First Picture: A typical 1950’s visit to Santa.
Second Picture: Fun in the playground.
I recently came across this report of a 1950’s Christmas, I don’t know who wrote it, but is certainly invokes memories of the past. The article is long, so I will split it in half. This week is the build up to Christmas and next week will be Christmas Eve, the Big Day Itself and New Year.
1950’s Christmas at Home.
Preparations for Christmas in the 1950’s started just after Bonfire night; this was the time when the small family-owned businesses began to decorate their shop windows. From week to week stockings for children filled with Mars Bars, Bounties and Crunchies as well as other festive items started to appear between the boxes of biscuits and the multi-coloured decorations in the shop windows. It was also the time of year when people were asking: “What are you doing for Christmas” or “What do you want for Christmas?” In those days it was tradition to spend Christmas with the family. I never heard of anyone flying to the Canaries or going to a hotel for Christmas.
On certain nights in December the countryside seemed to take on a distinct quality of its own, especially when the silvery light of the full moon was around. The dampness of December was frequently caused by sea fog and there were a few years in the 1950’s and 1960’s when the hedgerows, trees and the roofs were covered with a thick layer of white frost. Sometimes when the skies were clear in the evenings you could see several stars on the horizon. Frequently my mother would step outside and would scan the skies for a change in the wind to see if snow was coming our way.
Most families decorated a real Christmas tree in their homes. I do not recall any artificial Christmas trees in the 1950’s. It was as if people who had survived the war needed the security of a festive Christmas and the Christmas tree was an important symbol to set them back on their feet again. It was the centrepiece of the household and admired by all. A few days before Christmas my father and I would bring home the Christmas tree from the local shops. The tree was mounted and secured in a large pot. We then started to decorate it with colourful glass balls and bells. We also used silver tinsel. Small Christmas crackers in shiny paper were laid along the branches, on top of the tree we mounted a golden haired angel which in after a time suffered from old age but it was so high the damage could not be seen. We bought our glass decorations from Woolworths and we also purchased wrapped chocolate bells, stars, angels for hanging on Christmas trees.
By the 1950’s the new fangled electric or fairy lights were available replacing the real wax candles on our Christmas tree With a tree glittering you experienced the real feeling of Christmas. In those days we ignored fashion and used our own well loved tree decorations year after year. After Christmas they were stored carefully away in a cardboard box.
Multi-coloured paper Christmas garlands either bought or self-made were popular. They were hung across the living room, balloons were hung in the corner of each room and colourful paper lanterns were hung at the windows of many houses. A lot of our decorations were still of 'home-made'; we spent hours at school making snowflakes and stars from cardboard. At Primary School the girls used beads to make decorations.
I remember one year when the gypsies appeared going from house to house selling mistletoe. From their dress it was clear that they lived a nomadic way of life. They came for a few years in the 1950’s both in summer and winter selling pegs, hand-knitted socks etc.
Almost every home had mistletoe hanging up in the living room and in the 1950’s people recited: 'Pick a berry off the mistletoe, For every kiss that's given. When the berries have all gone. There's an end to the kissing.'
I remember that we helped our parents select the most appropriate Christmas card for the right relative or friend. For us, Christmas was the ideal time to make an additional effort to get in touch with relatives who lived away and who we had not seen for some time, no telephones in our houses! The annual Christmas card was the only regular contact that kept our long distance friendships alive.
Part of the magic of Christmas was going to the front door to see what cards had been delivered by the postman. It was always a delight when the postman came with the post. There was a morning and afternoon delivery and it was not until I worked for a week in the pre-Christmas period as a postman that I realised how much activity there is in a post office. Not only did I have to do two rounds in the cold using the post office bicycle but the letters and parcels had to be sorted by 5.30 in the morning.
The cards we received were displayed around the house, traditional motifs included candles, winter landscapes holly and snowmen were common, only a few people sent humorous cards in those days and not many cards were sold to raise money for charities.
In the 1950’s who would come to the door at about tea time? The carol singers. They went from house to house singing and as a child it was exciting when the carol singers came. It was considered to bring bad luck to send carollers away empty-handed so we always gave them some coins and offered them a mince pie.
On the subject of music I remember my Aunt frequently playing “White Christmas” on her 78 rpm gramophone record player so often that the needle had to be changed so often and I was glad when she ran out of new needles.
There were several kinds of visitors in the 1950’s and 1960’s. There were the salesmen would came to each door trying to sell books such as dictionaries and bibles to housewives maintaining that these were ideal Christmas presents for their children.They came nearly every year, so some of us therefore received identical Christmas presents. Then there was the man who sold Whitaker’s Almanac which many families considered to be essential as it containing information on keeping abreast with current affairs. My grandmother loved reading this almanac for its astronomical data, for the sun rising and setting, moon phases and the position of the
Elderly ladies collecting for charities in the pre-Christmas period will always remain in my mind. Dressed in warm clothes, a scarf around their neck and a woollen hat, they went from door to door asking for a few pence for charity. We always put a few pence in the small round tin. The door collectors went as quickly as they came this was just part of the Christmas season. I also remember that the Jehovah’s Witneses went from door to door in the pre-Christmas period. I remember the Sunday School teacher explaining to us at a very young age that the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not celebrate Christmas because they do not believe that Jesus Christ and they considered Christmas to be a pagan festival.
It was amazing how much noise the rubbish collectors made in mid-December when they collected the rubbish. The milkman also took his time to collect the weekly money wishing each housewife a happy Christmas until she understood the reason why. It was customary at Christmas to give the rubbish collectors, postman, baker and milkman a small tip for their services throughout the year.
World War Two had finished only five years before the start of the 1950’s and many things were still rationed until about 1953. Despite this, Christmas was still enjoyed at its utmost although presents were modest. Commercial television did not exist until late in the 1950’s so there was no pressure for our parents to have to buy the latest toy or game.
At a time when most people did not have vehicles busses were the order of the day. A visit to the city in December was a big adventure. Frantic shopping and last-minute present buying also existed in the 1950’s and, with more money available in the 1960’s, people started saying that they were spending far too much money at Christmas. The highlight of the trip was a visit to see Father Christmas in one of the big stores.
As with many customs associated with British Christmas, the tradition of Father Christmas remained, when the religious elements were lost. He became a benevolent, jovial character, synonymous with the goodwill of Christmas, but his saintly attributes were gradually disappearing. I do not recall the Father Christmas ever asking me questions about my prayers, my reading, writing and arithmetic but only about whether I had been a naughty boy.
Walking around town on any Saturday in December you would always see the Salvation Army singing Christmas carols on a street corner trying to attract the attention of passers-by to help fill their collection tins. Many stopped to admire their dark blue uniforms and to listen to their singing.
Our parents seemed to spend ages going from shop to shop. In particular they spent a lot of time in Woolworths and Marks and Spencers, the main two stores for shopping in the 1950’s. As we walked around the bags got heavier and heavier and I was told in certain shops to look the other way. We usually had a drink in Woolworths and a well deserved rest before spending a penny (which did actually cost a penny in those days) and continuing with the shopping before returning back home on the bus.
At primary school we made Christmas decorations which were put up in the classroom or taken home. We also made Christmas cards for our parents by either drawing festive motives or cutting out pictures from Christmas cards we had saved from previous years. We rehearsed for the annual Christmas concert and we always had an enjoyable Christmas party with lots of food, drink and games, it took place on the last Friday before Christmas. Nativity plays are one of the traditions of Christmas as four year old who was a shepherd in the Nativity Play I was a witness to this. At that young age it was an adventure to dress up and remain standing for about 20 minutes in front of a full school hall.
Christmas was the busiest time of the year for mothers, in December they started talking about the baking and cooking for Christmas. I remember that this was the main topic of conversation with my mother, wherever she was. There was always the fear that the local shops would run out of ingredients to make the Christmas cake, plum pudding and mince pies.
Next week, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year
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Hi Peter, after reading your blog on bizarre pop titles I remembered this one that also ranks alongside those and possibly the longest title then. Regards Steve.
"The Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucomonga Sewing Circle Book Review And Timing Association"
By Jan & Dean.
News and Views:
Melv points out that there was an obituary in the News for John Ray born 1947 attended Court Lane and Manor Court.
Joan Baez was taken to Stanford University Medical Center Wednesday (November 17) after falling while climbing down from a treehouse at her Woodside, California home. The 69 year-old's injuries were only minor and she is resting at home. She reportedly sleeps in the treehouse all Summer to be close to nature
On this day 5th December 1960-1965
On 05/12/1960 the number one single was It's Now Or Never - Elvis Presley and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Armchair Theatre (ABC) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 05/12/1961 the number one single was Little Sister/His Latest Flame - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was "Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Sunday Night at the London Palladium (ATV)".
On 05/12/1962 the number one single was Lovesick Blues - Frank Ifield and the number one album was On Stage with the Black & White Minstrels - George Mitchell Minstrels. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Heavy smog kills 55 in London.
On 05/12/1963 the number one single was She Loves You - The Beatles and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 05/12/1964 the number one single was Little Red Rooster - Rolling Stones and the number one album was A Hard Day's Night - Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 05/12/1965 the number one single was The Carnival is Over - Seekers and the number one album was The Sound of Music Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.