Growing up throughout the 1970s in England, Christmas was especially wonderful. My parents and grandparents loved to decorate their homes as much as possible and create that special atmosphere for those precious few weeks.
Decorations would go up early in December, and in later years my grandparents would favour an artificial tree which meant that went up early too. So the season would start on the weekend closest to December 1st, when we would raid the loft and bring down all the boxes of decorations that had been put away for a year.
What a reunion with old friends that was, unboxing past years’ memories. The worst thing of course, then and now, was finding that as if by magic the Christmas lights had all gotten tangled and needed separating out again.
This was way before the modern LED lights. Our Christmas lights had individual bulbs, larger than now, and often if one bulb blew or failed, the whole string stopped working. Occasional bulbs had a white tip rather than a transparent tip, and these were the ones to try and change first as they were deliberaly designed weak so that they would be the ones to “blow” first. So we not only had to untangle our lights, but repair them each year. No wonder my grandad started this job with a whisky in hand.
We favoured multi coloured lights and this was long before people became more conscious about decorations matching or coordinating. There was no planning here – whatever looked the brightes and most multi-coloured tended to win.
We also relied a lot on paper decorations, especially paper chains. Our first week in December was never complete without a trip to the local Woolworths store, which have long since sadly closed down in the UK. Woolworths was a child’s delight. At the front, rows of pick n mix sweets. Then Christmas decorations galore and toys too. It was a dead cert that on these trips being enthusiastic about a particular toy would see it magically appear under the Christmas tree a few weeks later.
So we spent hours making multi-coloured paper chains, and festooning them between lights on the wall and across the ceilings, often held in place with drawing pins or the occasional nail.
Large foil or paper lantern like decorations hung from the ceilings in the middle of the rooms, often forcing adults to think about ducking and moving round them and creating a magical grotto like experience.
Any pictures or photos in the house were randomly adorned with lengths of tinsel, no matter the picture, and we always had more than enough tinsel to go round.
For the Christmas tree itself, this was before candy canes became popular so I don’t remember them being a feature. Definitely Christmas crackers and a peculiar mix of ornaments: plastic bells containing a little sant or snowman, fragile glass like baubles in different shapes, none of which were shatterproof; and quite a few plastic hollies too.
The overall feeling was overwhelming colour and fun – a real childhood delight. Unashamed, unpretentious and wonderful. Putting up the decorations and fixing the lights was a lot more work, but it was always worth it and we were so sad to part company with our decorations once more as the New Year passed.
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