I recently published an old childhood photo on facebook to which a friend commented “Your photos are, ‘Siri, show me a 1960s childhood’.” She was quite right and once again I count my blessings that my dad was such a keen photographer to capture so many instances of our childhood. The photo in question was a Christmas one of my sister and I with two of our cousins and it set me thinking about my childhood Christmases. I’m sure I’ve touched on them before but today let’s focus this blog entirely on them. This is a 1960s Christmas!
Next week, on Christmas Day, our guest list will consist of me, Hazel, my sister, Hazel’s mum and Bonnie (the dog). We wouldn’t even fill the kitchen of the house I grew up in Goffs Oak (and it wasn’t a big kitchen). Back then, in the late sixties and early seventies, you couldn’t move in the kitchen for wine-drinking women (very rarely men) helping or hindering my mother with the cooking and/or washing up. The living room would be filled to bursting point including the settee at one end stuffed with a…..what is the collective noun for grannies and great aunts? There would probably be a card school going in the hallway and, unless it was teeming with rain, there would be one or two chatting, drinking and smoking in the garden – not that any of those pastimes were banned from the house.
Christmas dinner would be a minimum of eight somehow stuffed round an average sized table in an average sized room festooned with paper streamers from Woolworths and with strings of cards hanging down the walls. However Boxing Day was our big entertainment when more than 20 family members and friends crammed into to our three bedroom semi-detached for a sumptuous buffet (Cold except for the new potatoes).
Often, one or two of the non-local rellies would stay the night, and one memorable year when the Americans were in town we actually had 13 people staying. My sister, me and my cousin were topped and tailed in a single bed in my sister’s bedroom (A box room – nothing more) and the adults were crammed in the remaining beds, on the one settee we owned, or on loungers erected anywhere a lounger would fit. And I reckon we could have still squeezed in Joseph and Mary if they had shown up.
And those American rellies always brought a touch of exoticism to our Christmases! Regardless of whether they were over or not (And I only recall them coming over once at Christmas) we received a box of presents from them every year. I remember well when, in late November, a huge cardboard box covered in strange stamps and customs labels turned up at our door. Come Christmas morning the contents would have been removed and scattered under the tree with the rest of our goodies.
Now you have to remember that they were very different times. I have just filled Hazel’s stocking for this year and it probably contains more presents than we got in total back in the sixties. We may well have scrutinised the toy pages of mum’s catalogues from the day they arrived – and we had three, Freemans, Trafford and Grattan – but a biro scribble next to the Daleks board game didn’t mean we would get it.
What we got was a stocking the moment we got up, whilst mum was cooking a full English including kidneys. Inside the stocking would be a net bag filled with chocolate coins in either gold or silver foil wrappers that actually opened quite easily; a satsuma or two; Matey Bubble Bath; some pens, pencils or crayons; and perhaps a small game. Plastic toys were just starting to push wooden ones out of the limelight and we might get one of those games where you had to get the ball-bearings into little holes. In fact I can’t remember any other games!
There would be a second, separate stocking comprising a bit of shaped cardboard with a net attached containing small samples every chocolate bar Nestles or Cadburys or Mars produced (about six different types if you were lucky).
After breakfast it would be time for our main presents. There was no mad scramble. Dad would pass them out one at a time carefully reading the name tags and waiting for one to be opened before the next was delivered. Sometimes mum could even be persuaded to leave the turkey cooking unattended and come through to watch, not that she would open her own at that point.
For me, in those days, the main present would normally be some Lego and perhaps a Matchbox motor or a Viewmaster Reel, a gift costing a few shillings. Even an Action Man was out of my parents’ reach back then and a bike….well that was a pipe-dream and a half! We didn’t fell at all hard done by though and cherished everything. Auntie Jean would spoil us rotten too and then there would be at least one annual each, sometimes too. For my sister it was usually Blue Peter and we had pretty much a complete set until not so many years ago. For me it may have been one of the comic annuals; Dandy, Beano, or Whizzer and Chips until about 1970 when the Doctor Who Annual became my annual of choice. Later, when dad was earning a bit more, I got a Scalextric set. Simple figure of eight but it had been on my list for years. Now I could save up and get the banked track pieces and a working starter!
And then there were those American presents. They weren’t particularly expensive gifts but the important thing is that they weren’t yet available in the UK. I remember having Yo-yos that lit up when Yo-ed or Yo-Yo-ed or whatever it is you do with a Yo-yo. Our family were playing Yahtzee long before it became a trendy dinner party entertainment in the UK and we also have a great cross between Bingo and Newmarket called Pokeno which I’m not sure is even sold in the UK to this day. I also remember getting games like the one where you use a magnet to move iron filings around and give a man a beard or haircut. These little gifts from across the pond delighted us because they seemed so futuristic.
So by late morning as dad was putting the discarded wrapping paper into an old potato sack (Carefully smoothing out and saving the bits big enough to be reused) we were happily playing without our small but much appreciated pile of gifts. Dad meanwhile was putting the bottle of Old Spice we had bought him in the bathroom cabinet, next to the one we bought him for his birthday and the one….well you get the picture. And mum, well I’m sure she liked her Terry’s Chocolate Orange because she always ate it.
I don’t mean to get all dewy-eyed and nostalgic but, with everything that is happening in the world right now, what I wouldn’t give to have one of those 1960s Christmases once again!