a video recorder and Sky Plus only existed in the minds of mad men and scientists. Lets not forget as well that there were only two real channels. BBC2 was there but only seemed to show Open University programmes or snooker which was pretty dull at the best of times, and almost completely pointless in black and white.
The plus side of this was that the programmes had to be much better. Plus every man and his dog would watch the same stuff. The chances of that these days are about five million to one I would imagine.
These programmes would be enhanced some years by another visit to Daves Electrical. You see we were quite often watching telly on a black and white, sometimes a black and white portable. The license was cheaper. So sometimes as a treat we would rent a colour telly just before Christmas. When that happened it was very, very good.
The tellys were always refurbished (ie, the mahogany was polished with pledge) by Dave. Some were better than others. Usually the size of a coal shed and never quite fully working. Some had to be turned on an hour before you wanted to watch them, others would emit a high pitched whistle at all times. Some problems you could cope with, having to change channels with a matchstick because the knobs had all gone missing sort of problems. But others, like the picture being mainly green, were unacceptable and had to be sorted out by Dave.
Ok so we have the place looking lovely, a colour tv warming up in the corner of the room. We are going to need to get the place ready for Gran. Camp beds out, occasionally Z beds but usually camp. One of the kids would donate their single bed for Gran’s use. This would be taken apart and carted downstairs to be rebuilt. This would be done at least a day before Gran’s arrival. This was so we could plan the whole room around the tree, the three piece suite, the sideboard, the single bed, the poufe and still have room to fit five or six adults and three kids around the whistling telly. This also meant that there was a bed in the living room not being used that night, the same living room with the Christmas tree and the decorations. Not to forget the Canon Gas miser fire. It had two settings and broken radiants. Super meant three radiants on . The other setting was only the central radiant and was named Miser. Brilliant. So anyway if I played my cards right I could get to sleep in the special Christmas room, possibly with the tree lights and fire on until I was asleep when they would all be shut down for the night.
Around about this time we would go to Hillards to do the Christmas shop. At least two trolleys would be filled to the brim and a small fortune spent. Enough food to last the best part of a week, excluding bread (from the bakery) vegetables (from the green grocer) milk (from the milkman) and drink (from Bob’s Wines).
The drinks cabinet that was built into the teak sideboard would have every kind of hard liquor available. Gin, whiskey, rum, vodka, brandy, sherry for Gran. American ginger ale, tonic, bitter lemon. Beer, lager, advocat. But as far as I can remember, no wine though. Certainly not Champagne which seems to be drunk like tap water these days. I’m not complaining about that, I like a drop of bubbly. Even if I can’t tell the difference between Moet and White Lightning. I really can’t.
Gran would be collected the next day and along with all her bits and bobs she would be installed in the living room. She would have a glass of sherry, fall asleep and her false teeth would fall out. Other people would be in and out over the next few days, often trying to conceal big bags of presents that would be tucked away in my Mums wardrobe under a pile of clothes. All very exciting and tinselly.
Sometimes there were visitors from other parts of the world. Relations who spoke in weird and interesting accents and brought presents. More camp beds would be put together and everyone would be squeezed in, things going on all over the house all the time.
We’re pretty much ready for Christmas by this stage, so when people ask the inevitable question “Are you ready for Christmas?” we can say with a reasonable amount of confidence “Ooh, just about, just got to change the telly at Dave’s” or something similar.
So now its just the best bit, waiting for Father Christmas to turn up and deliver loads of fabulous presents that bear no relation to the Christmas list that we burnt in the chimney place the previous week.
After being forced into bed the longest night would begin. I can’t believe that I ever got to sleep at all. But I did, eventually. For a few short hours. Until about five am. Then the longest day starts, frantic unwrapping, playing with thousands of new toys and so on and so forth. A sea of wrapping paper, packaging and chocolates all over the place. To be fair this is pretty much the same these days, A minefield of crunchy plastic things toy cars and discarded strawberry creams.
Then you have the games, the adults having a bit of a drink, the big film. All that’s pretty much the same. Boxing Day hasn’t changed much, except for one thing. One pretty big thing though. Christmas has ended. Its literally over now the moment you go to bed on the 25th. It’s Boxing Day which is a separate thing entirely. When I was small it was just the next bit of Christmas, the 27th would be classed as Christmas Tuesday (or whatever day it is-obviously). But now it’s done by the end of the 25th. Shops are open on Boxing Day. People are out shopping for nonsense and booking holidays.
It all feels way too normal. It’s a holiday and it’s nice but it’s different to how it was. A shop wouldn’t have been visited until at least the 29th, to re-stock the drinks cabinet, get bread and brussels. These days I can go around the corner and pretty much buy anything I want from the M&S at the garage on Christmas Day!
Christmas week would extend through until New Year’s night. Hogmanay on the television, countdowns, much merriment. More films, more games, still decorations up. Six more days of Christmas.
Nowadays you don’t hear a Christmas song after the 25th. The Christmas television adverts have gone and been replaced by adverts for kitchens and bathrooms. So you have to watch programmes counting down “The Top Fifty Soap Moments” or “The Top Fifty Comedy Moments”. I don’t want that, I want to watch a funny programme that makes me laugh, not a clip show where they show a snippet of a programme that someone else has decided is funny, followed by in depth analysis of why it was funny by some out of work actor, or worse still some idiot presenter from Channel Five.
Or the alternative is re-runs of Top Gear and of course The Only Fools and Horses Christmas special where they dress as Batman and Robin, which is funny but I don’t need to see it ever again. I can watch it in my head if I need to see it, and if I have to watch “The Office Christmas Special” one more time I’m going to throw the remote control down the waste disposal. I suppose it could be that I am now a grown up and Christmas is for kids. But I’m pretty sure It used to be bigger and possibly better.
Happy New Year…