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Christmas at Knowle Cottage

Life was very simple, and we may not have had much money but we were rich beyond compare with our family and our little home.

christmas_tree_decorations_200943I just can’t believe how fast this year has gone, it’s flown by. This will be my 89th Christmas. I can’t remember the first few of course, but I think if I try hard I can remember bits from over 80 of ’em.

Christmas when I was a child bears no resemblance to the Christmas children experience nowadays. Even the Christmases I experienced as a young wife and mother…and as a not so young wife and mother are very different from modern Christmases.

I suppose the preparation for Christmas when my children were young started almost as soon as the previous Christmas was over. Bits of string and ribbon from parcels would be tucked away and would magically reappear the following year.

Cards would be saved and reworked into collage cards to hand out the following year.

If the children had more than one scarf as a gift, one would vanish, only to get a revamp, or to be undone and rolled up ready to start a new life as mittens, or as part of a sweater. Every child had striped sweaters because they were made of scarves and other undone items that were surplus to requirements.

I suppose the real preparations started in August. That’s when I would make a modest Christmas cake and a Christmas pudding, actually we used to have plum pudding because the ingredients were cheaper and more widely available. they needed to sit for weeks before they were iced. I only put marzipan and icing on top to cut down on the costs. For decoration, I would add tiny pine cones I had collected and dried.

Presents for the children would be wrapped in brown paper that I had decorated. I’m not much of an artist so the pictures used to make them howl with laughter as they tried to guess what I had drawn. I would pretend to be very offended that they didn’t recognise the pig or horse or person that I had drawn. I still draw on my childrens wrapping paper now, and the eldest is 70. She still rarely makes a correct guess at what the creature is I have drawn.

The gifts Ernest and I gave them were very simple. I would knit dollies and clothes for the girls when they were young, Ernie was good with wood and has made or repaired everything from dolls prams to wooden trains and cars. There were always  some clothes, usually not new but repaired, and with different buttons, when they were washed and pressed the kids were happy with them.

My aunt made each of them a Christmas stocking when they were born and those would be hung on the big wooden beam that held up the chimney breast. Each child would have a small orange, which were expensive back then and some candied fruits that I had made. These were our version of sweeties and the children loved them.

Sometimes we would get lucky and Ernie would be asked to do some jobs inside the big house. The lady of the house always had a big bowl of hard sweets on a table in the entrance hall and she would always tell him to take one each for the children. We used to hide them at the back of the pantry and hand them out on Christmas Eve. The children at the big house had so much beautiful stuff and every so often the maid would let Ernie know that some books or comics were getting thrown out, well, what a waste that was. Most of the childrens toys were things Ernie repaired that were getting thrown away. He would repair whatever the maid chose for her little brother and I would make a sponge cake for her mother to say thank you for her letting us know.

All the gifts would go under the tree. Other than 40 foot tall monsters there were few pine trees locally, so we would all trudge around until we found a suitable branch with lots of little branches on it and after much deliberation over which one we should have, Ernest would cut it down and we would take it home.

It would be held up by an old milking stool that Ernie had cut a hole in, often it would have socks and all sorts tied around it to make it fit the hole. It took an age to make it stable, but it all added to the fun.

All the decorations were made at home. The children made most of them and I would make little crochet shapes out of scrap wool to fill any bare spots. There were paper stars and snowflakes cut from old magazines and newspapers, drawings that the children cut out and hung up with cotton. On top was a star made from small branches bound in the centre with string.

The older girls made a wreath for the front door with stuff they found in the hedgerows and fields, they made some really beautiful ones, things that would be called rustic and designer now.

On Christmas Eve the girls would help to prepare the vegetables for the next day. We would push and heave to get the turkey into the oven and at least once we had to cut the legs off to make it fit.

Once the children were settled Ernie and Iwould get all the presents out of their various hiding places and put them under the tree and put the smaller bits into their stocking.

Christmas morning was never overly early in our house. The children would be so excited they wouldn’t go to sleep until late and therefore the pre-dawn wake ups were not a feature of our Christmases…I’m glad to say.

Ernie would creep downstairs and fire up the range. When they finally woke up the room would be warm for them. On Christmas morning Ernie would make me a cup of tea in a china cup, with a saucer. Then when the bedlam had died down a little he and the children would make me breakfast, a slice of home cured ham and an egg with a slice of bread and butter and another cup of tea. What a treat that was. They would clear away AND wash up. It was like being on holiday.

I would get on with the Christmas dinner whilst the children played. We wouldn’t eat until mid afternoon so it wasn’t too much of a rush. After lunch all the ‘men’ would clear away and wash up, a small recognition of all the work the ‘women’ did cooking throughout the year. To this day all the men in the family clear away after Christmas dinner, even those who have married into the family. This tradition came as a big shock to some of them I can tell you!

By early evening the younger children would be exhausted, often getting carried to bed after collapsing in a heap on the floor. The older ones would last a while longer and then it would be time for Ernest and I to relax.

He never really went to school, so I would read to him for a while and then we would end up chatting about what a wonderful day it had been. Before going to bed we’d have a sort through all the rubbish the children had shoved to one side to see what we could salvage for future use.

Life was very simple, and we may not have had much money but we were rich beyond compare with our family and our little home.

Well, it’s time I went Tess. Now you remember  Father Christmas arrives here before he gets to you and you know what happens if you’re not asleep when he turns up…no presents. I can’t be doing with that, I like presents, so early to bed for me on Christmas Eve.

The best gifts are the ones the grandchildren and great grandchildren make. The scruffy Santa made out of egg cartons, the drawing of a rocket that looks like a block of flats and the trinket boxes made out of washing up liquid bottles.

I love all that. That they have sat down, thought about it and spent time making something for me. I have a box full of unrecognisable gifts in a box upstairs, each one a memory of the child that made it.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas my dear, may your day be filled with laughter, happiness and scruffy Santa’s made out of egg cartons. Happy Christmas.




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SAS Survival Handbook, Revised Edition: For Any Climate, in Any Situation

This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on December 24th, 2014

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