I was brought up in a mining community where, following the 1926 strike until well into the Thirties, there was quite a lot of poverty. Perhaps you would like to know what Christmas was like when I was a little girl.
People had very little money to spend on Christmas, which in those days was completely different from what it is today. There was not the preparation and buying from October onwards. A week or two before Christmas day we would start making our own streamers from bits of coloured paper; mostly we would make paper chains. The majority of people were quite poor, so we didn’t have as many presents as children have today. For instance we didn’t get anything from Aunts & Uncles because every family could only afford a little extra for food. We just got one present from Father Christmas and our stocking.
Dad’s relatives had a farm in Ireland, so we were luckier than a lot of families as they always sent us a goose; they would put it on the overnight boat & we would get it off the train from Fishguard the following morning, Christmas Eve. Our local grocer would take his horse and cart to the station and collect parcels off the train and he would come around the streets delivering. We children would be quite excited, dancing in the road, waiting for him to arrive.
Mam & Dad would tell us to hang up our stockings beside the big open fireplace and then we would go to bed. They would then take out what money they had managed to save and go to Tonypandy shopping at 10 o’clock. The shops would still be open and they would be able to pick up bargains and some luxuries to eat. When they finished their shopping they would go to midnight mass, so by the time they walked home it would be 2a.m.
Gran lived with us and it would be her job to feather, clean and prepare the goose and stuff it ready for the oven.
Of course we were always awake very early Christmas morning, to delve in our stockings and see what Father Christmas had brought. We usually had an apple, an orange, a couple of nuts and one small present. We didn’t feel hard done by because we had so little, as everyone had the same, and it was more than we normally had; so Christmas still had magic about it.
About 7o’clock we would walk with Dad to the ‘Bakehouse’. People had no central heating so on a very cold morning we would feel we were in wonderland seeing all the different intricate patterns Jack Frost would leave on the windows.
We didn’t have gas or electric cookers in those days. We had a black grate with an open fire and a small oven beside it, which would take a long time to warm. The ‘Bakehouse’ as we called it was the local bakery; they made bread and cakes. On Christmas Eve the women would take their Christmas cakes to be cooked slowly during the night. Then early Christmas morning the men would take their fowl in its roasting dish & for sixpence (old money) Mr James, the Bakehouse owner, would cook our goose for us, so we could use our fire and oven for cooking vegetables.
We would then go to mass and Father would give all us children an orange or a few sweets as we came out. I suppose that when we got home from church we would have our Christmas dinner but I don’t really remember much about eating everything; else was too exciting.
After dinner we would play games or Dad would do Irish jigs or he would play his melodeon for us to dance to the music. All the excitement of Christmas was just the same as it is today. You see there will always be a spirit of Christmas if you look for it.
We would all go to bed very tired, but very happy.
Today one of my fondest memories is the excitement of walking that 300 yards or so on a crisp early Christmas morning, with Dad, taking the goose to be cooked. The delicious smells from the Bakehouse would greet you long before you reached it.