Celebrating Christmas in a working class London family in the early 20th century
In my childhood in the early 1900s there was a big build-up to Christmas with all the Christmas preparations. However Christmas itself began for us children on Christmas eve.
There was so much hubbub and bustle around! The shops would be open as late as 11 o'clock to handle last minute purchases, and the butchers, in particular, would shout out about the reduced prices of their poultry. There were no fridges, so butchers were understandably anxious to sell their meat off before it got high and started smelling.
We children hung up our stockings at the end of the bed and I, for one, really believed that Father Christmas himself would come to put things into it.
Going to church on Christmas Day
I am surprised that my mother's recollections mention nothing about going to church on Christmas Day. I don't know whether the family did not go or whether it was so normal to go as not to be worth mentioning, although her recollections go into some detail about Harvest Festivals and Sunday School.
Pat Cryer, webmaster
and daughter of the author
When we woke up on Christmas Day it was traditional for us children to find an orange, an apple and nuts in our stockings. Sometimes we also found toys in a pillowcase, but that depended on what our parents had been able to afford or acquire from some source or other.
For Christmas dinner [lunch] our family was unusual in that we had a leg of pork rather poultry. That was probably because butchers normally sold their birds with their feathers and heads on and their innards inside, and it was a thoroughly unpleasant job to prepare them for cooking. (This job was invariably done in the garden so as to keep the house clean and fresh-smelling; the tiny feathers got up noses; and the garden was really cold at that time of year. The job normally fell to the man of the house, and my father probably objected.) However, our leg of pork with apple sauce was a real treat as the only meat we usually had was beef, and the crackling on the pork was superb. After the main course, one of the Christmas puddings was set alight with brandy.
Christmas supper was always the cold salt beef and brawn that my mother had made, served with her pickles. Also during the evening there would be coconut Turkish delight made by my father and muscatels (a type of dried grape) which always seemed to be paired with almonds.
Drinks were port wine for adults and Stones ginger wine for children.
Sing songs round the piano
My father used to tell me that his family in the early 1900s always had sing-songs round the piano with his mother playing for them, and my mother's family probably did something similar as there was certainly a piano at her grandparents' house.
Indoor party games for adults and children
My mother-in-law used to say that there were games like charades when she was a child in the early 1900s, and I think that my mother's family must have had something similar as I remember Christmases in the 1940s at the home of her brother (my uncle) where we played similar games. I particularly remember hanging a sheet up against a light, getting people to stand behind it so that they cast a shadow and having to decide whose shadow it was.
On Boxing day it was usual for relatives to meet together. My parents, my brothers and I always went to the my Cole grandparents for dinner [lunch]. My grandfather Cole was the live-in manager at the Cole Pottery in Tottenham on the border with Wood Green, and he and his wife lived in a very large house there. My family had to walk about a mile to get there from our home in Edmonton, but it was lovely to come in from the cold through the side door that led into the large kitchen. Steam would be on the windows, and there was such an inviting smell of parsnips and brussel sprouts cooking on the coal-fired 'kitchener'. My grandparents on my father's side were better off than my parents, and through the door, we could see the sideboard positively groaning with nuts, sweets, dates, figs, grapes and bananas.
A houseful would be there as my grandparents had a large family. A sister of my grandmother Ellis was a regular visitor. She and her husband had a printing shop named Hunnings in Bruce Grove, Wood Green. She was very genteel and could hardly be heard when she spoke. Her husband was very interesting. He lectured on pond life and being so keen on it would talk to us children about it. When this was at meal times, there was a lot of tut-tutting from his wife.