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Christmas in the past


Boxing Day in early 20th Century families

Christmas pudding

Boxing Day in the early 20th century was a time for family get-togethers with lots of lavish Christmas food, party games and songs round the piano. This page shows what it was like in large families with traditional food and activities.


Extracted from the memoirs of the webmaster's mother(1906-2002) and edited by the webmaster with further research and firsthand contributions from others

A time for family get-togethers

Boxing day in my childhood in the early 1900s was a time for families to meet together. Families were large in those days, so houses were always packed. My parents, my brothers and I always went to my grandparents for dinner - lunch in today's terms.

My grandfather Cole was the live-in manager at the relatively nearby Cole Pottery in Tottenham, and he and his wife lived in a 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'.

Boxing Day food for the get-togethers

Through the kitchen door, we could see the dining room with paper chains strung round the walls and across the ceiling. The sideboard positively groaned with nuts, sweets, dates, figs, grapes and bananas. These grandparents were better off than my parents.

The Boxing Day dinner itself was like a Christmas dinner, but on a much larger and more lavish scale, because a houseful would be there. My grandparents had a large family. We got to know all their idiosyncrasies. A sister of my grandmother was very genteel and could hardly be heard when she spoke. Another sister kept us informed about her twisted gut. One of the husbands 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.

The food for later in the day was home-made Christmas speciality foods plus all those goodies that were on the sideboard earlier.

Party games for adults and children

There were party games in the afternoon. These were mainly for children, but adults often joined in. Some common ones are described in the page about Indoor Party Games. These often took quite a bit of setting up, but that was no real problem because the families were so large that someone could always be delegated to do it. The games only used readily available items, so cost little or nothing.

My Boxing Day memories are of helping my father set up all sorts of games. One that sticks in my mind is Flipping the Kipper which was really simple to set up and play. Then there was the game Shadows which took more time to set up but was great fun particularly with a large group. Another game that was great fun, and could be started with hardly any preparation was Blobeye. It merely needed a pack of cards for each player.

Neil Cryer

Songs round the piano

In the evening, there would be sing-songs round the piano with my grandmother playing. This seemed to happen whenever families met, whatever the time of year. There was certainly a piano in even the most modest of the older generation's houses.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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