Christmas Decorations

1950's Style

Christmas 2011 approaches and I’ve started thinking back to the 1950’s when I was seven-plus: making our own decorations from strips of coloured paper, gluing them into circles, joining them together, forming long chains to cover ceiling and walls: a real Christmas tree adorned with real lighted candles in their little clip-on holders; paper baubles everywhere.  Everyone seeming so blissfully unaware of such a potential fire hazard!

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  • How lovely to hear about other people’s Christmas in the 50s I remember the Boret family, I went to school with Len and I think he had a brother Bobby and two sisters. 

    Also about the crepe paper decorations, we used to make our own and cut 3-4 inch strips and machine a line of stitching down the middle, this could then be ruched up to the length needed, we also made lanterns out of paper chains. 

    We had lovely Christmases, home produce goose, chicken and all our own vegetables. We also had a piano, which my Mum played all the carols on, and as a very young child my Dad made me a doll’s house (which I still have) and the furniture. Mum would make us knitted dresses and jumpers, scarves and hats some out of the wool from her Angora rabbits. 

    We would go to Midnight Mass and then home to bed, Mum and Dad would put up the tree and decorations while we where asleep on Christmas Eve and it was like a wonder house when we got up in the morning.

    Then on Boxing Day Dad would take us to Southend to a Pantomime, we also went to many parties over the Christmas period at my Mum’s best friend in Lower Avenue, Dunton and we had extra activities at our Church Hall Club. I’ve tried hard to make my childrens Christmas as happy as mine, I hope I have succeeded.

    By Mary (07/01/2012)
  • No, they weren’t paper chains Brian. Paper chains came in packets of short flat coloured paper with ends you had to glue together and then link with each other to make the chain. The ones I was referring to were made of crepe paper, with a machine stitch running down the centre and the whole thing wound into a very long spool. You had to twist them as you unwound the spool to make them spiral. When storing them for the following year, you had to get the end and start winding it back into a spool, being careful that the middle didn’t fall out, when you would have to start all over again. (We did also make paper chains of course, especially for the school classroom). 

    I also remember taking the decorations down on 12th night and being amazed at the amount of dust that had accumulated and how much bigger and lighter the room looked without them. We were warned that if we took them down before 12th night, we would be visited by the Gremlins. I agree with you, in those days, all were welcome and sleeping arrangements just didn’t seem to matter.

    My Mum’s cousins from London always came to Laindon for Christmas and stayed at my Nan’s bungalow ‘Pendennis’ (next door to us) because they loved the hospitality and the ‘countryside’ feel of Laindon. They used to arrive after walking all the way from Laindon Station, loaded with presents, and then have to negotiate our muddy unmade road. When I heard ‘King Wenceslas’ being sung very loudly as they walked through Nan’s gate, I knew that Christmas had really arrived. Nan had a put-u-up settee, but I think others just had to sleep on the floor. When my cousin Joan was about 2 years old, there was nowhere for her to sleep, so they put two chairs together with the seats touching in the middle, laid some blankets there and that is where she slept. 

    We once had a post delivery on a Christmas Day – very unusual. The postman arrived on foot and my dad offered him a sherry. Apparently, not the first drink he had been given that morning as although he set off quite happily down our path he staggered slightly and appeared to being having difficulty in walking a straight line.

    By Nina Humphrey(née Burton) (21/12/2011)
  • I just love reading about the old style Christmases. Do you remember the crepe decorations that looked like long flat spools? When you unwound them you twisted them as you went along to make them spiral into garlands that could be draped around the room. Large decorations in various shapes that hung from the ceiling and folded flat for storage. When opened, their middles emerged like delicate colourful concertinas. We had a set of Christmas tree candles as described by Andrea, but were never allowed to light them, as even with pegs holding them on, they had a tendency to tip over. Oh, and the tinsel, how I adored tinsel when I was a child. 

    In the fifties Christmas didn’t start anywhere as early as these days. We would get really excited about putting the decorations up but our mum would give us the ‘go ahead’ about a week before the big day. My sister Anne and I were so enthusiastic that one year we even decorated our bedroom and the kitchen. Anne stuck cotton wall balls all over the windows to make it look as if it was snowing. We had a piano in the living room with a flat top. Mum would spread a runner along that to put the Christmas treats on that she had been collecting. She worked mornings in Green Stores in the High Road and brought a few things home each day. Boxes of dates with little picks, pink and white sugar mice, slabs of Palm Toffee with a little hammer (dad’s favourite) and of course a large bowl of assorted nuts. We would have to rummage through various drawers to locate where the nutcracker had been stored since the previous year. We would also have some sweet chestnuts to roast in the ashtray of our Courtier Stove.

    Anne made a rule on Christmas morning to make mum and dad a cup of tea before we opened the presents at the bottom of our beds. One year my little brother Alan and I received identical teddy bears. Alan liked to do boxing with his. He would throw teddy in the air and then beat him up as he came down until his stuffing came out and his head came off. However, he took great care of the blue and white police car he also received and even took it to bed with him. I was gentler with my teddy and still have him. My Grandchildren sometimes play with him. 

    It is good advice to ‘never give a puppy as a Christmas present’ however, that’s not always the case. In 1962 when I was 16, Curly our beloved spaniel died and left an awful void. Mum’s friend Peggy who she worked with at Green Stores had a miniature Dachshund called Mitzie who she often talked about and admired. Dad made some enquiries and found a Mrs Hodgeson on the Kathleen Ferrier Estate who had a litter of miniature Dachshunds. One was chosen and reserved. Early on Christmas morning, Alan and I got up very early and with the address written on a piece of paper, we set off to collect the puppy. She was the smallest of the litter and the only one left. She ran under the settee when we arrived and Mrs Hodgeson had to coax her out. I asked her name and was told ‘Queen of the Night’. We walked home with her tucked inside my coat. Mum was sitting up in bed when we arrived home so I produced the puppy from inside my coat and placed her on her lap. She was absolutely thrilled but didn’t much like her name. She liked the name Mitzie but didn’t want to appear to be copying her friend. I suggested, how about ‘Peggy’ after your friend? She loved the idea and so the new puppy became Peggy and because she was so tiny she was allowed to live indoors unlike our previous big dogs. In fact, her favourite sleeping place was in my bed. She was the most sweetest and loved Christmas present ever and lived to a grand old age of at least 16.

    On Christmas afternoon, we played traditional games such as ‘I spy’, ‘Hunt the Thimble’, and cards. A pack of ‘Woodland’ snap or happy families were a favourite with the wonderful character names such as ‘Millicent Little Mouse’, Humphrey Goggle the frog and Cunningly Sly the fox. I’m battling with a heavy cold at the moment so it has been a pleasure to sit here, tapping this out. However, as it’s starting to turn into an epic, I had better wind it up. 

    There is so much more to tell, like the time in the seventies when we lived in Woolmergreen, (behind Markhams Chase School), we heard singing late one Christmas Eve about midnight. We traced it to a young man who apparently on the way home from the Plough and Tractor pub had fallen into a thicket opposite our house. He was just lying there in the brambles and in between singing carols kept calling ‘I think I’m drunk’. It was a bitterly cold night, so Colin went out to his aid, got him to his feet and sent him on his way, still happily singing carols at the top of his voice, including Silent Night perhaps?

    By Nina Humphrey (née Burton) (20/12/2011)
  • Nina, the paper strips you refer to were called paper chains. 

    I can recall one chrimbo in Tyler Avenue and our chimney caught fire. 

    One christmas, we had 22 staying in the 3-bedroom house, but how we all slept, I can’t remember. Well, it was back in the 1950’s and I’m getting old now. lol!

    By Brian Baylis (20/12/2011)
  • Yes and the Christmas Puddings with sixpences in, each wrapped individually (my nan said prewar these would have been silver threepenny bits). And queuing up for the Co-Op dividend to get enough money to buy the turkey, which would have to last for one week if she could make it. I guess women in the fifties were good managers. Then all the family coming round in the evening for drinks, brilliant times!

    By Richard Haines (19/12/2011)
  • I remember making chinese lanterns by folding the squares of paper in half, colouring them with crayons, making little cuts in the paper, opening them up, sticking down one side and then pushing them down to open the slits for the lantern look. They were so simple but kept us busy for ages with the colouring and gluing. And then the great night, waiting so excitedly to hear the sleigh bells when you knew father Christmas would be coming down your chimney. The excitement in the morning to reach out and find a lovely bulging sock !! Normally an orange some nuts perhaps if you were lucky a small bar of Five Boys chocolate and best of all maybe a three penny bit or even a sixpence. Perhaps we shouldn’t look back, but mostly it is so nice when we do. Happy Christmas every one and a very happy 2012 to you all Kind regards Joan (Nee Sarfas)

    By Joan Baterip nee Sarfas (19/12/2011)

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