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Christmas 1930

A story by Beryl Bowden;

In 1930 the world was in the grip of the Great Depression. Our father had been out of work for two years. With a family of five girls and one boy to provide for he took any work that came his way. Mum sewed our clothing and cooked everything we ate. Apart from the usual cakes, meals etc., she made all our sauces, jams and pickles. She kept hens which provided us with eggs and our cow ‘Buttercup’ gave us milk and cream for butter. Dad’s garden kept us well supplied with vegetables. The lack of money must have been hard for our parents but we children didn’t feel deprived in any way. One thing was certain…on Christmas Eve Santa Claus always called at our house.

Just before Christmas Mum always went to Newcastle with the carrier, Mr Langdon. The older girls minded the younger children while she was away. When she came home she brought interesting parcels which she put in the big cedar chest of drawers in their bedroom. We were told not to look at them. It was tempting but we never looked as we preferred to wait until Christmas morning to see our surprises.

The week before Christmas, Mum would make a huge Christmas pudding. It was a tradition in our family that we each had a stir and watched while she put the threepences in. The mixture was then spooned onto a large square of unbleached calico and securely tied- by Dad- and put into a kerosene tin of water bubbling on the stove. Six hours later it was taken out and hung up to dry. Mum also made a lovely fruit cake which we were allowed to ice and decorate.

Christmas Eve was spent decorating the kitchen with streamers cut from rolls of red and green crepe paper. A large coloured paper bell-used from year to year- was hung from the centre of the ceiling to which we attached the streamers, draped them across the room and fastened them to the wall. The finishing touches were stars we had cut from cardboard and painted silver.

Christmas 1930 I was 5 years old. I remember waking up on Christmas morning when it was barely daylight. My eyes flew to the pillow-case fastened to the foot of my bed. Out its top peeped the loveliest doll I had ever seen. Mum and Dad in the next room smiled at one another as they heard my excited cry of “Oh oh, he’s been”. Clasping the doll I ran in to their bedroom.

“Santa’s been, and look what he left me” I cried, as I climbed up on their bed to show them the doll.”Isn’t she lovely?” I asked, not knowing that Mum had spent many hours for many weeks sewing the doll’s crinoline dress and picture-hat while I was fast asleep.

“She certainly is beautiful. What will you call her?” asked Dad.

“Her name is Emma” I cried over my shoulder as I ran to wake the others and tell them Santa had been.

After the excitement of showing one another what Santa had brought we had our breakfast and the whole family dressed in our best and went to church. The church was packed with other happy families singing Christmas carols and exchanging” Merry Christmasses.”

Back home we took off our good clothes and started to set the table for our Christmas dinner, in the middle of the day. Our cedar dining table seated 8 comfortably. Mum’s snow-white starched damask table-cloth and serviettes- kept for special occasions- was called into service and a vase of blue agapanthus (star of Bethlehem) was placed in the centre.

The Grace ”For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful, for Christ’s sake. Amen” was said by Dad before the meal began.

While he carved the rooster Mum put baked potatoes, pumpkin, beans and gravy on our plates. We ate heartily. Christmas dinner was the only time we were offered poultry, so we made the best of it.

When our plates were clean Mum sat the plum pudding in front of Dad. He took care that we each received a threepence by investigating each piece of pudding with the tip of his knife until he heard a metallic sound. The addition of custard rounded off our meal.

December is the middle of our summer so eating a hot meal in the room that has had a fuel stove burning all morning is not very comfortable. Electricity that brought us electric stoves, fans and air conditioning was far in the future. We made do with hand- held paper fans.

The Christmas I received Emma was special to me, also was the Christmas that I gave her away. I was twelve years old when it was suggested to me that “as you are too old to play with dolls any more, it would be nice if you gave Emma to your little cousin Gloria. She has asked Santa to bring her a doll and her mother, Aunty Esme, can’t afford one.”


This photo is of my great grand daughter Ellie Frost. The doll is Rose Petal, bought for Ellie in Los Angelis. A request to her Nanna, (Anne Frost in Australia), for a frock made to match Rose Petal’s was immediately acted upon. Copied from a photo, Ellie’s frock was despatched post haste to America. Ellie’s daddy Ben ‘s work, takes them all over the world. For three months the dress followed them from place to place, eventually catching up with them in time for Ellie to wear it to meet her Nanna and Pop Frost at the airport, when they visited America from Australia recently.

My heart sank at the very thought of giving Emma away. Then I remembered that Gloria was five, the same age I was when Santa brought Emma to me. It was true, I didn’t play with her any more so they were right, perhaps it was time to share her with another little girl that would love her as much as I had.

On Christmas morning Gloria’s face was a picture of happiness as she proudly showed us the doll Santa had brought her. Dressed in a different outfit, Emma was unrecognisable. Her new owner had named her Grace. (There was a special hug for me and a whispered “thank you’ from Aunty Esme.)

I hoped that Grace would give Gloria as much pleasure as Emma had given me.
After all Christmas is the time for giving.
A happy, safe and holy Christmas to you and yours.


4 Comments on “Christmas 1930”

  1. Kevin Tull December 24, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

    beautiful story Beryl xx Merry Christmas

  2. Bev Johns December 24, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    This recollection bought tears to my eyes. Bev.

  3. Anne Frost December 24, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    Oh Mum you are a true wordsmith and an inspiration. Somehow in this delightful story you have captured joy, regret and loving gratitude. How can we measure up to such an exemplary matriarch.

    • Beryl Bowden December 26, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

      Thanks Anne,
      though I think you may be biased! Lots of love. What a wonderful family we have. Yesterday was MAGIC !

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