The Round School, Old Heathfield, England
When I was a young boy, many, many years ago growing up in England under the very difficult times of World War 11, Christmas had a whole different meaning than it does now.
My family was not particularly religious and never actively practised any faith as a family and for me, any contact that I had with religion was through my school and that was not very much. Sometimes, the whole school of probably not more than 50 kids of all ages, would visit the local protestant Church of England for a special services for this or that but that was the sum extent of my religious training. Although I have dabbled with several different religions over the years, I do not consider myself a very religious man.
All Saints Church, Old Heathfield, England
Because of the shortages brought about by the War in Europe and also because traditionally, turkey was a real luxury, most English people would kill and cook a chicken from those that nearly every country household had. There would always be much preparation in the way of baking and cooking and mince pies and Christmas pudding were the order of the day. The Christmas pudding would contain silver sixpences so you had to be carefully not to bite down hard or you would risk losing or cracking a tooth, that is if you’re serving happened to have a sixpence. We made our own christmas decorations and went out to pick holly which we hung up indoors. If we were lucky enough to find mistletoe, it would be hung in the house and any unwary person would be subject to being kissed under the mistletoe, or maybe it was planned…
The same could be said about gifts nearly all of which would be handmade. A pair of knitted gloves or maybe a knitted scarf. Handmade wooden toys for the boys in the family and rag dolls for the girls. A really big item which my family did splurge on, were the christmas crackers that contained a novelty toy and a paper hat and these would be pulled at the Christmas Dinner. Everyone would wear their paper hats and blow the whistles and sing Christmas carols, or swap their toy for someone else’s and would create an atmosphere of fun and joviality.
The point is that no one expected anything expensive in the way of gifts. Families would come together just to sit down and have a meal on Christmas Day. The adults would drink sherry or maybe a beer and everyone would revel in the company of the others around them. The war would be forgotten for a little while. There was no television to hamper the proceedings and no other diversions other than that what we made for ourselves. It was not a bit unusual for some of the male adults to take a nap in one of the more comfortable chairs following the meal while the women of the family would clean up and wash the dishes. The kids kept themselves busy with their new gifts or played games of hide and seek and other youthful activities.
Life was much simpler back then and even though the war was going on all around us, Christmas Day was still a very special day. It wasn’t about how many or how expensive were the toys or how sumptuous the meal or the decor and the lights. There was no one upmanship and there was no outside lighting decorating the house in an attempt to outdo the neighbors. We were just grateful to be together as a family or with neighbors and friends and at least for this period in time, the war was forgotten.
Now, 80 years later when I look back on life back then and think how simple it really was as compared to today, there is much to be said for living in an uncomplicated world. Even with the advances that mankind has made in technology, health and a general way of life, I wonder if I am any better off than back in those war torn years when life was so very uncomplicated.
I guess I shall never know the answer to that question.