Christmas In Wales (remembered)
A rememberance by Huw Williams
In the Ebbw Valley it was a typical foggy December day, in fact it was an old fashioned Pea Souper even the red glow of the steel works blast furnaces could not be seen. World war II had been over three years, rationing was still a part of every day life and money was still scarce to say the least. Thus Christmas was a family holiday totally un-commercialized compared to today.
By 7.30am my Mother and Father, Sister Susan and I were eating breakfast, bacon, eggs, sausage, fried bread and bara lawr [laverbread], all low cholesterol. My father asked "What are you all were doing today, now that the fog appears to be lifting?", he of course was about to leave for his pharmacy, one of the busiest days of the year with people making last minute Christmas purchases of soaps, cosmetics, perfumes, and wines etc. " We will be putting up the decorations and trimming the tree. also I will be starting to get the goose ready for dinner tomorrow," Mother answered, "Oh while I remember, please bring a bottle of ginger wine home with you tonight." With that he gets up from the table and puts on his hat and coat, kisses Mother on the cheek and out the door he went off to work. By now Susan and I are finishing off our breakfast and taking our dishes to the kitchen.
"Huw will you go up to Humphries [the greengrocer] and pick up the Christmas tree I ordered? So we will have plenty of time to do the trimming."Yes" I said, "I will try and be there by 9 o clock when they open." Susan will you go up stairs and get the box of decorations that is on my bed that way you and Huw can start to put them up before he leaves to get the tree. Within a minute Susan was back with the box, she opened it and started to take out the folded up paper chains, bells and balls in Christmas green and red. Standing on a kitchen chair I used a thumb tack to fasten the chain to the corner of the picture molding while Susan held the rest of the chain, then we looped it to the center of the room a tacked it to the center of the ceiling, then looped it to the opposite corner once again tacking it to the picture rail. The second chain was put up in the same manner from the other two corners. Then a paper bell or ball was hung in each corner and the large bell was hung in the center of the room. With the decorations complete I was ready to go and get the tree.
On with the cap and coat I told mother I was off, she answered that she and Susan would start working on the preparation of the food for tomorrow. Out the front door I went pleased to see that the wind had blow most of the fog away but I could not see the tops of the mountains. It was a walk of about 15 minutes to get up to the town center, up hill most of the way but that was good as coming home it would be easier to carry the tree down the hill. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Humphries I said as I walk into the shop, oh hello Huw come to pick up your tree? Yes, and I would like a bunch of mistletoe please. She goes into the back room and comes back with a pretty tree all of three feet and a bunch of mistletoe. How much? Mrs. Humphries, for you bach two and six, I give her the half a crown, thanked her, Merry Christmas I said and out of the shop I went. Arriving back home in fifteen minutes.
Mother had placed the stand on the round table in the living room so I place the tree in it and made certain it was straight. Susan and I start to put the balls and bells on the tree. Then we put the icicles on one by one. A star was placed on the top to finish it off. There we no lights but that did not matter to us. Finally I hung up half of the mistletoe on the light in the front hall and the rest above the door into the living room. Now that we had finished the decorating Mother came in to give her approval.
Ding dong there's the front door bell it must be the postman. I go to the door it was Mr. Evans the postman, Merry Christmas I said, same to you boyo I have some cards for you which he handed to me and then he opened his bag pulling out two parcels and handed them to me, he looked into his bag again and reached once more to pull out a third parcel. That is it for this Christmas he said. Now it was my turn I handed him the envelope Mother had given me to give to him with a small token of our appreciation. Mr. Evans had been our postman for as long as I could remember. Thank you boyo Merry Christmas to you and yours and down the steps he went. I took them in and gave them to Mother. She looked at the parcels and started to open them as they were from three of my aunts, Megan, Mary and Myfanwy. Each package had two rapped gifts in them one for Susan and the other for me and a card for my parents. Mother placed the gifts on the table around the tree. The cards were opened and read then they were hung on the ribbons on the wall by the fireplace along with the others.
It was time for me to go upstairs to finish rapping my gifts, a pipe and a two oz. package of three nuns tobacco for my Father, a box of Yardley's lavender soap and perfume for Mother and a cross and chain for Susan. When finished I took them down stairs and placed them on the table around the tree. Susan had placed her gifts around the tree also. All that was left to complete the gift table was for Mother and Daddy to add their gifts, always done after Susan & I had gone to bed.
Mother and Susan were busy preparing the dinner for tomorrow. So I turned on the radio to listen to Christmas music and read the Newspaper waiting for Daddy to get home for dinner. A little after six thirty he arrived carrying a bottle of ginger wine which he gave to mother. During dinner we decided that we would all go to Chapel for the 11.15 pm carol service.
Around 10.50pm we left the house and walked up to the Chapel it took less than fifteen minutes. On arrival we found an empty pew about half way down the isle and sat down. We always enjoyed singing the traditional Christmas carols, and listening to the scripture readings and the fact that there was no sermon. We all sang loud and clear that night, Daddy's fine bass voice, Mother singing a good soprano, Susan the alto and I the tenor a fine quartet we made amongst the mass choir. The service was over at midnight on the dot. We wish many of our friends a Merry Christmas and then we walked home. As soon as we were in the house we were off to bed. As always I was looking forward to the opening of the gifts after breakfast. Wondering what surprises was hidden inside each of the rapped packages.
The clock was striking nine and breakfast was finished, when Daddy pronounced the magic words, let us see what Father Christmas left for us last night .So we all moved from the breakfast table and moved into the living room. Daddy stood by the table with the gifts; Mother sat in her chair by the fireplace and Susan and I sat in corner chairs. With the fire blazing we had forgotten the wind and rain going on outside.
The first gift Daddy picked up was my package for Mother; he read the tag to Mommy love Huw. She opened it taking care not to rip the paper, when opened she said, Oh my favorite, thank you. Then it was Susan's turn, it was the cross and chain she ripped the paper off opened the box, looked at it and put it on. She got up from her chair and came over and gave me a big hug. Next it was my turn he handed me a package it was from Susan a pair of much needed lined leather gloves. Daddy then picked up my gift to him, he opened it and was surprised to see a pipe and tobacco, thank you I needed a new pipe. So around and around he went each of us taking a turn to open the rest of the gifts until there was just one long package that had been propped against the table as it would have taken too much room on the table and he handed it to me. As I took it from him he said do well with it. I opened it up not having a clue what it might be; to my astonishment it was a cricket bat. Little did I know how well it would serve me over the next four seasons when I played for my school? What a great Christmas besides the bat and gloves my aunts had give me a white "v" neck sweater trimmed navy blue and red my school colors and a tie and scarf both in my school colors. We sat and talked for a while then Mother went back to the kitchen to finish preparing dinner.
The table had been set with the silverware and Christmas napkins, a Christmas cracker was at each place each contained a paper hat and a very small gift and went off with a bang when pulled. After my Father said grace we all pulled our crackers and put on our paper hats. Mother served a bowl of leek soup followed by a watercress salad. Now it was time for the main course, stuffed roast goose with sage and onion stuffing with sliced chestnuts, potatoes, parsnips, carrots all roasted with the goose, a cup of ginger wine had been poured over the goose and used with a small amount of the fat to make the gravy. In addition peas, broad beans and more stuffing had been cooked. Daddy carved the goose and mother served the vegetables. When we had completed eating the main course the table was cleared and the flaming Christmas pudding was brought in together with hard sauce. In the Christmas pudding was hidden a silver three-penny piece, whom ever found it in their slice would be lucky for the next year [Susan was the lucky one]. A mince pie and a sherry trifle were placed on the table. After dessert a cheese-board of Cheshire, Leicester, Blue Stilton, Gloucester and Caerphilly with crackers was placed on the table. Finally a fruitcake and a cup of tea were served to finish the meal.
It is amazing to think back over 55 years and remember the fun we had as a family. The togetherness, the individual delights, the little things that happened, all of this with not much expense as compared to today. Of course there was no television or computers in those days, so we had to be better at entertaining ourselves. Ah for the old days.
Written by Jenny Hubbard Young
In the small village a few miles outside Brecon, where I spent my childhood, Sunday afternoons from mid-November marked the start of preparations for Christmas, which centred round the Church of St. David's. The children from Sunday school classes rehearsed for our short Nativity play under the eagle eye of the Vicar's wife -- nothing fancy mind you, but it needed to be orchestrated carefully, given the pranks some of the young boys were likely to perpetrate, given half a chance. Meantime the adults were busy going over the readings and singing for the service of Lessons and Carols. I can still hear the quavering soprano of The Village Singer (her own judgement, of course) as she bustled self importantly forward to sing her solo "See amid the winter snow".
As I grew older, my favourite service was the candlelit communion service, starting at 11:30 PM on ChristmasEve. There was something infinitely reassuring and comforting, despite the cold, to be part of that Communion before God, to feel the sense of community represented there, in the simple church, with the light and shadow playing on the ancient stone walls.
Our Christmas Tree never went up until Christmas Eve - my parents may have brought it beforehand but then it would stay outside, to keep cool, in a bucket of water. We didn't have a fancy stand, so Dad would wedge it with damp sand and stones in a pot or small bucket, which we disguised with Christmas wrapping paper. The tree always stayed put, except for one occasion when my young brother knocked it in his excitement to get at a present lying back in the corner. Luckily Father was on hand to stop it falling over completely.
As a family we all helped decorate it with a varied selection of ornaments - some bought, some home-made, coloured lights, holders for little candles (which to our disappointment we weren't allowed to light, because of the fire hazard), crackers, silvery tinsel, chocolate figures wrapped in shiney paper. Nothing elaborate, no special themes or colours, just a good old-fashioned tree! We made chains from coloured paper at school and were allowed to hang some in the living room and front hallway, but not through the rest of the house. On our family walks in the weeks before Christmas, we'd be on the lookout for holly with plenty of berries. This we used to decorate the mantle piece, or picture frames and mirrors but the sprig of mistletoe practically always had to be bought!
As a teenager I wanted to make a Christmas wreath. They were not common in Brecon and I can't now recall how I got the idea - it needed my father's help of course to make the wire frame. I used the branches trimmed from the tree and holly to make the wreath, decorated with a simple red ribbon and hung at the front door. It quickly became part of our family tradition. Little did I know then that one day I'd come to live in the USA, where wreathes are a year-round phenomenon!
Early Recollections of a
Christmas in Wales
By Sally Evans Funderburk
I don't really know why I remember the Christmas when I was eight years old. Maybe it's because we had a lot of snow that December.
My brother, who was older than me by 5 years, loved playing snowballs with me, as I couldn't throw one straight at all. I can recall trying to run from him, but I had two many heavy clothes and winter boots on. After getting soaking wet, I would give up, almost in tears, run into the warm house to sit by the coal fire. My father was a coal miner, so we always had plenty of coal kept in a shed at the bottom of the garden.
There were lots of good smells in that kitchen throughout the Christmas season. The cake was made 3 weeks ahead of time and stored in an airtight container until Christmas Eve; then completed with a layer of marzipan, and a layer of icing was put on top. The plum pudding was also made about a fortnight before and wrapped up in waxed paper and foil until Christmas morning. We were allowed a taste of the mince tarts, as our mouths were watering as they came out of the oven.
On Christmas Eve, we found the largest, cleanest socks that Father had, and hung them very carefully on the bed rails at the bottom of our beds, and we went to bed early, hoping Father Christmas would make a noise as he entered rooms to fill the stockings. But of course not.
It was a few years before I realized that another pair of socks had been filled up with stuff downstairs after we had gone to bed, and exchanged for the empty ones!!! Very early on Christmas morning, I jumped out of bed and carried my stocking into my sister's room, and we emptied hers and mine on her bed and made sure one of us hadn't got more than the other! The smell of bacon and eggs came wafting up the stairs and we rushed down to see what gifts we had under the tree. After breakfast, it was out into the snow again to make a snowman. My brother and I made the best snowman ever and Father took a picture of us three children plus the snow man. It was too cold to stay out long so we went inside to prepare for our Christmas dinner, which was around noon. The goose was cooked, the smells were wonderful and the tastes were even better!!!!!!Then when the pudding was brought in, having been covered with brandy and lit in the kitchen, we all applauded and laghed, hoping to be the one to find the lucky six-penny coin hidden inside.
Extened family members dropped in during the afternoon and we visited with them and played with our new toys until it was time to go to Church, to the Candlelight Carol Service. Then it was home for a light supper, and lastly, mince tarts and tea to end a perfect Christmas Day. The picture of the moon shining on the snow-covered garden was the last thing I saw before going to sleep that night.
Each Christmas Season, we ask another member of the St. David's Welsh Society of GA to write a remberance of a Christmas in Wales while they were growing up. This year's Remeberance was written by Sally Evans Funderburk. It is found here with remeberances from previous years. We hope you enjoy reading them.