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Memories of Christmas

Remember the Christmas you got a brand new bike under the tree? Or when Dad burned the turkey? How about the time you got slightly worse for wear at the seasonal work night-out? We all have a story about Christmases past; we asked some older writers in Leeds to share theirs.
Secrets, hilarity, anticipation, generosity, grumpiness, drunkenness, joy: these
stories are funny, moving, odd, dramatic, light- hearted and poignant. They are guaranteed to
spark a memory of a significant Christmas from your own life.

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Digging up Secrets by Mally Harvey

When we lived in rural Lincolnshire we had always ordered a fresh turkey from a local farm producer; now in urban Leeds we decided to get this year’s bird from a similar source. With some research we managed to find one and we collected it two days before Christmas day. The table was set and the bread sauce was gently warming. The aroma of cloves and spices filled the air. The house was beginning to smell like Christmas. We got the turkey out of the fridge; it was rancid. Under the wings and legs it was green and completely inedible. My husband quickly buried the foul thing in the garden. But what to do now? We were expecting 9 for lunch, 11 including us. We knew the local Asda was open so we dashed there. The shelves were pretty empty but we managed to buy a turkey crown and a joint of pork - the skin promised some good crackling.

We decided the family didn’t need to know of our disastrous purchase and we managed to get everyone sat down and eating by 2.30pm, which was quite a feat. We had pulled the crackers, filled the wine glasses and were tucking into the food when there was a shriek from one of the grandchildren. There at the large bifold doors was our dog Alf; in his mouth was the foetid carcass. Alf wagged his tail, looking extremely pleased with himself. He was always an energetic digger with a keen sense of smell, and he had dug up the offending creature. The dog was covered in dirt and had white maggots across his nose. Getting the carcass off him proved a difficult job. My husband chased him round the garden, much to the delight of the grandchildren - who were rooting for Alf. Eventually we resumed our Christmas feast, although probably with less enthusiasm than when we started. The following year we had some wonderful rhubarb planted over the turkey. Now when my husband buries unwanted bodies in the garden, he puts a concrete slab over them. Never lift a slab in our garden.

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Charades By Gail Mosley

Do you remember as a child trying to get to sleep so that Father Christmas would come? I was quite sure I could hear sleigh bells! In the morning, my pillow-case was lumpy with presents. We’d go to church on Christmas Day – a quiet nod to the Child in the Manger whose birthday we were celebrating. Then it was time to get ready for the dinner. My Nanny and Grandad and auntie in the upstairs flat and here we pushed two tables together and spread the best white cloth. Then my Auntie and Uncle and cousins arrived. That made fourteen because there were always two special guests who stayed over Christmas –my other Grandma and my Mum’s friend Hilda. The dinner was amazing. Dad carved, asking everyone, “White or brown meat or a leg?” Then there were more presents - and on one memorable Christmas a bike. After the presents there were games of charades and Consequences. Each story is told in stages with prompts: “He was wearing”, “She said to him”. You write a part, fold the paper over and pass it on. At the end you write something for: “The consequence was...” When read out, the stories were hilarious. Was there no end to this day of delights? I mustn’t forget to mention that Grandad (who preferred a quieter life) did all the washing up – what a hero!

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Memories of the 1950s By Ruth Rogers

I hate charades. The parlour game. I've always been extremely shy, which might explain it, but there have been exceptions. There was Christmas at my cousin's house, aged 8 or 9. As the grown-upsrelaxed and grew louder over sherry, we would escape into the quiet hallway to search for the remaining chocolate Santas on the Christmas tree, unwrap our books from Uncle John (The Famous Five for her, The Secret Seven for me), and start planning charades. We knew who would be willing to join in with us: Auntie Marion an eager certainty; my Mum unusually biddable; Uncle John putting aside his bluff head-masterly manner. Together we made little plays for each chosen word and syllable; handbag, necklace, gatepost. My cousin and I directed the proceedings and after many pretend guesses and spluttered mince -pie crumbs the afternoon drew to a close. Time for goodbye hugs, the search for coats hats and scarves and the starlit frosty walk home. Thinking back I wonder if it was charades or our true selves that we played. And me without a trace of shyness.

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Festive ‘Flu By Michael Young

Looking back at Christmases past, I find they are much of a muchness, with only a few standing out. All usually of the same pattern with my role and attitude changing depending on age, marriage and paternal responsibility. It is a great time for families to get together – providing everyone is fit. Which brings me to the stand-outs: three doses of ‘flu (four if you count Mam and Dad separately). The first must have been in the late 40s. I remember sitting with my big sister on the coconut matting in front of our coke-fired range, playing with my new toy fortress and lead knights in armour; my Mam came past, still in her dressing gown even though we had been up for ages.

I imagine she told us the keep the fire going, then went through to the scullery to fill the kettle for hot water bottles for herself and Dad. They were both staying in bed with a dose of ‘flu each. I can remember the feeling of disappointment, but I can’t remember much sympathy for my poor parents. The second occasion was on our first Christmas after our wedding a month before. A fond new wife cooked her first Christmas dinner; only her husband might as well have been eating the contents of an ash tray for all the enjoyment he derived from it. Flu had struck again! It struck once more we were a family and seated round the table for Christmas dinner. I was just saved from falling face-first into my food by a warning shout from my wife. “Michael! Go to bed!” Fortu-
nately the following festive seasons have been flu-free. Hurray for the annual vaccination!

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On the Farm by Susan Jay

I remember the excitement building as Christmas approached. On Christmas Eve our numerous cousins arrived and in the evening we would walk along the pitch-dark country lanes to our nearest neighbours to sing carols at their doors. A good stretch of the legs it was, traipsing along holding parents hands and arguing over who got to shine the torches. We knew the words to all the most common carols of the time: The First Noel, We Three Kings etc. My  three siblings and I were overjoyed by having our cousins sleeping, sometimes six of us in the attic room and more in the numerous first floor bedrooms of the rambling old farmhouse. We would lay out a dad’s sock each, trying to stay awake to see Father Christmas.

Christmas Day itself began ( with opening the stockings often at 5 a.m.), blowing the whistles, eating the sweets,
and playing with whatever this year’s was. Then it was time to get the cows in for milking – life on a farm doesn’t stop for a single day, not even Christmas. Then taking hay or sileage out to the fields and feeding the pigs and hens. The eggs would be collected as part of the afternoon routine before evening milking time. My old granny did that sometimes, piling the trays up in a wheelbarrow to bring home from the sheds.

More family members would arrive, day-tripping from London, one aunt complaining of the dirt in the farmyard and the drafts in the house. Lunch had to happen at 1 o’clock to allow time for present-opening in the afternoon before calling the cows at 4. Presents were all wrapped and piled under the tree (a branch cut from the woods) and there was a ritual handing out the gifts. In the evening we had a raucous time singing carols round the piano. My dad couldn’t read music but could play anything by ear – and we’d join in with violins, recorders, my sister’s clarinet and a blast on the trumpet from the youngest. This was followed by the highlight of country dancing to gramophone records of jigs and polkas. Despite our tee-total families we had such amazing fun, although my mum would occasionally have a glass of cider. “Well,” she’d say. “It’s just fermented apple juice.”

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Drunk & Disorderly By Betty Bennsion

Richard and I first met ballroom dancing in the City Hall. It was 1979 and in those days we enjoyed the live music as much as the dancing. Richard had been brought up his grandparents in a small up his grandparents in a small town 12 miles away from me. At the end of our evening dancing, I would walk him over to his bus stop and then across the city centre for my bus home. On Christmas Eve 1981, we met in our favourite pub with friends to celebrate the festive season – and our engagement. After a few hours Richard had had too many celebratory drinks and I decided to walk him over to his bus stop. It was very late and I decided to relieve him of his wallet and watch. To this day I don't know why! Then I went home. The next morning was Christmas Day. After opening a few presents, Mum and I went to church, leaving my younger brother still opening his gifts. We walked in the house an hour later and my brother met me with the news that a policeman had been - and would I go to the station to collect Richard? After the initial shock, Mum and I made our way. On foot. There were no buses on Christmas Day. A mere 4 miles. On reaching the station, the police told us he had been arrested for his own good; he was found sleeping on the pavement at the bus stop. Not only that, but he had been robbed. I explained what I had done. Richard and the policeman were relieved and we were allowed to take him home. A few weeks later he appeared in court and was issued with a fine. Thank goodness it's all over,” we said. Next day, the local paper’s headline read: "Young man apologized to the court and thanked the police for their care”. It went on: “Richard Davies (of 21 The Avenue, Hayes) stood up in court today apologising for being caught drunk and disorderly on Christmas Eve.” We had to dash to his house before his grand- father found out where he had been on that fateful night. Anyway, we went ahead with the wedding 6 months later. All's well that end well!

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Remembering Christmas at Nana’s By Angie Smiles

My Nana lived in Darlington in a 2-bed semi with an outside toilet. Every Christmas Day we would visit her for our festive lunch. The journey took 2 hours. I felt sick in the back of the car. I used to help her to make the fire in the parlour with plaited newspaper, sticks and coal. She had a gas jet she turned on to light the fire, which heated the water as well. We had to wear vests and jumpers all the time. I helped Nana to set the table. The centrepiece was an igloo made of cotton wool, filled with presents. Models of Santa and his reindeers pulled a sledge out of the igloo to reveal the gifts. We had to eat all the food on our plates before we could pull out the sledge. After we’d opened our presents, we sat in the sitting room on a large uncomfortable settee made of hard knobbly fabric. When anyone sat down, dust rose from the settee. My mother played the honky-tonk piano and we sang carols. Nana didn’t have a TV but she had a radiogram. We usually didn’t have an appetite for the trifle and pork pie Nana had made for afternoon tea, so we took it all home. I had to hold the trifle on my knee and my sister had the pork pie on her lap. She nibbled on the crust on the journey home.

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Aunt Bluebottle By David Blakeley

My mum sadly passed away from a brain tumour when I was 6 years old. She passed away Halloween night. With Christmas fast approaching it must have been a really stressful and emotional time for my dad. He was left along to look after a family of 4. Me at 6, my sister Denise at 8, my brother was 10 and my eldest sister was 12. That year one of the local charities turned up to the house Christmas Eve with several large boxes of toys, some second-hand toys and some brand new ones. I think they came from Salvation Army. The joy these donated gifts gave us all that Christmas was much appreciated that year, it took our minds of the grief of losing our lovely mum for a short while. As a 53-year-old adult I still remember opening the huge box filled with girl toys just for me.

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A Christmas of Grief and Generosity By Julie Gill

One year all our family went to stay with my Aunt Doreen and her family for Christmas. I had given her the nickname of Aunt Bluebottle because she often wore a blue overall. She was an excellent baker. During the Christmas dinner my dad said to Aunt Bluebottle, "There's something different about you Doreen, but I can't put my finger on it.” My Aunt in one breath replied, “I've had all my teeth taken out and had a new fireplace put in!" We all laughed; she even laughed at herself once she realised her mistake. Even now, it makes me chuckle!

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Family Traditions By Maureen Kershaw

As a child in the 1950s, Christmas was excitedly anticipated the minute Bonfire Night was over. I couldn’t wait to visit Lewis’s Grotto, its windows displaying pantomime characters or woodland creatures, all illuminated and glistening in their snowy scenes. Christmas really began with food shopping with Mum: first to Newton’s Pork Butchers on Kirkstall Road for a stand pie. Shoppers would queue down the road. Then to Dufton’s confectioners near Hyde Park for their fancies. Our Christmas Tree was always a real one. Mum hated the artificial variety, she said they looked like they were made from flue brushes! On Christmas Eve the smell of baking mince pies and other delicacies was wonderful. A pillowcase lay at the end of my bed, hopefully to be filled with presents overnight. We didn’t have a lot of money but I was so lucky to receive an assortment of brightly wrapped parcels. Always an annual from a favourite comic; chocolate selection box; once a miniature set of drawers holding coconut mushrooms and other sweet delicacies. My ‘big’ Christmas present was always downstairs in the dining room by the tree. One year a doll’s house: I loved it, especially the tiny lights in each room. Another year, a sledge which Dad painted bright red. The most exciting present I ever received was a beautiful Silver Cross doll’s pram, complete with satin quilt set, pram bag and navy fringed sun canopy. I was an extremely lucky little girl and was so proud of my pram. Christmas Dinner was always eaten late afternoon when close relatives arrived. The large chicken was roasted beforehand, sliced and served with all the trimmings – with accompaniments from the buffet table, including the delicious stand pie. I still have the cut glass dish which held Mum’s homemade apple sauce each year. Trifle followed, Mum’s Christmas cake, Cheshire cheese, mince pies, and of course Dufton’s popular fancies. It was one of the rare occasions during the year that the front room would be used, with the coal fire roaring in the grate. Mum would play the piano and Uncle George the banjolele. Soon it was time for Uncle Jack to leave (having “had enough of family now”) and Grandma to be driven home. Another Christmas – almost – over, but with lots of lovely memories made.

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Wartime Memories By Hazel Trewin

When the second world war was on, we didn't get much for Christmas: maybe a selection box and lucky bag. Times were hard. We might have got an apple and an orange, but we couldn't get bananas and we didn't have a Christmas Tree. We had rations (even at Christmas), but sometimes my grandma made a little fruit cake. We had nowt really, but as kids we didn't really miss what we didn't have. On  Christmas Day mum used to play the piano for us and we all joined in singing 'We'll meet again' and other songs. We listened to the wireless - there was no TV when I was young. My dad let us listen to the news but he turned it off after this had finished, even though we would have liked to listen to music as well.

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Our Gin Christmas By Nicola Down

At 75 years old, I have many memories from yuletides across the decades. There were the ones when my parents were still alive, which involved music and grandparents visiting. Then the oneswas free and single and was out partying for a good five weeks each year, usually wearing something very glittery. Then all the ones with my husband and family since then, with plenty of story-telling and colourful decorations around the house, inside and out. However, in some ways, perhaps the best Christmas was just a few years ago - in 2016. I had been under-taking chemotherapy for six months, which ended in the middle of December. So it was just joyful that I got my taste buds back, and some stamina returned in time for the Christmas period. During the chemotherapy I had found that the only flavour that could just about cut through the sour taste in my mouth all the time, was lemon, so I became addicted to gin and tonic, with ice and lemon. 2016 was our gin Christmas - and very nice too. In 2020 as we approached Christmas, I was not sure I wanted to get out all the decorations. It seemed like a lot of work for the sake of just us. However I am really glad I did; it raised our spirits and made it feel a little like a normal Christmas. We shall do the same this year.

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Christmas in Zimbabwe By Pam Mills

I have just turned 90 and spent most of my life in Zimbabwe, where Christmas can be hot or rainy - December is the rainy season. My Christmas mornings started with going to one of my son's houses for breakfast. One year at Carl’s another at Shaun’s. This could be a barbie in the garden with delicious eggs and bacon - unless of course it's raining, then we'd find somewhere dry to gather! Family would start arriving at my house around 3pm and would gather on our large veranda. The men would play snooker then I would bring out my homemade 'crunchie' mince pies (with my secret ingredients) straight from the oven and we'd all sit outside together to have tea. We would enjoy the Christmas evening meal around 7pm by candlelight with gentle carols playing in the background.

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Light in the Darkness By Ruth Steinberg

I was brought up in a Jewish home and my experience was a little different to the majority here in England. December 25th was just another day. We didn’t put up decorations or dress the tree or have Christmas dinner. I did know all the carols because we sung them in school, and I loved joining in. My parents did give us presents on Christmas day, so we didn’t feel left out; but it was Chanukah that we celebrated. Most cultures have festivals in parts of the world that experience an increasing darkness and cold. Most have an element of light in the darkness. In the Jewish world, Chanukah is our festival of light. It is not a major festival but it is enjoyed across the Jewish worlds. We play dreidel (a spinning top betting game) and eat oily food such as doughnuts and potato pancakes (latkes). It lasts for eight nights and we light candles in an 8-branch candelabra called a Menorah, or Chanukiah. On the first night we light one candle, the second 2 and so on until all 8 candles are shining. The light increases as does our joy. It only takes one small candle to banish the darkness: how much more so at Chanukah, in the darkest time of the year. Everyday we shed a little more light.

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Helpless Laughter and Learning Forgiveness By Kim Birch

I have always enjoyed playing silly games at Christmas, and I can still hear the helpless laughter echoing through time. Charades was my favourite, and even now I enjoy acting. During the evening various guests would arrive from who knows where. Relatives that I didn’t even know I had. But all were made welcome and joined in the fun as much as they were able. Old family squabbles were laid aside until another time.

We could be good- hearted for at least a day. Of course there is that word ‘Christ’ behind it  all. I don’t label myself as a Christian, but I have grown ever fonder of his teachings of good cheer, kindness, and forgiveness. At Christmas I could forgive my older brother for making me do naughty things. I could forgive my elderly Aunt Ethel for being so forgetful. I could forgive my mother for burning the sausages. I could forgive Santa for not getting me a bike.

Thank you to all our contributors for your wonderful memories. We wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our readers.

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