This week’s winter and Christmas themed session, led by Lucy, revealed so many similarities between different people’s experience, despite any variations in geography or date of birth.
Other people’s recollections helped me recall many things I had entirely forgotten about. Most of them were food related! Christmas “treats” I didn’t enjoy but didn’t want to miss out on, like Turkish delight. The special hostess trolley that was wheeled out heavily laden with a Christmas tea in front of festive TV specials at my Nanna and Grandad’s house. I also was reminded of some more recent winter holidays involving lots of snow, and in the breakout room during the meeting, had a lovely laugh with my friend Sue. We giggled about how, one winter 10 years ago, our tiny little cars managed to somehow get us to work up two separate, very icy hills. We both remembered the surrealism of the moment, seeing much larger, newer cars abandoned roadside due to their ABS literally putting the breaks on their trip! Both of us ended up being sent home again once we got there, but it was worth it for the memories.
There are some rich and scrumptious pieces of writing in here for you to savour, suggested accompaniment – cup of tea (or even something mulled!). We hope you enjoy reading this lovely blog and it helps you remember times you have enjoyed and remember. Let us know in the comments what memories came up for you!
Sitting in a warm house with jumper and socks on to combat the odd draught (it’s an old house!) I could remember exactly the cold of the house I grew up in. I can’t say that I have many cosy memories of winter as a child. Certainly not the cosy picture painted in songs.
Before we had the luxury of gas fires fitted downstairs in the 60s, there would be one fire in the kitchen in the old black range, and after we had a TV when I was about 9, late in the afternoon a fire would be lit in the living room so we could watch TV all together. When that fire was lit, the fire in the kitchen would be allowed to go out.
Going to the bathroom was literally a quick dash upstairs, and run down again as quick as you could. Going to bed was a similar quick affair. For me and my younger brother, and I guess my two elder brothers when they had been younger, pyjamas were warmed on the fire guard until the last minute when you undressed again as quick as you could, into the warmed pyjamas, and into bed. No tog 15 duvet but as many blankets as available, budget allowing. Oh joy, there was the old style stone hot water bottles wrapped in a towel waiting for you, that you would burn your feet on no matter how careful you were.
In the morning you would wake up in a literally freezing room with just your nose poking out from the nest you had made. The inside of the windows would be frozen solid with ice patterns. When my children were younger and I told them how cold houses were, they could not believe it. They said it sounded like Dickens!
You didn’t always escape when you went to school. The classroom radiator never seemed to warm the whole room, and were only good for standing the bottles of frozen milk on to thaw them. When I went to secondary school, some of the classrooms were in annex buildings and often the heating to the annexes would break down and we had to wear our coats and gloves for lessons. The more sympathetic teachers would stop the lesson half way through and get us to leap up and down to get warm.
How lucky I feel now to be able to keep my house warm. Not too hot, but definitely cosier.
I loved Pongo, my polar bear teddy. Mum made him for me for Christmas, in 1962. I’m wearing a party dress but the photo must have been taken some time later when it was warmer!
That winter was known as “the Big Freeze” and snow throughout the country lasted from December to March. We lived on a hillside on the outskirts of Nelson, Lancashire, and we cheered when the snow plough eventually came through to clear the road. Dad dug a path through the snowdrift from the back door to the coal bunker in the garden. I remember the walls of frozen snow on either side, nearly as tall as me. Later, he built paths for us further into the garden and my sisters and I replayed a game many times: we were explorers travelling through the ice, which twinkled in the sunshine like jewels. Our snowman needed repairs from time to time: the coal for his eyes, the carrot for his nose and my Dad’s old pipe needed replacing when they fell out, but he lasted a long time.
Mum wouldn’t have been able to go out with my baby brother in the pram for many weeks as there were steps up to the house, as well as the pavements piled high with frozen snow left by the snowplough. But as a child, you don’t think about how hard it must be for your parents. My memories are of fun in the snow-filled garden, sledging with Dad in the field behind the house, warming up by the living room fire after playing out, drying our icy mittens on the fireguard, drinking cocoa with malted milk biscuits, and listening to the bedtime stories my Dad was so good at making up about the adventures of Pongo, and his friend Jennifer.
"Merry" Christmas My Christmasses were different I remember only aged 5 We didn't have much money but a mother full of pride I remember the build up was unbearable I would count down from the first My birthday in the middle I'm not sure what was worse, but I dreamed a dream of Christmasses like the ones I'd seen on the telly where laughter really came out loud from the very pit of your belly where Santa would make an appearance and see how good that I had been and leave a pile of presents the biggest ever seen. I dream a dream of Christmasses where I'd get the present on my list not the garbled words of wisdom from a father that was pissed not the tears that came from a mother as she tried to hide the pain not the cries of all her children who felt they were to blame. I dream a dream of Christmasses would just come knocking at my door I'd stand with my arms open and let the Christmas pour Bringing tinsel, lights and baubles merriment and snow and as the "silent night" comes creeping I'd let the Christmas flow I dream a dream of Christmasses I don't wish for much you know just a day that I forget the past and wrap the "present" up in a bow. ©Pauline Omoboye, Dec 2020
You can still get it. It’s sweet powder in a packet. You just add milk and whip it up. Do it right, you leave little lumps of damp, pink powder in the bowl, dab them up on your finger and lick. It was quick – a treat- not often we’d a pudding with our tea.
Mostly we made do with toast and a smear of jam. Money was tight. On Sundays, I would pray for an angel. A miracle. Our dad to come home. New clothes. Proper shoes. Christmas presents.
My class teacher was in charge of the Nativity play that year. I knew I was going to be a great actress some day, and I wanted to be Mary. I knew from church she was the star. Hail Mary. Blessed art Thou.
To audition, I had to walk across the polished floor of the school hall. The other kids tried to make me laugh but I held my head up, smiled and walked, my feet silent in grubby white socks. I was a loud, rambunctious child but for those few minutes, I was the mother of God and full of grace.
I don’t remember the performance. Richard Lees was Joseph. Mary didn’t speak and Gabriel was a better part, he’d the most lines and tinsel wings. All the same, I felt blessed.
Mum made my costume. She got the material on the market but, even so, blue velvet was expensive.
I didn’t taste Angel Delight again till Whitsuntide.
A conversation with Nury Marvi by Joe Sykes
Nury’s first experience of Christmas in his homeland, Iran, was when his friend, Hermes, invited Nury to celebrate Christmas with his family. Hermes and his family were of Armenian origin and were Christians. They celebrated Christmas on 6th January, and Nury remembers being warmly welcomed into their home to partake in their traditions with them. The day was lots of fun. One particular memory was of the big, eastern European-style cake, which Hermes’ family had bought from a confectionary shop. He also remembers how they spoke Farsi all day long, not their native language of Armenian, to ensure that Nury felt welcome. He says that this was more than respect, but a sign of genuine friendship which the family extended to him.
Hermes was a life-long friend, and he and Nury were in regular touch despite the distance between them (Hermes lived with his family in the USA) until Hermes died two years ago. Nury enjoys thinking about his old friend; plenty of wonderful memories come back.
The thought of the smell of the spices contained in the home made Christmas cake baking in oven and pervading the whole house makes my mouth water. The hand written cook book I inherited from my mother contained no less than six different recipes for Christmas cakes together with the name of the person who had given them to her. She was always searching for the perfect recipe.
I looked forward to helping my mother with the preparations for the cake a couple of months before Christmas. The collecting together of the many ingredients, some of which needed to be soaked overnight in alcohol. The lining of the square cake tin with grease proof paper and surrounded by protective brown paper, tied with sting to protect the cake from too much heat in the long cooking time. After baking the cake, it was wrapped in more greaseproof paper, and then foil to keep it moist, and kept in an especially deep cake tin. Weekly, it would be taken from the tin, turned upside down, holes made in it with a skewer to help the absorption of more alcohol.
The week before Christmas almond paste would be put on the top of the cake, then the day before Christmas Eve the top of the cake would be iced by my father with royal icing in peaks to look like snow. Then plastic decorations would be pushed into the soft icing before a cake ruff was put around the sides and it was displayed on the sideboard in the front room where we would eat Christmas tea, when the Christmas cake was the star of the meal, eagerly awaited to see how it how it had turned out this year… was it too dry? or had all the fruit sunk to the bottom? It was then relished with crumbly Wensleydale cheese.
One year my mother won a Christmas hamper in church raffle which contained a Christmas cake baked from a Delia Smith recipe. From then on, she commissioned the lady who had baked the cake to bake one each year for us.
She had found her perfect recipe, and the house never smelt the same again.
What struck me the most in today’s session is how many shared images and experiences we have, such as nutcrackers and bowls of walnuts that only came out at Christmas and were reserved for our dads. When I planned the session I didn’t realise that I would overload everyone’s senses so much!
When chatting to Linda, she told me about the Christmas cake making process that she had when growing up. The things that she remembered brought up the same memories of my mum making the cake in the kitchen, bringing what seemed like a colossal amount of ingredients together for just one cake. When Linda described the cake being taken out of the oven wrapped in greaseproof paper and tied with string, it evoked a memory from what seemed like yesterday. I also remember the skewer that poked the cake when she fed it too – such small things, but were part of our Christmas tradition every year. I also thought of the skewer lying in my mum’s drawer still ready to be used. My favourite part was helping to decorate the cake with spiky white icing and little ornaments. The icing and marzipan was always my favourite part of the cake too. My taste buds have evolved somewhat as an adult, so I can eat the cake part now too!
Winter and the festive season could never be described as insipid and even though I am spending Christmas for the most part alone in Manchester, this is something that I will definitely be keeping up! I’m looking forward to the sparkles, smells and tastes!
This week we had a double themed discussion on both Christmas and Wintertime in general.
More than any other time of the year Christmas is steeped in tradition. As I now have no close family living, my main traditional activities in recent years have centred on the purchasing of seasonal food items and attending celebratory events. It was surprising how my memories of “Christmas Fare” struck a corresponding chord with so many other people.
Jars of piccalilli, Brazil nuts, dates, Turkish Delight, and especially sugared orange and lemon slices were all common memories; as was, somewhat reluctantly, tucking into Christmas Day tea in front of T.V. (watching Morecombe and Wise) when the turkey sandwiches and trifle were wheeled in.
In normal times it is in a variety of social gatherings in which I now engage with the “Spirit of Christmas”, it is with some sadness that I catalogue them all cancelled this year: Christmas Tea at Chorlton Good Neighbours, Christmas Fairs at various churches, Staff Party for Oxfam volunteers.
Turning my thoughts to wintertime in general, like most people it is occasions of being exceptionally cold that I recall. Unsurprisingly, to those who know me, one particular memory was of a very, very cold night at the Etihad Stadium when, with the temperature approaching minus double figures, I attended a match between Manchester City and Everton on Monday 20th December, 2010. Adding swiftly to the general misery induced by the extreme cold, Everton scored twice in the opening 20 minutes; City eventually losing 2-1.
Boxing Day has always been a traditional day for football fixtures, indeed historically, clubs would also play on Christmas Day itself. Often teams would play “back-to-back” games against the same opponent sometimes with quite bizarrely different results. In recent years the wearing of amusing club-based Christmas jumpers has become more common place – here is a photo of mine just so it gets an outing this year!
This week, I felt humbled listening to people’s memories of freezing cold winters spent under as many blankets as possible. Apart from a couple of cheaper student digs, I have spent my winters in the warm – so much so, in fact, that my one Christmas spent huddled around the fire was something of a novelty!
‘Twas the night before Christmas 2016, when, preparing to set off from my partner’s family home for my own, I received a text from my dad: “Might want to rethink – very dark here!” This being a typical example of my dad’s cryptic approach to text messaging, I continued my journey undeterred. Only when I arrived at my parents’ house did I consider that my dad might have been referring to something other than the absence of streetlamps in the vicinity of the big, old, middle-of-nowhere house (perhaps “project” is a better word for it at that time) that he and my mum had moved into a few months earlier.
While we were fortunate enough not to have been caught in the floods that affected so much of the UK that winter, the same cannot be said of the power station which supplies our house – it was entirely underwater and, we were told, would continue to be so for several days. With no electricity or heating, it might have been a grim Christmas Day save for the old-fashioned wood-burning stove which sat stoutly and, until now, dustily in a corner of the living room. My mum got a fire going first thing in the morning and we used it to make tea, toast, and – more daring still – sausage sandwiches throughout the day.
As it turned out, there were even some pros: little cooking and less hot water meant no washing up and, since it was decidedly too cold to venture outside the living room for long, changing into something other than pajamas was completely out of the question. My family spent almost the entire day and night huddled together on the sofa playing chess, charades, and various iterations of twenty questions by candlelight.
Of course, the real treat came a couple of days later when I awoke to find, not only central heating, but also my mum frantically cooking everything in the fridge; we were all in for a glorious feast! Still, my Christmas Day 2016 will always be a favourite example of an occasion when absolutely nothing goes to plan, but the result is delightful in its own way.
Here’s hoping the same might be said of many a Christmas Day 2020.