Some wonderful Christmas services and celebrations were enjoyed by many different sections of our community. Pleasant memories to look back upon now but let us hope the 'Spirit of Christmas' lives on long after the decorations have been taken down. There was a particularly magical Carol & Crib service, all candles were lit this year and it was well attended despite some rival attractions. It was, as always, good to see some 'old' villagers coming back to the Church which they knew so well in their youth. The White Horse was packed out as usual for 'Carols in the Pub' with Mary Pilcher-Clayton on the piano and Philip in good voice as always, as he led the singing, which also benefited from some beautiful solos by Soraya Adams. Philip was later kidnapped by a large Christmas party in the restaurant and was last seen in full voice doing the whole thing all over again. Little Fishes had their annual Christmas party in the Benson Hall and in the same venue T4All offered their usual hospitality to all comers augmented by carols and a hilarious outing with Pam's Puppets. A good time was had by all and nobody went away hungry. And all this was rounded off, as was quite right and proper, by Philip taking the Communion Service in Church on Christmas morning. None of us could say that our Village had forgotten Christmas.
As I approach my 60th Christmas, memories of Christmas as a child are as vivid now as they were then. For myself and my younger brothers David and Dennis, Christmas was always the same year after year, looking back I can only describe them as magic! Leading up to Christmas there were the usual things going on at School, The Nativity, making paper chains and at Church the Carol Service. I can't remember seeing anything happening at home until Christmas Eve. Dad arrived home with a real Christmas Tree and a Turkey, a present from his Boss. Sometimes the Turkey was so large Mum didn't know whether to put the Turkey in the oven or the oven in the Turkey. Mum would be making mince pies and stuffing for the bird. Dad brought in the tree in a bucket then out would come a box of trimmings made by Nanny. I can picture them now, blue and white frilled like a cake frill, these went straight across the room and red and yellow that went from corner to corner. Dad would put a twist in them as he hung them. Holly was put behind the pictures hanging on the wall.
David and Dennis were so excited that soon after tea they were running around half dressed, eager to go to bed and hang up their stockings.
Dad's last job was to stuff and tie the Turkey before taking on his role as Father Christmas.
Christmas morning arrived and we excitedly opened our stockings and sacks which had been filled by Father Christmas. Money must have been tight for Mum and Dad, but we always got what we had asked for. Somewhen Mum must have got up in the night as there was the smell of the Turkey cooking.
There were presents left under the tree but these were not opened until evening. We played with our toys while Mum cooked the dinner, then Grampy Rumming, Auntie Flo and Jim would come for dinner with us. I remember how Dave and Den watched in awe as Jim picked up his Turkey Leg and ate it in his hands with the juice running down his chin. Mum turned out the Christmas pudding and Dad would put a piece of holly on the top, pour whisky over it and light it, the curtains were drawn so we could see the blue flame, once it was out we ate the pudding.
In the afternoon Auntie Win and Uncle George came to join us for tea and the evening. Dave, Den and I spent a long time on our knees by the hearth trying to crack Brazil nuts with a log, if you didn't hit it hard enough it wouldn't break but mostly we hit it too hard and it smashed to pieces, it was great excitement if we got a kernel out whole.
Tea was Bread & Butter, celery sticks with cheese, Fruit and Trifle and Christmas Cake, which seldom got cut as everyone was too full. We each had a Cracker to pull, putting on the paper hat and reading out the motto inside, then out came a box of indoor fireworks, these were always smelly things that didn't really do much but they made us laugh.
In the evening it was time to light the candles on the tree, the lights were turned off and we sang by candle light until the last candle had died, we began by all singing Carols, then some did a 'Party Piece', Grampy Rumming would play his harmonica and would sing 'Scarlett Ribbons', Jim gave us “I'll take you home Kathleen,” and I sang “Mary's Boy Child”.
Once the candles had burned out we opened the presents under the tree. Dad would hand them to the youngest member of the family to hand out. After all the singing we were ready for a drink. Dad always made a toast to 'absent friends', namely Auntie Alma, Dad's sister who lived in Canada.
It was then time for games, home made of course, no Playstations or computer games then. Dad would put items on a tray, give us so long to look at them, then take it away and we had to remember the items and write them down, he also jumbled up old newspapers and we had to put them straight, without letting them off our laps, Uncle George, who by this time seemed to be the only one wearing his paper hat, would get his paper and when he found the racing page was content to read it saying “Piggot won the 2.30”.
Supper time came and Mum made cold turkey rolls, pickles and mince pies, Mum always got Dad to slice the Turkey and no matter how much we had eaten for dinner or how many rolls Mum made, there was always one side of the Turkey still intact.
By almost midnight one by one we were getting very tired so it was time to say goodbye to another Christmas Day.
These are my memories of my childhood Christmases but the passing of time of course brings changes. Mum and Dad, now in their 80's endured the worst thing that could have happened to them with the untimely passing of my two dear brothers, and the best things with 3 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren, but still every Christmas out comes the same box of trimmings with the now threadbare tinsel and the fairy who has watched over us for 60 Christmases and all the changes.
Sadly Mum and Dad passed away in 2012, the fairy is now in my possession and will always be on my Christmas tree.
Christmas began for us two brothers when school broke up, about three days before Christmas Day. We would help on the farm feeding and cleaning out the cowshed where a herd of thirty Shorthorn cows were kept. Some were show cattle and their prize winning certificates were pinned up on a large board for all to see at the top end of the cowshed. Wootton Bassett Show featured among these. The cows were yoked individually and fed hay and chopped roots and meal by hand.
We would go shopping to buy presents for Mum and Dad with our savings from pocket money, sometimes in Bath.
Christmas Eve was the most exciting day. Lots of preparations going on. We helped decorate the house and Dad would bring in the Christmas Tree to be decorated with baubles, tinsel and lights. We would be very careful not to get in Mother's way in the kitchen! Bedtime was a peak of excitement, when we each hung up a stocking at the foot of our beds, they were Father's old Rugby socks. Last thing before bed was to put out Mince Pies and a bottle of beer by the hearth to keep Father Christmas happy. The bedtime stories and a promise to go to sleep so Father Christmas could visit us.
We woke early on Christmas morning to find our stockings full and bulging with oranges and sweets. When the morning's work was done we opened our presents. Then it was time for Christmas Dinner with home grown Goose with all the trimmings, followed by Peach Pudding, Chocolate Log and Christmas Pudding with sixpenny pieces.
I remember we always had a Children's Christmas Party which was given by the Church and School in the old Village Hall which was where the War Memorial is now, a wooden hut which became, until last year, the Henly's turkey shed in the orchard at the Sands Farm. Captain Benson always used to come to the party. Each Christmas those whose parents worked for the Fielding Johnsons at the Manor Farm were given a hamper with a turkey and bacon and nuts and other goodies and if there were children in the family, a toy. Children didn't get toys in those days like they do now. But I do remember a toy Reg made for me, he was like my brother, it was a battleship. I wish I had it now. He made it from a piece of wood with a hole cut in the side of it and inside the hole was a mouse trap with a piece of dowling fixed over the hole. You then fired marbles at it and if you hit the dowling plug hard it would explode and then you'd reset the mouse trap to explode it again. It was a wonderful toy and I played with it a lot. Round about Christmas we used to have fun up Sharps, sledging, that was the best. Mind you, you had to look out for the wire at the bottom you were going so fast. I remember an apple tree by Barnetts Corner that was covered with Mistletoe and another which was an ash tree by the Boathouse pond. When we were older we always played football on Boxing Days amongst ourselves. Married against singles. We also had a proper football team who used to play matches against other clubs. At Christmas we used to all go to the pub, the publican and his wife were very good to us, all us boys Tom King, Pete Fielding, Pete Lydiard, he played the bones, Reg Russell piano accordion, Keith Kempton, Les Mathews, Ted Weston and others, it was generally round about dinner time. We'd sing “Beer, beer glorious beer”, Sammy Miller always said “We've been married for 40 years and it ain't been a day too long”. Henry Goodenough always sang songs. Constable Harvey from Hilmarton and Jack Gleeson from Cherhill used to be there. They were good times but the coming of the juke box killed it. Christmas was different in those days, you knew everyone and if us kids did something silly you'd get a clipped ear. We had a lovely life us kids in those days playing in the Home Wood and playing in the Quarry. We used to spend hours playing together.
Jimmers Ancestors go back a very long way in St. Swithins Church Records, many hundreds of years.
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