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24 September 2014

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A look at Christmas past in Coventry

Old fashioned Christmas wreath
A traditional Christmas wreath decorating the door to a house
Just what was Christmas like in Coventry over 50 years ago? Coventry kid Josie Vernon casts her mind back to Christmas past.

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Feature written by Josie Vernon, site user

As I was on the threshold of my teenage years in 1950, I can remember those days clearly. They were, of course, very different to Christmas today.

 Godiva statue in 1949
The Godiva statue in the year it was unveiled, 1949
World War Two had finished less than five years before and things such as sweets, meat and butter were still rationed. However, we still enjoyed Christmas, perhaps even more so than children do today.

There was no commercial television until the middle of the decade and so there was no pressure for mums and dads to have to buy the latest toy for their demanding offspring.

Computers and computer games, CDs, televisions - all of these were unheard of in those days, which to people of my generation really don't seem so very far off!

Home-raised chickens
 A chicken being carved
A chicken ready to be carved
There were no supermarkets, just the small shops at the corner of the street where our mums bought the groceries. We were lucky, as we lived next-door to a grocery shop, with the greengrocer's next door to that.

Dad had kept chickens in the back garden since the war and he used to kill a cockerel ready for our Christmas dinner. It was the only day of the year that we had poultry, so it was very special to us.

Battery farming and 'broiler' chickens were also unheard of at the time.

Three weeks' cooking
 A Christmas pudding
A Christmas pudding
About three weeks before Christmas, Mum would cook the puddings in the big Burco copper in the kitchen. We could smell them cooking while we were in bed and it all added to the excitement and anticipation. She also made her own mincemeat, and we had to 'have a stir' of both and make a wish.

Modern dancing
There was always a party at school before we broke up for the holidays. We looked forward to these parties, as we could wear our best clothes instead of our school uniforms.

There was also modern dancing, with our music teacher playing the latest records. Instead of a barn dance, the veleta or the dashing white sergeant - the old time dancing that we were taught in school - we were allowed to dance the quickstep, the fox trot and the modern waltz.

These were, for us, the equivalent of today's disco dancing. We were NOT allowed to jive - the forerunner of rock and roll - as that was not approved of!

Carol singing
 Children carol singing in 1950
Children carol singing in 1950
We used to go carol singing about a week before Christmas, around the district. We always sang the proper words and verses to at least one, sometimes two carols at each door, and finish off with "Apples to eat, nuts to crack, we wish you 'Merry Christmas' and a rat-tat-tat", knocking the door on the last Tat!

Then, the owner of the house answered the door and gave us a penny or, if they were very appreciative of our renditions, 3d. It was very rare for anyone to send us away.

Christmas Eve
 Christmas card from 1949
Coventry City Council Christmas card from 1946
On Christmas Eve, Mum would take us into town, where we went to see Father Christmas at Owen Owens - the big Broadgate department store, now called Allders.

Then, we would go to the Barracks market where mum would buy the fruit and nuts.

My two younger brothers and I would go to bed early after our bath, hanging clean pillow cases at the head of the bed, ready for Santa to come.

 An old-style wireless radio
An old-fashioned wireless radio
In the morning, we would wake early to find our pillow cases full of goodies. I believe it was Christmas 1950 that I received a doll's furniture shop that Dad had made for me - and he had put lights in it. I was thrilled to bits!

My brother, David, had a crystal set radio from one of our uncles. We used to sit in bed on Saturday nights, listening to Jack Jackson's Record Round Up, twiddling with the 'cat's whisker' to tune it in.

Dinner and speeches
We had Christmas dinner at 1pm, on the dot, and Dad always set the pudding on fire after dousing it with whisky. This never ceased to amaze us.

After the pudding, he would share out the sweet ration. Christmas afternoon, uncles, aunts and Nan would arrive, in time to hear the King's speech on the radio.

The evening
For tea, mum always made a Christmas cake and a trifle, with various kinds of sandwiches. We usually had tinned fruit and cream. Not real cream of course, but Carnation milk poured over it, but to us, it was the height of luxury!

The evening was spent playing games with our relations. Snakes and Ladders, Ludo or Lotto.

After we had gone to bed, the grown-ups played Monopoly or cards. These games were considered too adult for us children.

Reminisce with us
If you have special memories of Christmas past, whether they're from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s - perhaps even older or more recent - then let us know.

Use the message board to share your memories and to read other people's stories.

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