There was lots of laughter, and many smiles, as we shared our stories of a variety of celebrations and special occasions. Some of us shared treasured memories of birthday celebrations in the past, as well as our experiences of the recent inventive ways in which we’d been able to celebrate birthdays in spite of the lockdown.
We also described special gatherings of family and friends to celebrate retirement, weddings, anniversaries and Christmas, as well as bigger public celebrations, including jubilant crowds following a football triumph and even a traditional village celebration to mark the end of the bubonic plague, over 350 years ago!
Food (especially cake!), drinks, music and games played important roles in many of our festivities, as you’ll see in the stories which follow.
Many memories of celebrations seem to be about birthdays, especially when the age attained was a ‘big O’.
One rather unusual celebration which fits into that category involved three friends who – though not actually sharing a birthday date – were to reach a ‘big O’ at around the same time. They decided to have a joint party, inviting family members and many of their mutual friends. They wanted to celebrate Danica’s fortieth, Nicola’s fiftieth and John’s sixtieth birthdays.
They planned a very interesting day with various events, all enjoyable, but the most memorable part for me was in the evening when it was time to cut the birthday cake. This comprised three square cakes in tiers, with the smallest at the top, of course, and candles lining every side of each cake, that is 15 on each side of John’s cake, a bit of a shuffle on Nicola’s cake with two sides of 13 and two of 12 and 10 on each of Danica’s. Quite an exercise of ingenuity!
Actually lighting so many candles, involving all three celebrants, took a long time but the effect with so many twinkling flames alight in the semi-darkness was really spectacular, and most memorable. And it tasted very good too!
Before we began, Jolene asked us each to give just one word that we would use to describe special occasions for us. Many of us thought of times that involved family and friends, parties, weddings etc. Tony suggested that there were private special occasions and public celebrations. It was interesting to think about these differences in our breakaway groups.
In the breakaway group with Margaret (Williams) we talked mainly about family occasions. I remembered my 60th birthday party which was also my retirement party. The retirement part was more important than the age. Although I had loved my work, it was demanding emotionally and sometimes physically and I felt fortunate that I was in the age bracket to be able to retire on my pension at 60. My children frequently tell me that they may still be working into their 70s! It was a very lively occasion in a local function room with possibly 100 people. Family, friends, colleagues past and present, and lots of music and dancing, food and possibly some drinking as well! Importantly my husband, who was already very ill at the time, was well enough to be there, and see family and friends he would not get the chance to see again. A kind neighbour video recorded this as a present, and I have since had it transferred onto a DVD.
My 70th birthday was more refined as befitted my increased age and about 30 close family members went for afternoon tea at The Midland Hotel. Equally enjoyable, just quieter! Needless to say, both occasions involved cake!
Other family celebrations were weddings of course and graduations. Wonderful to see years of hard work culminating in that short walk across a stage.
I suggested that I thought that the older one gets, just getting up every morning and being well enough to enjoy activities and life is a perpetual cause for celebration!
Linda and I quickly discovered that we have consecutive birthdays celebrated very recently! Hers is the 7th of July and mine is the 8th. We both had particularly lovely birthdays this year, despite not leaving the house. Linda’s family and friends kept her busy on the phone and by sending flowers and gifts and I was lucky enough to see my mum and stepdad after 6 long months! Friends came to the street to say hello and my neighbours popped in to say hi with banoffee pie and beer. It was so lovely to receive all of the messages and love. I felt very lucky to have such wonderful people in my life.
I continued the celebrations in the garden last weekend, but it was unlike any other celebration as I had to book people in which felt very bizarre, the weather let us down a tiny bit, and I was a bit stressed about sharing food so there was none, but we shivered and starved through it. It’s a good job we have a lot of blankets in this house!
I remember childhood birthdays being so different – the light was so much better and the weather always seemed so nice. Maybe mum and dad didn’t take any photos of the soggy birthdays, which is why I don’t remember them! Birthday parties were thrown mainly in the garden, there were plentiful sandwiches (cut in triangles obviously), chocolate fingers and cake. We played on my swing and my brother’s plastic tractor.
I felt so lucky to have my birthday in July compared to the rest of my family, my brother in November, Dad in December and my mum on the 5th of January when most people would rather eat soup and have a cup of tea after all of the overindulgence of the festive period. I’m sure that it must have rained in July in the 1980s, but the happy sun-soaked memories and photographs I have don’t feel that way.
This week’s topic of celebrations and special occasions, past and present, as usual had my mind flitting around from one thought to another at a hundred miles an hour! Family, friends, parties, milestones, Christmas, Easter, tea parties, celebrations, Christenings, so very many to remember. From being a youngster and having Cilla Black and Gene Pitney as my guests of honour at one of my birthday parties (a.k.a. my sister and her boyfriend!) to the party I was attending later in the day. And a million and one in-between.
Tea-parties I think have been my favourite and the most celebrated with seven per year for many years. Us five, plus Auntie and Uncle. Increasing in number with each grandchild and sadly reducing with the deaths of Uncle, Auntie and my husband. We have shared so much over the years with much eating, game playing, especially pass the parcel and always a sing song…we were never drinkers! Always a beautiful cake and candles and the traditional Cain version of Happy Birthday belting out! When my eldest daughter turned 30 she asked if she could stop her tea parties now. She lasted one year then they were back on!
At Anna’s Covid 19 gathering on Saturday afternoon things were a little different, we sat in the garden under several umbrellas as it poured down. We still had cake though but only one candle, which was blown out away from the main cake! We still belted out our Happy Birthday and a quick rendition of “I’m leaning on a lamp post” in honour of Auntie and Stan. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Too many great celebrations over the years to dive into here with limited space but some that stand out are milestone birthdays celebrated in our garden. I love a good garden party. We’ve had 18th, 21st and 30th parties and, soon to be, a 40th.
My daughters both had themed parties for their 30th’s. A circus party with everything but the animals. Such a fabulous day!
And a medieval feast complete with castle walls and a story teller. And amazing food at both.
My son’s 30th didn’t have a theme but did have a roaring fire and some spectacular Iranian dancers.
For the past few years my second daughter has organised summer and winter gatherings here in the family garden, usually with about seventy people. The highlight for most is the Gambian food my son-in-law makes, but for me, it’s singing Christmas carols around the fire at the winter gathering.
Recalling all these has brought me so much joy and made me look forward to whatever comes next. Massive thanks to Jolene for inviting me to join such a fabulous community group.
I must confess that when I heard this week’s theme, I panicked a little: my family is not one for parties or big celebrations. The first story I told Babs this week was about my partner finally getting to spend Christmas Day at my family home last year, even though we have been together for eight years… For all that time, my partner and my family got on very well, but Christmas nevertheless remained strictly my parents, myself, and my younger brother. The story has a happy ending, though, as we will be five for Christmas again this year!
No surprise, then, that both of my parents turned fifty without much fanfare – just plenty of cake, board games, and fish and chips for tea.
In fact, I can only recall one big family event – an even bigger fifty – my grandparents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary.
I was maybe twelve at the time, which I think might have been for the best, as I got to experience all the food and the dancing and none of the small talk! Family members travelled from all over the world, really – one of my uncles, my auntie, and two cousins live in Sydney. Because lots of guests stayed at my grandparents’ house or nearby, it seemed to me that the celebrations lasted weeks, during which time I encountered relatives who I might never have met otherwise. Even aged twelve, I remember struggling to comprehend that I was somehow related to so many, quite different, people.
When the big day finally arrived, apart from being forced into a too-frilly pink and orange dress (apparently, I had picked it out myself not two weeks earlier – sorry, Mum), the event was a huge success. My cousins, brother, and I managed to escape most of the hard work of setting up, but I remember that we filled baskets with greengages and plums from the trees in the garden, washed and plated them, and went around offering them to guests – feeling awfully pleased with ourselves, no doubt! I also remember the marquee with a band and a dance floor, which seemed absolutely enormous to me at the time, and my dad trying to get myself and my brother to try various exotic-seeming fish dishes from the buffet, much to our disgust.
What I do not remember is the end of the party, which makes me think that I must have fallen asleep under a table somewhere – perhaps practising for certain house parties some years down the line? Still, remembering this celebration makes me wonder whether a thirtieth birthday bash might not be so out of the question!
My Mum made wonderful cakes: I loved her rich fruit cakes especially. Maybe having lived through the war time deprivations, making cakes became such a pleasure and a way of marking special occasions: birthday cakes with candles; First Communion cakes; wedding cake posted out in little boxes; Christening cakes; cakes when Grandparents, Uncles & Aunts & their families came to stay; a cake to take with me when leaving for university …
In 1999, for my parents’ Golden Wedding, they invited us all for a week’s holiday in the Lake District, where they had met on a Catholic teachers’ walking holiday after the Second World War. The family had grown, there were 16 of us by then, and the holiday “cottage” had enough family bedrooms to accommodate each of my parents’ four children, our partners and children, as well as a downstairs bedroom for themselves. What a week! Walks, children’s games both indoor and out, taking it in turn to cook, picnics and a ride on the little train from Ravenglass to Eskdale (in the rain but still fun!). On the actual day of their anniversary, we all dressed up and my parents posed for photographs as they cut the cake with gold roses and icing that my sister had made. We were lucky that, despite my Mum’s ill health, we were all be able to celebrate their Diamond Wedding ten years later, with a restaurant meal and another beautiful cake, this time with sparkly “diamonds” amongst the roses.
Fast forward to 2015, my sister and niece made fabulous cakes for joyful celebrations of my Dad’s 95th and my 60th birthdays. Both with a theme reflecting our love of country walks and hills.
Lockdown hasn’t stopped us celebrating family birthdays either: our parents would be pleased to know that via Zoom, every member of our now larger family has been able to “come” to four birthday parties, regardless of distance. We’ve done Mexican waves, played word games, quizzes, a hilarious version of the Generation Game (my niece passed 15 random objects across the screen for us to try and remember), and synchronised cake eating: Ready, steady, bite! Our one-year old great nephew was the star of the screen, grinning with chocolate cake all over his face, echoing many other photographs of his relatives in our family albums!
In this week’s storytelling session, Nury told me all about when he got married in Iran in April 1959. Some of the aspects of the day which he described were similar to western wedding day traditions, such as the bride wearing white, whereas others were distinct and interesting, such as the bride and groom being in separate rooms from each other during the wedding ceremony.
His tale triggered my own memories of my school friend Danny’s wedding day in summer 2011, in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia. Danny had moved to the city years earlier, and it was a privilege for me to be invited to share his and his now-wife Yuni’s special day.
The wedding was fascinating and a lot of fun. The number of attendees was off the scale. I (hopefully accurately) remember them telling me that everyone attends a Sumatran wedding, from your becak (bicycle taxi) driver to your hairdresser.
After the formal ceremony, the celebrations took place entirely outdoors, in the street outside Yuni’s family home, which was closed to traffic just for the wedding. Proceedings were kicked off by a parade down the street, in which I carried a roast chicken as a symbolic gift for the newlyweds! The street was lined with huge boards covered in flowers spelling out congratulatory messages.
Entertainment was provided by a local rock band, who invited the guests to do karaoke in the evening. In keeping with tradition, the bride and groom remained seated on a podium for much of the day, greeting well-wishers and having their photo taken, while the rest of us partied. They also had multiple changes of outfit, each one inviting more photographs.
Besides the magnitude of the festivities, I remember the warmth of Yuni’s extended family and friends, who instantly welcomed me, Danny’s sister and her partner and made us feel so at home. As far as memories of celebrations goes, Danny and Yuni’s wedding will take some beating!
The theme this week had two connotations. There are the intimate gatherings of family and friends at Christmas and to mark birthdays and anniversaries. Then there are the mega celebrations to mark significant local or national events.
I already had in mind a party I held on my 25th Birthday on a floating pub known as the “Old Caledonia” moored on the Victoria Embankment on the River Thames, London.(I am sure there’s no connection but this venue was destroyed by fire shortly after)
During the introduction I recalled a number of other birthday celebrations, most were those of what a fellow-story-teller referred to as “tombola” birthdays i.e. those ending with a “5” or a “0”. I particularly remembered my 40th when two friends invited me around for a tea party complete with party cake!
In conversation the topic “party games” was raised which led me to reminisce about my time as the Party Entertainer at McDonalds and the games I got the children to play. Especially how much I hated “pass the parcel” and how “musical chairs” was outlawed due to Health and Safety at work requirements. Here is an picture of me dressed as a clown for a children’s Christmas party, not actually at Macdonalds.
Others remembered celebrations like Royal Weddings and Jubilees and more recently that remembering V.E. day which had to be mostly “virtual”. It will surprise no-one to learn that my memory is associated with Manchester City’s recent triumphs. This was the huge gathering on 14th May, 2012 in Albert Square to celebrate City first league title for 44 years. One thing which made the day even more special for me was when, unbelievably, in that vast crowd of 100,000 people I should bump into an old friend who I had not seen for nearly 20 years. A man whose wedding celebration I had attended and who had been my closest friend for a number of years when I was living in London.
It is ironic that a celebration to mark the end of the bubonic plague of 1665 in the West Yorkshire village of Hepworth had to be cancelled this year, 2020, because of the Covid 19 pandemic.
My father’s ancestors have lived in and around Hepworth for hundreds of years, so my father was very keen for us to keep up the tradition of going to Hepworth Feast, always held on the last Monday of June. It was one of the highlights of the year.
As a primary school pupil, it was a day to look forward to as we had the afternoon off school to process behind the Hepworth School banner and the Hepworth Silver Prize Band at 2pm, round a three mile circuit, stopping at six places to sing hymns. The school then provided tea for the children and the band.
I then went to my grandparents’ farmhouse where my relatives would gather before going to the United Sing in the centre of the village for 6.30pm.
After the sing, we went up to the gala field for sports such as the egg and spoon, sack and three-legged races. The final race was a relay race between four local schools for a silver cup. This cup is always presented by a former pupil of Hepworth School, so one year my father had the honour of giving the cup to the winning team. After which there was a hog roast, lots of amusements and dancing in the street, with everyone having a good time.
Since finishing work in 2002, I have been able to start going to Hepworth Feast again. One of my cousins very kindly invites all his relatives, together with the stewards and members of the band for lunch before we set off at 2 pm.
I find it a very moving experience to hear the band as it marches up from the school, behind the banner, to play hymns before we set off for the traditional parade.
The United Sing is very well attended with relatives of the villages coming from far and wide to join the traditional celebrations that have not changed much over the last hundred years. Most local villages had their feast, but Hepworth is one of the few continuing the tradition.