Spirit of England - An English Chrismas - the 1950s

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

see - So Long Ago So Clear - a 1950s Biography

Of course Christmas was important for a little boy. 
The first few Christmases for little Peter, however, seemed to merge together. 
Christmas presents did not seem to loom very large in these memories.
Instead it is the Christmas tree and the decorations that seem to have had the greatest impact. 
The tree was always a real fir tree, which reached right up to the ceiling, meaning that for Peter the Christmas tree was immense.
The decorations, which were probably left over from before the war, were mostly made of paper. Compared to later Christmases there seemed to be very little tinsel and glitter.
Those things that did glitter were pre-war, German glass decorations for the Christmas tree.
The only other glitter came from strips of lammeta, which were hung from the branches of the tree, in imitation of frost and icicles. 
Christmases were always celebrated almost entirely in the front room, where there was a permanent fire roaring in the grate. 

Even when the room was abandoned, the lights, which were large, plastic and Disney style, were left lighted on the tree.
Like most of the decorations, these lights were pre-war, and consisted of 'antique plastic' bells, in various primary colours, with a small tungsten bulb. 
The room itself was decorated with home-made, paper-chains of colored paper, and swags of twisted, crepe paper.
These chains and swags were run from the central ceiling-rose to the edges and corners of the room.
Also, in the corners, were elaborate colored paper decorations, forming balls and bells, which were quite large, being nearly a foot in diameter. 
Three very noticeable features of the Christmas season were the presence of fruit, nuts and alcohol, as these were all items that were absent for most of the rest of the year. 
Peter's presents were, in the early days, not very spectacular, being mainly clothes and books, as Jane was obsessed with getting Peter to read.

During the war (1939-1945) Christmas was very much 'on hold'.
For those were serving abroad, Christmas could be a very miserable affair.

Shepherd's Hotel - Cairo
For John Crawford, in Egypt, Christmas had plenty of alcoholic cheer at Shepherd's Hotel in Cairo, but little of the atmosphere of an English Christmas.

For Jane, it was a very much a series of 'Utility Christmases', as London limped along, first with the 'Blitz', and then with the VI's and VII's.
And, of course, rationing and shortages made Christmas very much a matter of 'make do and mend'.
When the war ended, however, things began to get back to normal.
Much to everyone's disappointment, though, rationing continued, with even bread (which had not been rationed during the war) being strictly rationed.
It was only in the early fifties that Christmas, at last, began to return to normal.
Even the relatively wealthy middle and upper-middle classes, however, didn't indulge in the uncontrolled extravagance that is now, in the twenty-first century, considered normal.
This was partly because people could not obtain a Christmas on credit, as people do now, but was also because years of privation had tempered people's appetites.
With sales of alcohol a tiny fraction, nationwide, compared to now, most people had a relatively 'sober' Christmas.
In addition, preparations for Christmas only began in the second half of December, and most Christmas shopping took place on the last few days before Christmas Day, with much of it centering on Christmas Eve.
There was also a strong religious element to Christmas celebrations, with large attendances at Anglican and Catholic Churches for Midnight Mass, and Christmas Morning Services.

Baker Street
For Peter, Christmas began in early December with a number of trips to Poulton's Toy Shop in Hounslow Broadway.
Although the trips were supposedly to buy one or two 'Britain's' toy soldiers, in reality Jane was checking to see which toys Peter was really interested in.
In addition, there would be at least one trip to Baker Street, and then to the shops in Oxford Street - Selfridges, in Oxford Street and, of course, Hamley's in Regents

Street to further detirmine the toys that Peter might like.  
Later, of course, unknown to Peter, Jane and John whoul make their own trip to buy the toys that Peter wanted.

'Cussons' Talcum Powder
On Christmas Eve, while Jane got on with preparing the Christmas meal, John would take Peter to the carol singing outside Murfits, on the Broadway, and then to Boots the Chemist (nothing like todays self survice stores), and Peter would be given a special Christmas allowance that he was allowed (and expected) to spend on a present for Jane - which was usually some 'Yardley' or 'Cussons' soap and talcum powder.
With the sound of Carols under the Christmas tree in the highstreet, and the brilliantly lit shops, with their sparkling displays of Christmas goods, Christmas Eve was always a magical time for Peter.

Christmas Turkey
And, of course, there would be meetings with neighbors, and friendly shopkeepers, because in the early fifties everyone knew one another (and many, of course, had been together through the dangers and privations of the war).
John would also buy the Christmas turkey.
Turkeys, in the early fifties, were more popular than chicken because, surprisingly, chicken was extremely expensive.
And the turkey was not frozen, but hanging from the outside of the butcher's shop, which had sawdust on the floor.

The Christmas of 1953 was, for 'our Peter', just as wonderful as all his previous Christmases at 55 Pears Road had been.
The important Christmas toy of that year was a large, clockwork Triang Mimic Sherman tank.
Not only could it roll over numerous obstacles on its caterpillar tracks, while the turret turned from side to side, but it also emitted puffs of white 'smoke' from the gun barrel, as if it were firing shells.

Now Peter had already had his Coronation Coach, and many new toy soldiers, but Peter was 'spoilt', so there were more soldiers, and also a rifle and a couple of pistols.

And of course there was the inevitable 'Eagle Annual' (see left), featuring Dan Dare.

By the Christmas 1953 Peter had got through Dan's first, unnamed adventure, (Operation Venus - as it is now called) and he had also worked his way through the 'Red Moon Mystery' and 'Marooned on Mercury'.
1953 had opened with 'Operation Saturn' (see right) which would turn out to be a long story, and one that would have some considerable significance for Peter, as we shall see later.

'A 1950s Christmas'
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

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