With Christmas just around the corner, my thoughts have been returning to my own childhood Christmas. Remembrances of waking to the rustle of a stocking at the foot of my bed full of wonderful things to play with – flashlights, pens with red and green and blue ink, jacks, marbles and magical kaleidoscopes. Memories of the smell of mandarin oranges and chocolate mix together with those of reading a brand new Christmas annual by flashlight under the bedcovers.
Although my Mum is always so good about my need to listen to stories of her childhood, I realised that Christmas was one area that we hadn’t really talked about. I wondered how many of our family traditions were carried over from her childhood and so we had a lovely talk about it last week.
We talked of typical Welsh winters with rain and snow, once in a while deep enough to halt travel. Mum remembered her Dad and some other village men walking to Llandre one year, to pick up food that was sent by train from Aberystwyth because the roads were blocked.
We talked of Christmas Eve with an early bedtime so that my grandparents could put up the tree and decorate it. The living room was strung with paper chains and paper lanterns. Stockings were filled with nuts, oranges, apples, coins, yoyos and new skipping ropes and new Girl’s annuals, Beano or Dandy were wrapped and set next to the stockings. When I asked Mum what her favourite Christmas memory was, she told me it was ‘always’ coming downstairs on Christmas morning and seeing the tree. Christmas gifts for Mum were always books (she never liked dolls). I laughed at Mum’s memory of going to the shop to buy her Mum either Ponds vanishing cream, or the biggest and shiniest ring or broach she could find and cigarettes for her Dad, because my own memory of Christmas shopping was buying Mum the largest most colourful bottle of perfume I could find and cigarettes or tobacco for my Dad. After all our parents deserved the biggest and the best!
Perhaps my love of food stems from my Grandparent’s home. The smell of food cooking in their home still permeates my brain. It was many years before I realised that all this wonderful food was made without a real kitchen, as my Grandparents only had a cast iron oven/hearth, similar to those shown on the Bricks and Brass website and once in a while the primus stove was called in to action. There was no running water in the house either, so water was collected from the village water pump close by. However, delicious rice and tapioca puddings came from that oven on a Sunday and Welsh cakes were baked on the griddle. Christmas dinner was a similar meal to Sunday dinner, with a goose, duck or chicken from Mamgu’s cousin’s farm and Christmas cake and mince pies. After dinner, parents napped in front of the fire, while children grabbed pieces of cardboard to go sledding if there was snow.
Welsh Christmas traditions such as Plygain, Mari Lwyd are well covered on websites such as BBC Wales and Historic UK, but if those were held in the village, they were not attended by my family. However New Year was a really important time. My Grandparent’s home always had a welcoming open door, but at New Year everyone’s homes were open for friends and family to visit. The children headed out well before noon to participate in Calennig by singing carols at homes in the village and they were given a coin or apple in exchange for singing. Mum told me she was always excited to put this money towards new shoes from Emlyn’s Shoe shop.
I loved this Christmas conversation with my Mum, but yet part of me felt sad afterwards – not at the memories, but at what Christmas has become. My Christmas shopping list seems to have become a series of gift card purchases at the request of family members. So I fret and worry, hoping that our grown children will have the warm, delicious memories of Christmas that Mum and I have - because I wouldn’t trade any of those memories for the biggest, shiniest gift in the world!
Enjoy making your own memories this Christmas and New Year!
Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!