Christmas is for kids? It is difficult for me to know or understand what Christmas is like for children these days. Many, no doubt, are receiving presents I could only have dreamed about when I was a child. Remotely controlled cars and aeroplanes, drones even, computer games like films that you can actually participate in, little pocket phones with which you can talk or communicate with friends at any time and do many other things besides. All quite miraculous and some of it is even beyond the dreams and imagination of a child in the 1930s. Nevertheless, Christmas was a magical time for me. Normally my father worked long hours and was absent from home most of the time, so simply having all the family together on Christmas day was a little bit special. It was the culmination of weeks of preparation by my mother, Christmas puddings had been made, we children all had a stir, similarly the mince for mince pies was prepared and the Christmas cake had been cooked and decorated, we believed there were sixpences in the pudding mix and we wondered if we would be one of the lucky ones on Christmas day, (Lookng back I marvel at what my mother was able to achieve in our small flat with no running water or drain). The living room had been decorated with paper chains that we made using strips of coloured paper stuck together with a paste made from flour and water, the chains focussing on a paper bell purchased from Woolworths that unfolded in a magical way to form the brightly coloured bell. There was a tree, a very small tree by today’s standards, decorated with home-made trinkets, no lights, they were for rich people. So the excitement was building. On Christmas Eve the mince pies were cooked, the trifle made and the Turkey had to be bought. Buying the turkey could mean going to Brixton market well into the evening, prices tended to fall as the day progressed. The market was an exciting place, the town had been decorated with coloured Christmas lights adding to the magical neon signs that were appearing on a few shops in the high road, the place was full of people doing their shopping, because, in the absence of refrigerators, nearly all shopping for fresh foods was left to Christmas Eve. The costermongers were shouting themselves hoarse, calling out their low prices, the stalls were lit with oil lamps, some with the much brighter Tilly paraffin lamps, a man with a coke stove was selling hot chestnuts and a barrel organ was adding to the general hub-bub. I just loved being amongst all these people, the noise, the air of excitement, the lights, the mist (or smoke) around the lights, it was a once a year marvellous occasion for me. On Christmas morning there was a very light ordinary breakfast. The living room was looking tidy and nice, much of the Christmas food was displayed on the ‘sideboard’, especially the cake and the trifle, with other titbits on show like chocolates and a selection of nuts (with instruction to us of ‘don’t touch’) they were for later in the day or tomorrow. There was an open fire, always a really good roaring fire on Christmas day. The time for giving out presents seemed to vary from year to year, sometimes it was in the morning once the turkey had gone into the oven, on other occasions, I remember, we had to wait until after dinner and that was not popular. We had bought small presents for our parents, but with little or no money they were presents bought from Woolworths for pennies, but it pleased us to give them. The big event, of course, was receiving our presents, the parcels had been in the corner for several days and we had tried to guess the contents, at that time we were not usually invited to say what we would like, largely, I expect, because of the limited funds. Presents from aunts were almost always disappointing; socks, woollen gloves (that we would rarely wear, you can’t make snowballs with woollen gloves), a home-knitted pullover. They probably pleased our mother but they were boring for us. When it came to toys a Dinky Toy car was always a sure winner with me, something my mother never fully understood, one year my grandparents bought me a Meccano set, that was really great, although, as with all those type of construction sets, when you saw what could be made with larger sets there was some sense of frustration with the limits imposed by your small set. Another year, I remember, they bought a Bayko building set, that was something I really did like, with Bakelite white and red bricks, green windows, roofs and doors, it was possible to build extremely good attractive model houses. Once again, however, there were limits imposed on your imagination by the lower priced sets. I thought it was one of the best presents ever. My sister had girlie presents which she was always happy with, there was no worries about gender separation in those days, my younger brother was only five in 1939, I can’t really remember what he had. Then came the dinner, the best dinner of the year, it was amazing how much we kids could consume. Christmas pudding always came with custard, one had to be careful not to swallow a sixpence, then, perhaps, a portion of trifle! In the afternoon we would join our grandparents and great uncle and aunt, there would be stories, and some old songs, some light sandwiches later with a slice of Christmas cake, mince pies. There would be some drink, port and lemonade for us and the women, some beer or whisky or maybe brandy, nobody got anywhere near drunk, great uncle Fred probably was a little more jolly than usual. Boxing day was almost equally enjoyable, our new toys to play with, mother free of the stress of the big dinner with just cold meat and bubble-and-squeak to eat. Seated around the blazing fire with the subdued light from the fire and gas mantle lamps -- later there were low power electric bulbs – we would make toast from the fire with the aid of long toasting forks. Christmas was a comfortable cosy happy experience for us where we all felt loved and safe.
Then came the war! It was a good few years before we had a Christmas quite like those of the late thirties by which time I was no longer a child.