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Sunday, 15 December 2019

Christmas Tree

80 year-old Christmas tree - links to article in The Guardian
80 year-old Christmas tree
I enjoyed reading last year about a 74 year-old from South Wales who still has his childhood Christmas tree. His parents bought it for around sixpence from Woolworths over eighty years ago. Obviously, it is artificial. The branches are wire and goose feather and fold up to the main stem for storage. He keenly remembers the excitement of decorating it each year. “... having an artificial tree was aspirational,” he says.

Ours was much the same. Here it is, below, in the corner of the front room in 1963, scanned from a scratched and blurry negative. Mum and Dad are sitting round the fireplace trying to read despite the disruptions of Sooty the cat, my brother, and the long blazing flash of a disposable magnesium flashbulb from my Brownie Starmite camera – my main present that year. Apart from the tree and a few paper trimmings, we don’t seem to have many other Christmas decorations. You didn’t need them with wallpaper like that.

Christmas Tree 1963

For the rest of the year we stored the tree away: in the attic at the previous house. Dad used to greet it “Christmas tree, Christmas tree” every time we went up the stairs. We kept the tree decorations with it in large cardboard box.

Going by some of the junk I’ve posted about, you may be surprised to hear I no longer have the tree. But not to disappoint, I do still have the box and some of its contents. Here it is in the loft:

Wm. Jackson of Hull cake box circa 1923 Wedding cake - undated - possibly 1920s

It describes itself as a bride cake box from Wm. Jackson & Son, Ltd. of Spring Bank, Hull, now remembered more as bread makers and supermarket owners. Exactly whose cake it once contained is one of those things I should have thought to ask when I still could. The box bears a testimonial from November, 1923, which was too late for my grandparents’ wedding despite my grandfather’s name written on the lid. It could have been my grandma’s sister who married in 1927. Could this be the cake: a tiny photograph found between the pages of a family bible I borrowed over twenty years ago? Again, we’ll never know.

Christmas tree ornaments 1940s 1950s

And here are the decorations, probably from the nineteen-forties and -fifties. The coloured globes look similar to those in the newspaper article. There used to be more but, being glass, they shatter easily. We no longer use them. The bird – a golden Christmas dove – can just about be made out on top of the tree in the 1963 photograph. Other years we had a Christmas fairy. We used to put the candles on the tree and light them – and we lived to tell the tale. (an after-memory: Mum used to extinguish the candles by licking her fingers and squeezing out the flame. I tried it but was too hesitant and burnt my fingers).

Christmas tree lights 1950s
At one time we had a set of hanging pear-shaped lights like those in the newspaper photograph. Before that we had some with plastic bell-shaped shades with nursery rhyme images, exactly like these. They were wired in sequence so when they invariably failed to work you had to check each bulb in turn. You could buy a special “flasher bulb” to make the lights flash on and off: no need for LEDs and digital controllers when you could buy a bulb with a bi-metal compound bar.

Trumpet Christmas Tree Decoration 1940s-1950s
Yet my favourite tree decorations from all that time ago – two trumpets – were not in the cake box. Only one survives. It was with the decorations we use. It has a dangerously broken mouthpiece, but if you take care to avoid the sharp shard of glass and powdering lead paint and put it to your lips and blow, it still gives out a rousing rooty toot toot: Hail Smiling Morn! Well, maybe not quite that rousing, but the same unfettered childlike glee.


31 comments:

  1. Yes, we had the same tree. I only let it go when we cleared the house a few years ago, it was all still there, a few baubles and Father Christmas for the cake with the last icing still attached. For decorations we made paper chains as did most other people I knew. Your photo of sitting in the living room looks a bit like us, except for the cat. We never had a cat indoors.

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    1. At my aunt's farm, none of their cats came indoors except one which slept in front of the fire on top of the dog.

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  2. Like Rachel, we made paper chains, and we also made stars and angels out of "gold paper"; a kind of sturdy tin foil that was gold or silver on one side and blue, green or red on the other. Few of these hand-made ornaments survive today; I think my parents have a handful of stars and angels left from when my sister and I were little, and less than that from my Mum's childhood in the late 1940s and 50s.
    We always have real candles and light them every year. No house fire has ever started because of that, and nobody got singed. We simply were careful, never leaving the candles burn while we were not in the room, making sure the cat would not easily get to the tree, and keeping a bucket full of water on hand. That bucket was never needed and the only one who used it was our cat - he drank from it.

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    1. Wonderful story. I used to love the foil that was different colours on each side. I'd forgotten about that. Admitting to having lighted candles now would probably attract the attention of social services to put us in a care home.

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    2. Mum used to extinguish the candles by licking her fingers and squeezing out the flame. I tried it but was too hesitant and burnt my fingers.

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    3. We have a little device for that, shaped like a bell, sitting on a metal rod and topped with a little angel. You simply stretch out your arm (the metal rod is long enough to reach up to the top of our small tree - no room for a huge tree in an average-sized flat anyway) and hold the "bell" down over the flame, and it goes out instantly.

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  3. Yes, our decorations were pretty much the same, except we always had a real tree. Did you have the lead tinsel?

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    1. Lead tinsel - is that what Meike mentions, above? It sounds wonderfully dangerous. I used to like moulding things with lelted lead. Never had a real tree before Mrs D insisted. It cost us £40 this year. £40!

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    2. The lead tinsel was different, just lots of very narrow strips of it; we call it Lametta here. It has become illegal in this country, but I remember it fondly.

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    3. I should have typed "melted lead" above. Googled 'Lametta' and you can still get it but probably aluminium or plastic. True lead Lametta - yet another great thing made illegal by the EU. But not to worry, you'll be able to buy it here after 31st January when Trump, Johnson and Farage Enterprises Ltd. read these comments to alert them to the yawning gap in the market.

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  4. Your father appears to be reading "Fanny Hill" by John Cleland.

    Nice post Tasker. You have a talent for bringing the past alive. Many's the time I walked up and down Spring Bank in Hull. "The Polar Bear" was the first pub in which I ever ordered and drank beer.

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    1. Aged 14 no doubt. I remember it as a poetry book and wondered whether we still had it, but no.

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    2. Also went in the Polar Bear a few times, but mostly visited the Queens at the other end of Princes Avenue.

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    3. Wasn't The Queen's a gay pub? I never went in it myself.

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    4. We didn't know about such things in those days.

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  5. Our first artificial Christmas tree was silver aluminum (hey, it was the 70s, lol!) We had a couple of those clip on birds too, with the silky tail feathers, and some of those concave decorative balls.

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  6. In 1963 we still had a real tree. Does that mean we were 'green' or just behind the times? Our living room looked much like yours, except our paper chains went towards the central light from the corners, not around the sides. That meant that there were four low loops that my tall brother had to avoid (probably why we hung them that way!).

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    1. Ours sometimes went to the central light fitting too but my Mum probably decided that year they attracted dust and cobwebs. Which is greener - real or a multi-use artificial?

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    2. Green only had two meanings then - the colour, or inexperienced! Now? I don't know. I have a tall set of dried willow in a pot, and lang baubles from that, so don't have either a real or artificial tree.

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  7. I recognize some of the ornaments in the box, like the blown glass silver bird with the spun glass tail. In 1963, with four children and a small house we had a christmas tree my dad made that hung on the wall and was pack away for another year. Actually, it was quite nice, and probably contributed to our being free thinking liberals.

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    1. Every member of the UK government should have one.

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  8. It is truly a well-researched content and excellent wording. I got so engaged in this content that I couldn’t wait reading. I am impressed with your work and skill. Christmas Deals Online

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    1. Wow! Thankyou Boris. I'm so pleased my blog is read in such high places and would be delighted if you would consider me to write your next manifesto. I passionately believe I could deliver engaging excellent wording and absolutely fantastic well-researched content.

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  9. I'm a huge fan of the trumpet ornament, Tasker.

    We had glass ornaments still when I was a kid in the '70s. They were hand-me-downs from my grandparents. We also had a few felt elves with limbs that bent around the tree branches for support.

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  10. What marvellous tales of everyone's Xmas trees. They sit in the corner displaying all their wonders and then whoof it is all over and only the needles remain in the carpet.

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    1. ... despite what they try to tell you at the garden centre. It seeems that Christmas trees bring back lots of memories for everyone.

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  11. Ah, I remember the candle holders! We always had a a large live tree. One year my brother lit the candles when my parents were out of the room - we were left with a mark on our ceiling for years! Our tree comes in from the garden and is now about twenty years old and a bit thin on greenery. We recompense with a load of decorations that, like yours, have been carefully hoarded over the years. Have a great Christmas!

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    1. Nobody was bothered about marks on the ceiling then. I dropped a milk bottle when little and splashed greasy marks up the wallpaper which lasted years. If your tree lives in the garden isn't it full of spiders and other nasty things?

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