Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas Cards versus Reality.

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.


The Solitary Walker said...

I enjoyed reading this, Pat. And a very happy Christmas to you too.

Country Cottage Chic said...

I enjoyed reading your post - very true. we all imagine how romantic times gone by were, but the reality for most was very different.


Jenn Jilks said...

It is important to tell the truth. I love the image of your mom snorting! I do when I see such cards!

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

Yes, the 'good old days' were only for the few, who of course are the ones depicted on your card. Whatever the era, it would always have been preferable to belong to the wealthier classes - and that could well still apply today. We all need to dream a little and be grateful. A Merry Christmas to you and the farmer too.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

I think Alice Maud raised an exceptionally wise daughter. May your Christmas be merry and bright dear Weaver of Grass.

Cindee said...

Sadly, although we don't have the classes to the excess that they were in the Victorian era, we do still have classes. I recently got an e-mail with a picture of a shiek with a PLATINUM Rolls Royce. How incredibly rediculous is that! And there are children going to bed hungry, even in "developed" countries, yet celebrities feel they have to spend a milion dollars on their weddings.
I'm for the simple life. I don't think I could bare the shame of being so greedy.
Let's count our blessings and give to the less unfortunate this Holiday.

Cindee said...

I'm only half awake. I meant to say less fortunate. What a doofus I am!
Merry Christmas.

Arija said...

Dearest Weaver, I must disagree with you. The best Christmasses I remember from my childhood and my mother's tales of her, also Victorian childhood as a foster child, were the ones when we were poorest. Presents were few but for that very reason, truly treasured. The expectant hush, the cudgelling of conscience and trepidation whether Father Christmas would give you a present or take out his switch and give you a spanking instead. Like water to a parched man, any present when you have nothing, is increased in value.
In today's consumer society where people give and receive mountains of expensive things few remember the gift or the giver.
To this day I remember what I got for Christmas when I was 4 and days after my father was arrested and shipped to Siberia.

Happy Christmas to you my dear, I know you cannot have the one thing you really want, yet I hope you will be well content.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Weaver of Grass ( Weaver of Ice needles now! ) thank you very much for yor comment on "Tales", more poems will come on memories...

Here in Northern Italy we have spent three days in a Russian, Moscow atmoshere, with temperatures from minus fifteeen to minus nine...my beard was frosted simply while walking and I flew on the snow, actually took off, not seeing there was marble under it, near Venice railways station... the painful, very painful hard reality was, after the flight, the fall!

maggi said...

Nothing wrong with a bit of fantasy! Have a lovely christmas.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Really enjoyed reading this, Weaver! I've been too busy to blog recently so it's a treat to catch up!

(BTW I love the enormous majestic tree with the many trunks in your previous post).

I have very fond recollections of my childhood christmases - and though I received many nice toys, some of my happies memories are of playing in the boxes they sometimes came in! And the peacefulness of sitting under the Christmas tree enjoying the scent of the foliage and just dreaming.

Wishing you a beautiful Christmas dear Weaver - thank you for your lovely bloggy friendship through the year!

PurestGreen said...

Wouldn't it be funny to do a series of "the reality of Christmas" cards. I immediately thought of the woman I saw walking home today. Loaded down with parcels, she had her purse over one arm, was talking on her mobile and was shuffling along because of the slippery pavement.

My grandmother told me they used to get an apple at Christmas. She polished her apple until it almost glowed. And then her little brother stole her apple, only ate half of it and left the rest in the street.

Wonderful post. It made me remember.

Heather said...

My parents both came from large families and had to share presents. The boys would have one toy and the girls another. Many of my early Christmas presents were homemade but I thought they were wonderful. The Victorian fantasy would be alright as long as you were a lady and had servants to do all the horrid unpleasant chores for you.

Kayla coo said...

Thank you for sharing your memories.
I had never heard the verse in the original hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful"
It gives us a real insight of the past.
Beautiful winter landscape pictures.
Merry Christmas.x

Kim said...

A wonderful post Pat, one that gives us all pause I think! Of course the whole thing is even more ludicrous here in the sub tropics where we still give cards to all and sundry with fabulous snowy winter traditional christmas scenes. The reality is we are dripping in sweat and usually headed to a beach as sooon as possible! Some of the readers comments here were very interesting. Enjoy your christmas festivities whatever they may be!

steven said...

hello weaver, the distance between the romantic christmas and the christmas of today is vast. but i think that there is something good and right in retaining our sense of the magical, whimsical christmas that accompanied the christmases of our (for some of us) less fortunate childhoods. have a lovely day in the dale. steven

alison said...

I loved reading this post as well!! The bed warming board was very enterprising.

Elizabeth said...

Yes, truly those Victorian genre scenes are prettified to bits because most people's lives were pretty bleak.
I think of those ubiqitous American holiday letters telling of people's astounding family triumphs....
they went to Vegas/ they got raise/ their children got into Yale etc.

Very easy to spoof indeed.....
some people so boastful and appalling

But I think people send cards meaning to cheer us up and be kind.

Lucy Corrander said...

I'm glad you landed on a positive note. One of the special things about festivals like Christmas is not that you receive what you need but a little bit more than you would at any other time of the year - whatever your starting point. Whether it's an apple or a whole sack of objects, it's the being given something which makes you feel glad, better off than you would have been otherwise, which brings a sense of joy and celebration. By the end of Christmas Day, you may still be very poor or you may be very rich - but Christmas isn't a utiliarian event. The contrast between the 'before' and 'after' is what brings the joy. On another day, the point might be to have all your needs fulfilled - but however nice it would be for that to happen at Christmas . . . that just isn't the point.

For some reason, it's very difficult for me to get onto your blog and even harder to get your comments box to load. Took about ten goes to arrive here today - but I did want to say 'Happy Christmas'!


Bee said...

Interesting post. One of the details that really struck me was the content of the stockings -- very similar to what my grandmother (who grew up in Ft. Worth, TX during the Depression) remembers getting for Christmas. Just last night we were talking about HOW MUCH we all have, and remembering how my grandmother used to bemoan the Xmas that one of the other children stole her Christmas fruit.

Titus said...

Wonderful piece of social history, Weaver, and when you think of it, really not so very long ago.
The greatest divides are now geographical, perhaps, and here in the West our profligacy, particularly at this time of year, does make me stop and wonder, though possibly not for long enough.

BT said...

What a super post Weaver. I do know what you mean about those cards. They do seem unrealistic. But fat robins? I took a photo of one yesterday and it looks as though it came straight from a Chrismas Card!!

I do hope you received my collaged Christmas card, by the way. I loved yours with the farmer and the sheep.

Cloudia said...

Happy Christmas to YOU, Weaver


Comfort Spiral

dinesh chandra said...

I enjoyed a lot to read the prose, I sending you a warm happy Christmas from India. Happy Christmas to You, You live log and we follow you and admire.


Dinesh Chandra

Golden West said...

My fondest memories are of traditions celebrated rather than gifts received . We've gotten very low key gifts - now we exchange family photographs from years gone by, which generates lots of stories passed along to the younger family members.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Glad you enjoyed reading the post - no time to reply to you all today - so this is a block reply:

A very happy Christmas to all my blog friends - enjoy whatever it is you have planned - look at your Christmas cards and savour the friendships they bring, whatever the picture on the front. And thank God that here in the Western world we have enough and to spare - are able to keep warm, well-fed and safe. And spare a thought for our boys in Afghanistan and for people living in appalling circumstances in other parts of the word - the people still suffering from the earthquake in Pakistan for instance. We tend to take our circumstances forgranted - it does us no harm at all to sometimes remember those less fortunate. HAPPY JOYOUS CHRISTMAS AND A HEALTHY AND PEACEFUL 2010.