Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas 1939-45

The Christmas of my childhood was so very different to what UK children experience today.
I had just turned seven when the war began in 1939. That year I spent Christmas in an isolation hospital and remained there for six weeks. It was a miserable time. It was a women's ward and I had neither toys nor other children to play with. Visitors were not allowed inside and I had to talk to my mother through the glass of the windows. Bless her, she made the journey twice a week on two buses, to have to stand half an hour before leaving for home. The weather tuned nasty and snow fell but she still turned up and left me with sixpence to buy pop to drink. But all that can be read about in my book "When Phones Were Immobile and Lived in Red Boxes," excerpts of which are on my Wrinkly Writer blog.
But what about 'normal' Christmases during the rest of my childhood?

Being wartime, we had come to expect very little and 'little' was expected and so we were never totally disappointed. One year, we had a doll each and a cot to share. That was quite something. But I dropped my doll the same day I received it and smashed the head to pieces. My dad glued the many pieces together and painted it. Oh boy did it look awful but I could not say so. he had done his best. One year I had a little sewing machine. Having no shuttle with a bottom thread it did not sew properly, so it was pretty useless. My dad got sick with a creeping paralysis and eventually was not able to get to work. Mum had a cleaning job but money was tight so we expected less at Christmas. Less what what we received.

Of course, everything was rationed, including coal. But on Christmas day we had a fire in the front room, which made a change from living in the kitchen — the only place where a fire, needed for hot water, was lit. We made paper chains to hang round the walls and up to the central light. And painted fir cones, and made beeswax flowers and berries to hang on a small tree or a painted twig. It was also sprinkled with glitter - tiny pieces of cellophane - to look like snow, and we bought a packet of icicles (twisted pieces of some sort of metal scraps) to hang from the branches. That was in the good years. Although there was no choice and food was far from rich, we never went hungry. We appreciated anything given to us and life was simple and utilitarian. No electrical appliances - we had no power points anyway. The only telephone we could use was the one in a red box on the corner of the street. But the doctor was the only likely person to be contacted as hardly anyone had a telephone (or a car) in those days. Wartime meant no street lamps and so winters were dark and gloomy. But our hearts were warm and full of love.

Today I look at our Christmas tree and am thankful — for joy, love, and the gift of life. Surely that is what Christmas is all about?

1 comment:

Payton L. Inkletter said...

It is a sobering read - the Christmases of your youth - and one that millions of Western children would not be able to comprehend, as they prepare to voraciously tear off expensive and wasteful wrapping from glitzy pricey gifts in a couple of days.

Yet to have started that way was a gift for so many of your day Gladys, who have kept the memory of it and absorbed priceless values of appreciation because of it. You know what is valuable, what is priceless, and that these things are free.