Whatever happened to christmas? - by carl chinn

 

Whatever happened to Father Christmas? In our childhoods, our moms and dads always warned us to be good or else Father Christmas wouldn’t come; it was Father Christmas who we expected to ride across the skies pulled by his reindeer and with his sleigh filled with presents; and it was Father Christmas for whom we left the glass of beer and the mince pie on the mantelpiece.

For us Santa Claus was someone who fetched presents to the kids in America like in the pictures, but today he seems to be everywhere and Father Christmas is fading away, along with so many of our ways and traditions.

We should not let him disappear for he connects us not only with our childhoods but also with our distant past. And when he is no longer called out to and spoken of then with him will go not only a name but also a powerful link with English myths and legends and the pagan gods of the Old English.

Remembered in Wednesday, Wedesnebury and Wednesfield, Woden was regarded as the ancestor of the kings of the Mercians and was worshipped both in England and Germany, whilst he was called Odin by the Scandinavians.

The creator as well as the god of war, the dead, and wisdom, he was also the leader of the Wild Hunt, sweeping his pack of baying hounds across the stormy night sky. In this guise he became associated with Father Christmas, for Woden also raced across the night sky in his chariot to bear gifts at the time of the winter solstice.

The run-up to Father Christmas’s coming started with the opening of the first window of the Advent calendar on December 1. Things went slowly until the middle of the month when we decorated our classrooms and then the excitement really grew with the performance of the Nativity Play and being allowed out to go carol singing.

But without doubt, the highlight of the approach to Christmas was when mom and dad took you up town after school one late afternoon to see to the only true Father Christmas in the world at Lewis’s in Corporation Street. 

In my mind’s eye it was always gloomy but yet it was far from miserable. In fact it was probably the most happy and exciting of times as we excitedly headed for The Minories to so very slowly climb the stairs and meet him.

 

 

Everyone Brummie has wonderful memories of Lewis’s Father Christmas and Irene Purslow of Bournbrook shares others with us.

When I read the memories of your readers and their account of Christmas’s past I can’t help but feel my sister and two brothers were quite privileged because, although times were hard and we never had a holiday until the mid ‘50s and had very little throughout the year, Mom made Christmas very special.

My earliest recollection is when we lived in Edgbaston Road, Smethwick during the war years. We’d sit making paper chains and decorated a tree with odds and ends and extremely delicate glass ornaments and I remember trying to fit decorative candles on the end of the branches which seems bizarre now.

With very little money to spare an American GI, who Mom and Dad had befriended, brightened our Christmas with some lovely presents sent from America at his request. In 1945, as the war ended, Mom and Dad moved to Selly Oak though technically I think it’s more Bournbrook.

The memories come flooding back as I remember those early Christmas’s because this is when Mom made them special despite having very little money. When I hear friends say they only had an apple or orange, a new pence and one present, we were extremely lucky because Mom always managed to fill a pillowcase for us.

As soon as Mom had finished wrapping the presents and placed them at the bottom of our bed it seemed we were awake saying “Has he been yet?” Quite often running along the landing to Mom and Dad’s bedroom eagerly showing them what we’d had completely unaware that they’d only just put them there!

I remember one particular Christmas my sister Ann and I had a doll each and Ann came running downstairs to show Mom her prized possession and dropped it on the tiled floor. No wall to wall carpet then so the doll broke in several pieces.

She’s never forgotten how she felt that day and still has that doll in a shoebox – never having been able to play with it. In our seemingly bottomless pillowcases there were always jigsaws, games and wonderful books. The excitement of tearing off the pretty paper to reveal those lovely annuals and story books is still with me today.

 

On the days drawing towards Christmas, many children visited Father Christmas at Lewis’s but I can only remember doing that once, but we did go to the Christmas parties organised by the firm where Dad worked – Bulpitt’s in Spring Hill; lots of games and nice food and a present to come home with.

I can’t write about Christmas without mentioning Granddad. Every Christmas night we would eagerly wait for our Uncle to collect us in his large expensive car and take us to Granddad’s house, for a real family Christmas get together with Aunts and Uncles.

It was such a treat to travel in such style and once there we’d gather in the parlour where a lovely tea would be laid out. We’d tuck into mince pies, tinned fruit and evaporated milk and a blancmange type sweet called junket.

After this substantial tea we’d all go into the front room – a room hardly ever used except for special occasions and we’d open our presents from Aunts, Uncles, Granddad and Grandma.

 I was never disappointed with anything I had. I still have the ‘Lassie Come Home’ book given to me on one of those occasions and I would read a few chapters each night to my younger brothers and sister before they went to bed.

As I grew older, Granddad always knew what to buy me and when I became an avid film fan I looked forward to the film annuals received every year. When I had my Brownie box camera as a present then they’d buy me photo albums to carefully keep my photographs in. I still keep up that ritual today.

 

Irene's Box Brownie and photo albums - Christmas presents from when she was younger.jpg

While the table was being cleared in the parlour, to make way for the adults to play cards, we’d gather round the piano and Granddad would lead us into a singsong. In his younger days he’d played piano at his local cinema accompanying silent films. After playing a few games and reading our books we’d be taken home in that lovely posh car again.

How lovely those old fashioned Christmases were with the emphasis on family get together and generally enjoying themselves, rather than sit watching television all night consuming the mountain of food bought from a supermarket prior to Christmas. I know which I prefer.