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Memories of Christmas past - Our childhood celebrations at home and school

PUBLISHED: 18:58 23 December 2019

A Christmas play at Southwold Primary School in 2004. Picture: BILL DARNELL

A Christmas play at Southwold Primary School in 2004. Picture: BILL DARNELL

Archant © 2004

How did you celebrate Christmas in childhood, from turkey dinners and nativity plays to finding an orange in the end of your stocking? Readers and staff have been sharing their memories.

Sprites Nativity in Ipswich in 2006. Picture: Lucy TaylorSprites Nativity in Ipswich in 2006. Picture: Lucy Taylor

Many people who grew up in the 1950s, 1960s and 70s, or earlier, remember when a roast turkey or chicken was a rare feast, before packs of smaller cuts of poultry became an everyday supermarket staple.

Anna Coburn, a member of the Norwich Remembers Facebook group, said: "At home we looked forward to the turkey with all the trimmings, when turkey was special and a once-a-year treat."

Santon downham kids club Christmas party in 1987. Picture: Archant ArchiveSanton downham kids club Christmas party in 1987. Picture: Archant Archive

And Lesley Firth said: "I always remember the smell on Christmas morning of the turkey having been cooked overnight. They were wonderful days.

"The stocking on the bed always contained mandarins and chocolates, then little surprises, and a comic."

Beccles school nativity in 1983. Picture: Archant ArchiveBeccles school nativity in 1983. Picture: Archant Archive

Stockings are also a special memory for Christine Gale. She said: "I had a stocking on the bed with small things and an orange in the toe. There was one main present, Mum used to decorate the tree on Christmas Eve so it was like magic on Christmas morning. Also most of the food was only available at Christmas time."

A festive feast just after the war

Children at Highfield Nursery celebrate Christmas with a performance of their Nativity in 2012. Picture: LUCY TAYLORChildren at Highfield Nursery celebrate Christmas with a performance of their Nativity in 2012. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Jean Walker-Bayless recalled: "It was Christmas morning 1945, the house was chilly, but after checking my Christmas stocking and finding a new toothbrush, orange and nuts, I could smell breakfast cooking. To the kitchen I hastily went. My mother was cooking real English sausages (scarce during the war) bacon, eggs and mushrooms, and fried bread, mmm. The radio was playing Christmas music. That was my first Christmas without a war.

"Our dinner was usually a home-grown chicken with sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, peas, little sausages around the chicken, Yorkshire puddings, plum pudding with hard brandy sauce, with silver threepence coins , crackers, and paper hats to put on.

Horning Community First School's Christmas dinner in 2004. Picture:  ArchantHorning Community First School's Christmas dinner in 2004. Picture: Archant

"In the afternoon (dad had a car in 1947), there were visits to grandmother and great aunts, or this could have been on Boxing Day, to have high tea with all the goodies. Who needed gifts when we had all that home-grown food?"

Coins hidden in Christmas puddings are a tradition which many people fondly remember.

Chantry School Christmas dinner in Ipswich in December 1973 Picture: ArchantChantry School Christmas dinner in Ipswich in December 1973 Picture: Archant

Susan Ellsworth said: "I remember the sixpences wrapped in greaseproof paper my mum used to hide in the Christmas pudding.

"We were all on the lookout for them. She put in three so we would all get one."

Drayton playgroup nativity in 1983. Picture: Archant ArchiveDrayton playgroup nativity in 1983. Picture: Archant Archive

Of course, sprouts are a Christmas dinner essential, and Jake Foxford remembers an unusual way of eating them.

He said: "I remember my dad inventing our family Christmas dinner favourite, Sprout Surprise. Steamed sprouts and cream in the food processor, with fried bacon bits mixed in after. It's the only way to eat your sprouts!"

The Willows Primary School in Downing Close, Ipswich, carol service and nativity scene



 in 2007. Picture: ANDY ABBOTTThe Willows Primary School in Downing Close, Ipswich, carol service and nativity scene in 2007. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Have you ever played 'My friend's chair'?

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Playing games with the family at Christmas might now increasingly mean taking it in turns to try out the latest video game, but in the past it was more likely to be charades or other "parlour games".

Eleanor Ellis writes: "The tradition in my family was to play a round of a game called "My Friend's Chair" after Christmas dinner. Half the guests would leave the room, and those left behind would each choose one of those now absent to be their "friend".

Santa at Bungay playgroup in 1983. Picture: Archant ArchiveSanta at Bungay playgroup in 1983. Picture: Archant Archive

"The first group would come back in, one at a time, while the room chanted "this is my friend's chair, this is my friend's chair" at them, each person patting a chair in an enticing manner.

"The player would have to decide who was most likely to be their "friend" and sit down beside them - either to be cheered and allowed to remain or booed from the room.

Redcastle first school Christmas party in 1987. Picture: Archant ArchiveRedcastle first school Christmas party in 1987. Picture: Archant Archive

"The game endured a good couple of decades (or more), until newer members of the family (by marriage) rebelled on the basis that it was not good for their self-esteem. To this day, I've never met anyone else who has ever played this game."

Celebrating at school - from nativity plays to dinners

Attleborough School nativity in 1983. Picture: Archant ArchiveAttleborough School nativity in 1983. Picture: Archant Archive

School Christmas dinners, parties and nativity plays are all key parts of the season for many people.

Iris Morris, a member of the Ipswich Remembers Facebook group, has memories of nativity plays. She said: "I was always one of the Wise Men as I was tall, and my dad always complained loudly from the audience about me catching my death of cold in my bare feet!

"We had a wonderful Christmas party put on by the GPO, where my brother worked."

Christine Godfrey-Glenn said: "Us Godfrey girls all had long hair. For some reason the teachers at Smart Street School in Ipswich thought that made us good candidates for angels. We wore white sheets, tinsel halos and cardboard wings with crepe paper feathers glued on them. Lovely memories."

Cheryl Fulcher, of Norwich Remembers, recalls: "My mum made me an angel dress out of her beautiful 1950s wedding dress, at the Avenues nativity play. I had a tinsel halo along with nine other angels.

"My older brother, John, was playing a policeman in a different play. He became ill and had a pain in his hip. The show must go on so his teacher made him a police car out of a wooden trolley, and the little milk bottles were carried in so he could still be in the play. That night he was rushed to the Jenny Lind Hospital and was seriously ill for several weeks, and then home schooled for months."

Adrian Hamilton Watering said: "I was always the person who had the most lines at Sprowston infant school in the 50s which usually meant standing on the side of stage in full view, in silly costumes.

"I vividly remember being a Christmas tree which my mother made out of green material with small fir tree branches sewn onto it. Also a scarecrow with straw coming out of sleeves. An early Worzel Gummidge."

Many people have fond memories of school Christmas dinners, including Judy Rimmer, She said: "When I was at school in Framlingham in the 1970s, the dinners there couldn't compete with home food, but I do remember the Christmas dinner being a big event which we eagerly looked forward to.

"We all queued up for turkey, roast potatoes, stuffing etc, and had a big plateful. If I remember rightly, everyone had to take some of everything.

"I'm not sure if we had custard as an option with Christmas pudding - I think there was some sort of sweet white sauce instead as a special treat, though I suspect it wouldn't have had any brandy in it!"

Shaun Crawford was no fan of school dinners, though, commenting: "My school Christmas dinners were awful. There wasn't enough meat on my plate. I made up for it at home, though!"


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