Have yourself a Merry Vintage Christmas…
…by adorning your home with 1950s decorations, throwing a vintage Christmas Eve party and creating a traditional Christmas Day!
Christmas in years gone by, was more about family than today’s commercialism. Mother saved all year in saving schemes to ensure everyone could come together with peace and happiness. And every year was the same.
The dusty box of decorations came out of the loft to reveal a blast of colour, with glass baubles and strings of garlands. The tree was covered in balls and icicles reminiscent of the atomic shapes that were appearing on fabrics. The balls had indentations with crushed insides, stripes like the rings of Saturn and cigar shaped icicles which brought a modern feel. The tree was real, as artificial tinsel trees were not the fashion until the 1960s. Cards, candles, wired tinsel and coloured lights were thrown on top creating a haphazard, joyful vision. Under the tree amongst the presents, was a pile of pine needles mixed with broken glass; bauble casualties occurred on a daily basis! It wasn’t until the 1970s that plastic, durable baubles became the norm. A Barbie influenced fairy sat on the top with canary yellow hair and an organza skirt.
Multi coloured paper garlands zigzagged across ceilings with folded out paper bells hanging from the centre. Making paper chains was a family event with everyone participating. Strips of coloured crepe paper were stuck together with a running stitch sewn down the middle to create a twisted rainbow effect. There was one rule: the more the better
The house was decorated often as late as Christmas Eve. Due to lack of transport, families spent the evening walking from house to house delivering cards and presents. This was party time when parents had a festive drink and children stayed up late, drinking lemonade. The drinks cabinet was stocked up and party snacks were laid out: men drank sherry, ladies drank Gin, Cherry Brandy or cocktails with a glace cherry on top. These were always served in the best glasses: frosted shot glasses for sherry (the schooner didn’t really take off until the 1960s) and branded champagne flutes for your Cherry B, Snowball or Babycham. Bar accessories were on display with fruit ice buckets, soda syphons and glass cocktail shakers.
Candy coloured “Little Forks” were used for nibbles. Meat was the main party food: cocktail sausages, tinned ham and scotch eggs were the favourites. The centre piece on the table was a hedgehog; a potato wrapped in foil with cheese and pineapple chunks on cocktail sticks sticking out. Entertainment came in the form of a sing-a-long and flicking through last year’s Christmas card scrapbook. Everyone enjoyed themselves but was always home before midnight….before Santa arrived!
Christmas morning, children woke up to a pillow case full of toys. A must was the year’s annual laid on top, perfect for excited eyes to read while waiting for parents to wake after the festivities of the night before.
As it is today, the dinner was the main event. The table was set, using only the best china which hadn’t been used since Easter. Candles were lit in the traditional central Christmas log. This was homemade; father would find a log, drill a hole in the middle and place candles in it.
He would stand at the head of the table carving the turkey on a huge ceramic platter. Seasonal vegetables were served in matching tureens. Mother added Bicarbonate of Soda to the sprouts to keep them green…everything had to be just so. Homemade crackers were pulled. Beer was drunk as wine didn’t become popular until the 1970s. Everyone dressed up in their best clothes. The meal ended with a Christmas pudding which had been made in November. All the family stirred the mixture in large mixing bowls, made a wish and hoped they would get the lucky sixpence.
After dinner, the family gathered around the wireless to listen to the Queen’s speech. Instead of flaking out on the sofa, everyone played board games. Pin the tail on the donkey, Lotto and the Christmas jigsaw were favourites. Cards were also played, using buttons for money when bets were placed.
Eventually, after turkey salad, cake and a glass of port at the table, the day drew to a close.
All this can be created today. Learn from the ghost of Christmas past and create a simpler festivity, holding family values high and celebrating a fun, bright look. Keep your eyes peeled all year for vintage decorations and pile them high on the tree. Dress your 1950s cocktail bar, make some old fashioned cocktails and invite people over on Christmas Eve. Wear your favourite vintage clothes. And turn off the television, play games and have a sing-a-long with the people you love!
-First published in Vintage Life magazine, by Kate Beavis