Monday, December 15, 2008
FRIDAY 19TH DECEMBER
My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that? (Bob Hope)
Christmas in the 1930s was very different from the Christmases of today.
In Scotland Christmas Day was just like any other working day, with offices, shops and factories open as usual, and Hogmanay and the New Year were much more important, New Year’s Day being a general holiday.
I believe that there was Midnight Mass in most Catholic churches on Christmas Eve, but the other churches didn’t have any services either then or on Christmas Day.
We children of course became very excited as the big day drew near. I remember that the living room in our tenement house looked wonderful with paper decorations round the walls and extending across the ceiling. I mentioned in an earlier blog that Rita doesn’t think we got many presents. I seem to remember that we did, but memory can play tricks, and I may be thinking about one particular Christmas.
Each year we went to the Sunday School Christmas party where we played the usual games and Santa Claus handed out gifts to us all. I don’t think people had Christmas trees in their homes in those days, but there was always a big tree at the party.
Our parents usually took us to Glasgow to see Santa Claus in a big store. On one occasion we were passing through a number of corridors lined with toys and novelties, when we came across a huge teddy bear, taller than an adult. As we passed it, our father shook its paw and said “How d’you do?” And its head fell off!!!
On the Sunday nearest Christmas Day, we sang the usual Christmas hymns in church, but there was no tree and no decorations.
It wasn’t till the late 1940s that Scotland began to make more of Christmas. Perhaps the change was due to our servicemen coming back to civvy street, having experienced how it was celebrated elsewhere. This was certainly the case in our church when the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols was introduced, but I think it was some time later that services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were begun. I remember one local minister telling me that he went to bed at ten every night, and had no intention of changing his routine!
A real weepie, bringing back a lot of memories for me -
“The Little Boy that Santa Claus forgot” sung by Phyllis Robbins
“Christmas Morning” by the Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1853-1919)
The Druids thought the mistletoe
Would stop the meanest witches,
Cure the deadliest disease,
Keep cradles safe from switches.
Today it is the symbol of
The mystic power of earth,
For when the sun’s about to die
In love we find rebirth. (Anon)
As I already indicated, New Year was much more important in those days, and most families had some kind of celebration on New Year’s Day. In our house we stayed up on Hogmanay, and when midnight struck we wished each other a Happy New Year, had a small glass of non-alcoholic wine with some shortbread or a piece of New Year bun, and went to bed.
In other homes of course families would gather to toast the New Year with something a bit stronger than our Co-op wine, and would have a party which might last till early morning. Many folk would go out “first-footing” and it was important to take a bottle with you.
The “first foot” is the first person to visit you after midnight and, in order to bring good luck, he should have dark hair and carry a lump of coal. I understand that in some areas he carried a piece of cake or bun, coal and a coin, to ensure that there would always be food, warmth and money throughout the coming year. I’ve heard that some folk at midnight open their back door to let the old year out, and open the front door for the new year to come in.
My first experience of celebrating New Year in the traditional way didn’t happen till I was 27 years old. Jean and I had become engaged the previous August, and I think she was anxious to initiate me into the customs of her family. Strangely enough, neither of us can remember much about that night. (No insinuations, please!) I know we started off in her house and then went out, but who we visited we can’t recall.
I remember that, when I was a boy, there was one New Year’s Day programme on the wireless that my father would never miss, and that was Harry Lauder. I could never understand his popularity, yet at one time he was said to be the highest paid entertainer in the world. I feel that those few remarks about New Year memories wouldn’t be complete without one of his songs, so here‘s “A Wee Deoch-an-Doris”
This week there was an important landmark for my WISE MEN SAY blog. The post on Tuesday was the one thousandth since I began in February 2006, and I published again my favourite saying -
“You will find meaning in life only if you create it. It is not lying there somewhere behind the bushes, so you can go and you search a little bit and find it. It is not there like a rock that you will find. It is a poetry to be composed, it is a song to be sung, it is a dance to be danced.” (written by the Indian mystic Osho 1931-1990)