Snow scenes, puffed out robins, children playing in the snow, snowdrops pushing through the snow, Christmas trees beautifully lit - of course the cards we receive show perfection in the scene. It would not be the same if the scenes took a "warts and all" approach, would it?
Nevertheless, I had a long think after receiving a very pretty card with a Victorian street scene. It was a nostalgic look at the past, a suggestion that those were the "good old days" and that people lived such wonderful lives. Had my mother still been alive she would have given one of her famous snorts at the scene, because she was born in the Victorian era and she knew different.
My mother, Alice Maud, was one of eight children all born fairly close together so that they grew up as a tightly-knit little family. Her father, William, was a Foreman on the railway and her mother, Rebekkah, the daughter of a farm foreman. Rebbekah had a modicum of education as she read and wrote well, filling in all my grandfather's work papers as he could only sign his name. So you can see from this that they were not part of the desperately poor country population, although only marginally better off.
Mother used to talk of her childhood in a fenland village in Lincolnshire, where the Lady of the Manor used to ride round in a carriage and girls had to curtsy and boys to pull their forelock when she passed. But most of all she used to talk of their childhood Christmas and their stockings, which they hung on the end of the bed.
All the girls (4) slept in a big double bed with a feather mattress. To warm it up at night when they went to bed, their mother used to wrap a shelf from the fire oven in a piece of old sheeting and put it into the bed. On Christmas night they each had one of their father's old socks, darned 'til there was more darn than sock and they were no longer wearable. They hung them in a row on the end of the brass bedstead and on Christmas morning they would have few toys.
Mother spoke of dolls - sometimes made out of an old black stocking - buttons for eyes - a bit of red felt for lips -stuffed with rags and dressed in a dress which my grandmother would have made out of left overs from her sewing. Sometimes, instead, the doll would be made out of a wooden clothes peg - mother still had one for years when I was small. It lay in a drawer in the sideboard and she treasured it greatly.
In addition each sock would have an apple, an orange, a handful of nuts, a few sweets and - if they were lucky - a penny to spend after Christmas. (She used to tell of her father borrowing a penny from her for a "sneck-lifter" to get him into the pub. Once there he would sing folk songs such as The Lincolnshire Poacher in order to get a pint of beer from the audience!)
The children on my Christmas card are all wearing beautiful red or green coats with little fur trimmed caps and fur trimmed bonnets. They have warm boots on their feet and their faces are pressed to the windows of a toy shop which is brimming with toys.
How times have changed now and how those old, outdated class values have all but disappeared, thank goodness. I remember mother being overjoyed when they missed out the verse in the hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful", the verse which read:-
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high or lowly
and ordered their estate.
Mother and father had five children, only three of us reached adulthood, but all three of us had good education followed by good jobs and happy and fulfilled lives. I am the only one remaining now and i think often of the old days. Mother was justifiably proud of us all - well she would be wouldn't she, as she could look back to the reality of her childhood. So if she were alive today (she died in 1971) and if she was scornful of my Christmas Card then I hope I would understand why. But we all need a bit of magic at Christmas and I suppose a Victorian scene with everyone well dressed, well fed and brimming with money to spend on toys is no different from showing us a well fed, brightly clothed Santa skimming the chimney pots, drawn by his reindeer and shouting ho-ho-ho!
A Happy Christmas to you all.