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Reflecting On Christmas Of The Past

Gina Narramore

Gina Narramore



Looking back to Christmas from the 50s and 60s is a wonderful way to celebrate colourful childhoods and festive moments from a different era. 

Whether you were a toddler, child or teen, Christmas in the late 50s and 60s is likely to evoke magical memories of festive times filled with wonder and fun. Back then, Christmas was generally a more humble occasion when it came to gift giving, dining and decorating. Moreover, time with loved ones and friends was spent in an entirely different way (thanks to the lack of mobiles, laptops and electronic devices). For many over 60-year-olds, a first Christmas memory may be of stockings filled with sweet oranges and walnuts, seldom-tasted food or perhaps an aroma or smell that wasn't familiar until the festive season began. Or maybe, they prefer to think of a favourite present or pastime that became synonymous with the season as a child.

Proving that yesteryear's Christmas can become more than a nostalgia trip, we take a look at some essential past-Christmas staples that could influence this year's Christmas. And whether you're a lover of the past or you're happier with the Christmas of today, there's space for a little trip down memory lane to get you and your loved ones talking.

An Evolution of Gift Giving

Due to factors including post-war frugality and the lower visibility and manufacturing of products, there was generally a much lesser need and desire for material things at Christmas in the 50s and 60s. Of course, children would still request lavish gifts or big presents such as a bicycle, dolls house or Spirograph, but they would often have more appreciation for gestures that would be considered smaller to today's younger generation. Christmas morning was not the gift-giving event that it has become today, and even if you love to spoil your family and friends, the way that presents of the past were given can be an essential lesson for all younger people.

For the over 60s, think back to the number of presents that you would open on Christmas morning as a child and the excitement that you felt. Perhaps suggesting a reduction of presents this Christmas can give new meanings to gifts as well as a stronger appreciation for what is received. It will also help encourage less desire to have material things and can even refocus what the meaning of Christmas is for your family.

Our Love of Television and Radio Hasn't Changed!

Arguably, watching TV is a Christmas institution, and in one way or another, families have always gravitated around some form of TV or radio at Christmas. What can beat the annual "Christmas with Morecambe and Wise", "Billy Smart's Circus" or "Christmas Night with The Stars"? However, not everyone had access to a television set as a child, and even for the lucky households who did have them, there would only be one.

The lack of TVs meant that there were no added distractions from other electronic devices. It also meant that the entire family would often gather round to watch a Christmas special, in eager anticipation of entertainment that wasn't aired regularly. Quite commonly, neighbours and other relatives would join in to watch TV too! In many households today, there has been no change in a family love of watching TV together on Christmas day, and perhaps you also have one person who always requests an audience for the Queen's speech!

To keep your Christmas TV tradition in line with the past, decide on one or two "Christmas special" programmes in advance, that the entire family can watch together. We also recommend banning mobile phones or other distracting devices from the event. Although from the 50s to today, there will always be one person who will be nestled in a new book or present!

Entertainment was for the (Relative) Few

In the run-up to Christmas in the 50s and 60s, setting the atmosphere and getting people in the Christmas spirit with entertainment was more limited than it is today. There were far less global Christmas films and TV shows available to view, Christmas songs were nothing like what they became in the 80s until today, and there was less imported food and events. This meant that entertainment tended to be more tailored to locals, not the global masses and it would rarely reach out further than a single region.

Pantomimes, choirs and recitals would be a typical event to visit at Christmas, and even though some are still around today, they would attract plenty more people, often running for longer and with a more significant number of shows. From fairytale classics like Jack and the Beanstalk to wacky shows like Dinner for One and Christmas specials of favourite radio shows such as The Goon Show, you could often listen to stories and live theatre performances on the radio too. And what could be more magical than listening to a radio recording or live show from home, with a hot mug of cocoa!

Drum up the festive cheer with your loved ones by attending a local pantomime for a blast from the past. Or, you can arrange a cinema trip to see a new Christmas film for a modern twist. Additionally, try to see your local brass band or choir perform for a magical experience that you can share with your loved ones and friends.

Getting Crafty was the Norm

Christmas in the past was much more reliant on being crafty, and very often, gifts, decorations and interior furnishings were created for the festive period. Knitted jumpers, gloves and hats were a commonplace present that could be loved and hated in equal measures (does anyone remember that itchy jumper you were forced to wear on boxing day?) while mothers and aunts would often create dresses, skirts and shirts too. Baking, pickling and jam, wine or chutney making was also a common gift that could be made far ahead of time for Christmas.

We're seeing a revival in this today, with many young people deciding to gift home-made culinary treats at Christmas in place of buying them new. As with all handcrafted gifts and creations, they tend to hold more sentimental value and show real thought and consideration for the receiver, which is a lovely way to brighten someone's Christmas day! Crafting Christmas decorations is a common association with Christmas's of the past. Creating them would often be turned into a fun activity, taking an afternoon or day to make. From intricate and advanced designs to simple ones that the whole family could get involved in, decoration-making would often become a staple to Christmas. And that leads us to...

Decorations were Absolutely Charming

Christmas decorations in the 50s and 60s were delightful, having a unique beauty that was often the result of being handmade and created in smaller batches. Hand blown baubles were far more commonplace, and traditional decorations such as advent candles, advent crowns and a nativity scene would be found in many homes, creating a classic and charming feel. Blue Peter often had excellent tutorials of how to make staple Christmas decorations, adding to their appeal to children.

As decorations were used more sparsely than today's, attention would be drawn to stunning finer details too. Christmas cards and postcards would feature beautiful prints of hand-drawn landscapes and winter scenes, and displaying them proudly around the home was an ideal way to showcase them. Utilising British surroundings would also be visible in many homes, with cuttings of holly, pine and mistletoe being places on mantlepieces, behind pictures and from curtain poles. And let's not forget the vibrant, hand-made paper chains that would take centre stage across the living room ceiling.

Who Remembers the Department Store Trip?

Harrods in London, Lewis's in Manchester and Rackhams in Birmingham were just a few department stores that would draw in the crowds come Christmas. Thanks to their spectacular Christmas displays, magical Christmas products and illuminations that were seldom seen, they became havens for those who loved Christmas. Even without the need to enter, plenty of children would press their noses against windows to catch a glimpse of fantastic window displays and winter scenes.

Today, online shopping has meant that fewer people shop in department stores however at Christmas, it can make a fantastic day out! Thankfully, lavish Christmas displays and well-curated shopping options have meant that certain stores still draw in crowds and Christmas as people relive the spirit. However, they still lack the scenes and crowds of yesteryear. We recommend travelling to a nearby shopping town such as York in Yorkshire, Fenwicks in Newcastle or Covent Gardens, which are known for their stunning Christmas displays and festive atmosphere.

Christmas Dinner was a Treat Like no Other

Christmas dinner in the 50s and 60s often meant being able to taste foods that otherwise would seldom be (or never) eaten throughout the year. Crisp Yorkshire puddings, fluffy spuds and mouthwatering pigs in blankets would be eaten alongside seasonal vegetables and a glass of bucks fizz or Shloer. The jury's still out on whether Brussels sprouts are tasty or not, but they're most definitely a Christmas dinner tradition! When it came to the prized crown of turkey, this was not always the meat of choice at Christmas. Until factory farming became the standard and supermarkets took over, a chicken was expensive meat. For this reason, chicken, capon or goose was also considered to be luxury meats that were saved for special occasions like Christmas dinner.

Christmas dinner would always end with a spectacular show of a flaming Christmas pudding, often soaked in brandy and with a coin inside for luck. And let's not forget that the wearing of paper hats found in Christmas crackers was mandatory throughout the meal! The key to these dinners was that they were indulgent, not excessive, and quantities would often be smaller than what is received today. This is something that is important to keep in mind for a modern Christmas. We should aim for a lesser focus on lavish displays and oversized portions of food, and instead, focus on the appreciation of the food that we do have and the company that we eat it in.

Did Someone say Parlour Games?

Without nearly as much electronic influence, Christmas night and boxing day would often be filled with innocent and easy-to-partake-in parlour games that the whole family could take part in. From charades to consequences, many of these games would require little or no paper and pens and could take up hours of fun.

Rather than opting for more complex games such as Monopoly or Mouse Trap, we recommend reliving the parlour game traditions of the 1950s and 1960s that require a lot of imagination, conversation and participation from the whole family. It's an excellent way to bond and spend time together and who knows, you may even find out something new about your loved ones!

The Snow!

The big freeze of 1962 became a huge inconvenience that had widespread adverse effects, but it also meant the Christmas day was one of the most magical and wondrous celebrations imaginable! Generally, a white Christmas was much more common in the 50s and 60s. UK winters tended to be much colder and receive far more snowfall. Sledging, snowman building and even ice-skating were activities that would take place on Christmas day and throughout the holiday, something that we couldn't possibly imagine doing today!

Unfortunately, the weather is out of our control. But revive this white Christmas nostalgia with a brisk walk outside after Christmas dinner or a family trip to the local park instead. It's an excellent way to lighten up after a heavy Christmas dinner as well refresh the senses and appreciate each other's company.

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