This month we’re highlighting some Christmas memories from our oral history collection.
Times were certainly tough for families at Christmas time, yet many of our interviewees who were children at the time fondly recall small and meaningful presents, especially if they were homemade. Alice McChesney told us that ‘father made beautiful gifts, once he made us a beautiful butterfly which floated up and down, and a dolls house with all the furniture that made out of boxes and paper from the tobacco packets my father used to smoke in his pipes. I of course questioned why the furniture had the same covering as father’s pipe tobacco, but my parents must have given a satisfactory answer to an inquisitive little child.’ Another popular homemade gift was a doll such as those made by Betty’s grandmother, ‘the only dolls I had were the dolls my granny made and she would have made a doll for me at Christmas… soft body and a wee face on it and she would have made a dress for it, every Christmas I would have got a new doll from her’.
For many of our interviewees the other standout memory of Christmas was food. Bertie Thompson grew up on a farm and remembered that ‘when it was coming up to Christmas, they’d have said, “Now which one of them hens or roosters are gonna be for Christmas”, and we’d have picked them and my father would have just wrung its neck and handed it to us to pluck”. Eamonn McGinn’s parents raised turkey’s at Christmas; ‘my mother and father would have reared maybe twenty or thirty turkeys for the Christmas Market, but we never got turkey at Christmas, they were all sold. The fowl man came round and he weighed them and you waited until you got the right price and then it came near Christmas and you had to get rid of them because they were no good to you. When they were all sold, then we’d have got a roast beef or something like that, and it was lovely, it was absolutely brilliant.’
Not everyone in Northern Ireland had the comforts of being home at Christmas with many American servicemen spending Christmas without their families. Sadie Lineker recalled an American soldier her family was friendly with arriving with friends at Christmas ‘about four or five of them arrived at our door and they said “We just wanted to come to a house that had an open fire, so we could just sit down there and open our parcels that we got from home at Christmas”… They just sat round the fire and we put carols on the gramophone and just had an ordinary family Christmas while they opened their parcels and surprise surprise they had a lipstick for my sister and one for me!’. Harry Williamson also remembered being joined by Americans for Christmas; ‘we had happened to say prior to Christmas that on Christmas Day we’d be expecting to hear the King speaking his Christmas message, I don’t know how the chaps got hold of the idea but they said “Oh yes, Roosevelt will be giving a Christmas message too”… So come Christmas Day the two soldiers arrived with a whole load of friends and our living room was packed with American soldiers and they wanted to hear this radio speech. They listened to the King and they were greatly disappointed when we finally got it through to them that they wouldn’t hear Roosevelt speaking as America was too far away for our wee radio to reach”.
Do you remember celebrating Christmas during the Second World War? Perhaps you had some American visitors or can remember a special gift you were given? If you’d like to share your wartime Christmas memories with us, feel free to get in touch with our oral history coordinator at email@example.com.