insideMoray reader Sandy Stewart reflects on when Christmas in Moray was very different from today…..Christmas in black and white – times have changed!
A chocolate Santa, a small pack of plasticine and a soap bar in the shape of a (radio) ventriloquist’s dummy.
I doubt that would be very exciting for a five year old today, but back in 1950 these were absolutely magic presents – this was 1950 Moray and all the restrictions of wartime rationing were still being felt.
In the run-up to Christmas, we were busy in school making paper chains out of coloured paper and, if we brought a pound of sugar and a can of condensed milk, the canteen ladies would make the most wonderful tablet for us to take home.
At that time, my family lived in one of the Seatown fisherman’s cottages. Not much had changed in the hundred years since it was built although a porch had been added on with a toilet room and a sink with a cold water tap – no hot water anywhere in the house.
Heating was by the coal fire in the living room and the space where the “bun-in” bed used to be, held an electric cooker. The other ground floor room was my grandfather’s bedroom, complete with the obligatory witch-glass in the window.
For Christmas, the living room was decorated with expandable paper decorations and the paper chains we had made at school. The Christmas tree was a relatively modest affair, obtained by a trip “up-bye” with a hacksaw to liberate one of the laird’s saplings.
Christmas didn’t really start until the afternoon as, in those days Christmas was not a holiday although the tradesmen did get a half day off – and I don’t remember any exotic Christmas feasts – certainly not one of today’s gigantic turkeys. Most likely it was similar to a Sunday lunch with a small bit of beef or perhaps the luxury of a chicken, probably boiled.
In those days, even without rationing, 100g of meat was an extravagant portion. The tree was decorated with tinsel and a few glass baubles and lit by candles – only for a short time each day and with the caution you would give to dealing with a bomb that was likely to go off at any time.
I was lucky in that I would run round to my uncle’s house where I had a secondary stocking hung by his fire. He was a genius musically on the fiddle and could do anything artistic with his hands.
In no more than a minute, he took the few pieces of plasticine, red, white, green and pink and made a Santa figure – perfect in every detail. The chocolate Santa was something to be eaten slowly and made to last several days while the soap figure was used sparingly until all the decoration wore off and it became just a shapeless blob.
We are easily entertained in those days – as an example by a radio show featuring Peter Brough, a ventriloquist with his dummy Archie Andrews.
Christmas time then was very limited in length. No shopping frenzy that started in October – for a start, the shops were very limited.
B&M’s in Elgin was the most exotic and even featured a toy department and a visiting Santa for the festive season. With money short for everyone, Christmas presents were often practical items like clothing, much to the dismay of the youngsters. There was a small lull between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which was the official holiday as the population could not be trusted not to indulge in excessive Popish merriment on Christmas Day itself. It was a dark time of year, with the street lights few, dim and far between.
For all that, Christmas was a time of relative peace and contentment. A short break from a grueling forty five hour work week or the hazards of a fisherman’s life but with none of the stress that today’s materialism and consumerism brings to us all.
For sure, many people lived in poverty that would be hard to conceive by today’s standards, but there were no ostentatious displays of possessions and no envy. We all made the best of what we had, even if we didn’t always appreciate the sacrifices made by parents and relatives to make Christmas special for the bairns.
Perhaps that was closer to the original, true spirit of Christmas than what we see today.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and blessed New Year.