An Authentic English Christmas
Have you wanted to experience an authentic Christmas in an English village? You’re in luck. Author Pauline Holyoak is here sharing tales of her childhood in Aylesham, England. Put on some Christmas tunes. Grab a cup of hot chocolate and cozy up on your favorite comfy chair. Transport yourself to a quaint village in southeast England, going back a few generations. Not so far back as the setting for A Christmas Carol, but keep an eye out for the ghost of Christmas Past.
CHECK BACK NEXT WEEK FOR A CHANCE TO WIN
MERRYWEATHER LODGE ANCIENT REVENGE
Take it away, Pauline.
I grew in Southeast England, in a coal mining village lovingly nicknamed, “The place that time forgot.” I immigrated to Canada when I was 21. I came in search of adventure, a new life and to pursue my dream of becoming an author. This vast and majestic country has housed my form, nurtured my soul, provided me with a writing career and a wonderful family, but England will always be home. Now, as I grow older, I tend to reminisce more often; the memories of my childhood take me back to a small coal mining village, in England and fill me with nostalgia, especially at Christmastime, my favourite time of year.
Oh.. the beautiful memories and simplicity of Christmases past.
The morning air is still and cold. Shimmering frost, like tiny white diamonds, coat the hedgerows on each side of the rugged country lane. It paves my way from our small bungalow to my Grandparent’s house on the other side of the village. A group of robins peck hopeful at the dried berries, which hang from the brittle branches of a wild rose bush. The acrid smell of coal fire smoke lingers in the air.
I pretend I’m holding a cigarette to my lips as I exhale puffs of imaginary smoke from my mouth. Then I cover my ears with my hands as I feel Jack Frost nipping. I had taken off the head scarf that my mum had so lovingly tied and insisted I wear, and promptly stuffed it in my pocket as soon as I was out of her sight. I couldn’t risk any of my friends seeing me in an old fashioned, handmade headscarf.
My runny nose felt like an ice cube stuck to my face. The bare skin between my long socks and winter coat was red and chapped. Over my arm I carried a large tartan shopping bag. I passed the small group of shops next to the market square. The turkeys that had been hanging in the butchers’ window were gone. Waiting, I assumed, in well stocked larders, ready to be cleaned and dressed for tomorrow’s festive dinner. I stepped out of the lane and turned down the street lined with rows of dull gray council houses, to where my Grandparent’s lived.
I could hear the tinkling of bottles from the milk cart across the street, some stray dogs barking and a couple of lads yelling as they mounted their bikes. It looked like an ordinary morning on the streets of Aylesham village, but this day was different. It was the 24th of December 1962. There were no colored lights around the windows or external decorations. No cars on the streets or obvious signs of the season. But you could feel it in the air, the magical ‘essence’ of Christmas!
I had taken this route to my Grandparent’s house numerous times but today my shopping bag was full of tasty ingredients for mince pies, scones and tomorrows festive feast! My mind was bubbling over in anticipation of what was to come. Christmas had a simpler, authentic quality to it back then, uncluttered by commercialism and material expectations. I remember walking into people’s homes and being greeted by the smell of pine, from their small sparsely decorated trees and there was always a modest collection of treasured ornaments on display. We’d go carol singing around the village on bitter cold nights for a few mere pennies. We would spend weeks in preparation for that all important school concert, who would get the leading rolls of Mary and Joseph?
One of the highlights of Christmas day was going to the working men’s club, to collect our presents. Off we’d go, with our dad, tickets in hand, a head full of anticipation and a belly full of the sticky treats that we had eaten from our Christmas stockings. Father Christmas would be there handing out unwrapped gifts, it never occurred to us that he should have been back in the North Pole by then. Those gifts were made possible by a fund the miners paid into all year.
Unknown to me then, these were the only real toys some of the children in the village received. My sister and I were lucky, our stockings were always stuffed and there were lots of presents under our tree. I remember the procession of men making their way to the pub for a quick pint or two, after their Christmas dinner, then off to church for the evening mass. Some of them puffing and coughing along the way, their lungs filled with silicosis, from the coal dust in the mine.
I arrive at my Grandparent’s house. My nana scolds me for not wearing a headscarf, then she gives me a quick hug, wipes my nose with her cotton hankie, and then pours me a cup of tea. My granddad smiles at me from his worn wingback chair, I go over and give him a peck on the side of his shiny, bald head. His toothless grin widens.
Bing Crosby’s White Christmas is playing on the old wireless. The coal fire is blazing in the hearth. Colored paper chains hang from the ceiling in the parlor. The smell of pine, cinnamon, cigars and plum pudding titillate my senses, as Nana and I set to our traditional task of Christmas Eve baking. Later that afternoon we would be joined by my mum, dad and little sister. Ohhh… the beautiful memories and simplicity of Christmases past.
Merry Christmas everyone.
May you enjoy the warmth of family gatherings and beautiful memories of Christmases past.
Pauline Holyoak . Come visit me here.. www.paulineholyoak.com