Christmas in my childhood

I recently got asked to come to the local nursery and talk to the pre-schoolers about what Christmas was like when I was a child.

Did that make me feel old? Well yes it did!

Anyway, I thought about what I could tell them.

I tried to get them to imagine a small croft house, small rooms, no heating apart from the living room with its Raeburn cooker.

I took in an old oil lamp and asked them to imagine –

No electricity, no lights, no TV, no computers, no I pads etc.

Then Christmas itself, no room for a Christmas tree in the small living room that had to hold a table where we ate Christmas lunch.

No fairy lights of course.

We decorated with Christmas cards and paper chains.

I can remember when we started to get those fold out bells.

decorations 1970s

My older brother liked to try and find the hidden presents (under the bed) but I liked a surprise.

Presents were inexpensive items and some made by my Dad – a cradle for a doll, a basic doll’s house that we could go on to decorate and furnish from scraps of wallpaper and furniture made from matchboxes etc.

I remember some very snowy weather in the run up to Christmas, and the fear that the big parcel from friends in London would not be able to get through to us.

That parcel was such a delight, with lots of small items.

Spices and other items for our Mum who used to be a cook in London, and missed all sorts of items to use in her cooking, which obviously were not to be found in Unst.

Pomegranates I remember used to come in the box.

One year I got a plastic hen, and when pushed down she laid an egg.

That has remained in my memory all these years so obviously I really liked it!

Christmas lunch was a hen from the flock that had to be killed and cooked skilfully by our mother, otherwise it would surely have been a tough old bird.

All the trimmings to go with the bird and make the feast go further

then Christmas pudding, Christmas cake etc.

No TV in those early days, so radio perhaps and lots of board games, as well as the new toys to play with.  A pleasant time was had by all, and we didn’t have or need to spend vast amounts of money to achieve that enjoyment.

Rhoda Wibbie Pat


Blog carolling

Prompted by this blog post, I thought I would have a go at Blog Carolling.

Blog Caroling

My favourite Christmas Carol is “O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree”, but what I didn’t know was how many versions of the words there were!

The version I grew up singing went as follows:-

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches!
beauty green will always grow
Through summer sun and winter snow
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How fragrant are your branches!
When decked with candles once a year
You fill our hearts with Yuletide cheer.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
You are the tree most loved!
How often you give us delight
In brightly shining Christmas light!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Your beauty green will teach me
That hope and love will ever be
The way to joy and peace for me.

But, as evident by the difficulty I had in finding a video of someone singing the version I knew, and then finally confirmed by this page, there are lots and lots of different versions of it.

To finish, here’s a cat video celebrating my favourite Christmas Carol.

Merry Christmas!

Auld Yule

Christmas Tree

Our Christmas Tree

At this time of year I feel torn between two traditions, on the one hand I have people telling me that I should make sure that my Christmas Decorations are taken down before the 6th January because it is bad luck to have them up after that, and yet on the other hand, I like to pay homage to Auld Yule and keep them up until at least that day has passed.

Auld Yule (6th January) is the day that was Christmas before the change to the Gregorian calendar in Britain in 1752. Shetland was one of the places that refused to adopt the new calendar and so continued to celebrate Yule on the old date which was now the 5th January prior to 1800, and then 6th January after the leap year in 1800[1].

Unst, in the North of Shetland didn’t start to recognise the modern Christmas date until the 1950s, when children at the Anderson Institute would have return to school before Christmas. Even in my childhood there were still a few families that celebrated Christmas on Auld Yule. Foula, another island in Shetland which is even more remote than Unst, still celebrates Auld Yule today[2].

As to the belief held that it is bad luck to leave decorations up after the 6th, this seems to be quite a modern idea. Traditionally, Catholics did not take their Christmas decorations down until the 7th January[3], the day after Epiphany (Twelfth Day of Christmas, coincidentally also Auld Yule), and in Elizabethan England it was customary to leave decorations up until Candlemas (2nd February); this is still done in some other Western European countries such as Germany[4].

So how do I resolve my feeling of being torn. Well, my solution also solves another problem which comes with the taking down of Christmas decorations – that of the room looking bare when you’re done. My solution is to take my decorations down gradually, starting on the 5th but finishing after the 6th, and doing so in stages so that we get used to the room looking bare on the mantle, and the walls without Christmas Cards, but still have the tree up, then the tree comes down later and we’ve got used to the bareness gradually.

Referenced Links