old and new




Christmas was very important in our family. Not in a religious sense, we never went to Midnight Mass or anything like that, despite Mum  being Catholic, but in a way that it was important for Mum to get as many of the immediate family and close friends around the table as possible.

She would start her cake at the beginning of September and would put it in a cool place and drizzle brandy onto it once a week. One year the dachshunds managed to get the lid of the box open and ate down about three inches of cake. We found them groaning in their baskets and stuffed as full as draught excluders.

The preparation was always meticulous, she would make it look easy on the day by having so much done in advance.

There were so many silly Christmas traditions that were part of our family. For a start, we had the oldest and most useless set of nutcrackers in the world. They were “grandfather’s nutcrackers” e.g. belonged to Dad’s Dad – like this set – only black with tarnish and age. The only one who had the strength to operate them was Dad, and they’d ruin just about any nut they cracked. Walnuts were too round and too slippery and would skid off around the room to be chased by dogs and children, Brazil nuts they would cut in half and you’d have to pick out the nut fragments and shell. we kids learned to crack hazelnuts with our teeth, because the queue to get your nut cracked was too blooming long. These nutcrackers actually broke the year after Mother died. I still keep the bits.  The funny thing is that a nutcracker is a good gift idea but no one ever thought of buying one, because then we’d have nothing to complain about – oh, apart from the Pick ‘n Mix…

Another Christmas Day tradition was “Moaning about the Pick ‘n Mix” – Pick ‘n Mix for those of you not in the know is a vast array of loose sweets (from Woolworth) where you can pick and choose what sweets you buy. Sadly, since Mother’s death, Woolworth has died too (hmm – am I seeing a theme here?) and although I’m sure other stores do Pick ‘n Mix it isn’t ever going to be the same.

The trouble is that—of course—everyone’s tastes are different. And “Choosing the Pick ‘n Mix” was—for some odd reason—Dad’s job. Mum would send him off on his expedition and he’d come home with a bulging bag of sweets which were then hidden away in case anyone scoffed them. Like the dogs.

But on Christmas day, when they were put into a bowl, it was always a bone of contention because Dad chose only the sweets HE liked and we all had to put up with hard toffees, coffee creams (I mean, REALLY), Parma violets, liquorice allsorts, Pontefract cakes… well, you get the picture. MANLY SWEETS. The only ones I liked were the Keiller’s Butterscotch. And so the whole family moaned and moaned about the sweets and Dad got ribbed all day.  But strangely enough no one ever brought alternative sweets or took over Dad’s job. The day wasn’t the same without crappy Pick ‘n Mix.

We weren’t allowed to have the TV on at all—Mother would say “the television will be there when you are dead” which isn’t much use when you really really want to watch Disney Time. These days there’s no Disney Time anyway, and I’ve always seen the Big Afternoon Film so there’s nothing lost there. I do watch The Queen though. Just because.

I tried, the first few years after she died to keep up a traditional Christmas, but now Dad doesn’t really know, or care that it’s Christmas or Belgium I’ve stopped decorating his house and getting a tree for him. (One year he dismantled the tree on Christmas night and I came around on Boxing Day to find it in the garden and all the decorations put back in the loft – so it’s not worth doing.

It depressed me a bit, because I felt I was letting Mum down, but then I thought: Hell, now I can start having the sort of Christmas I like!  So I started making my own traditions.  I have a fake green plastic tree and I use the fairy that Mum passed on to me when she replaced her with a New Angel (there was dissention in the house that year!) – Fairy has to have her net skirt puffed out with steam (which is tricky with a kettle that switches itself off) but I do it anyway. I also have one of those Swedish Candolier thingies which I leave on all Christmas Eve, kind of a blending of Irish and Swedish traditions there – the Irish light every light in their houses on Christmas eve. Not to guide Father Christmas but to welcome Jesus.

I do dad a nice dinner, but I don’t bother with crackers and turkey and stuff – neither of us can eat a 3 course meal these days and as I said, he doesn’t care it’s Christmas anyway. So we have a nice roast and I sit and think about Mum a bit.Then I go home and start my new traditions. The animals all get tinsel necklaces, I watch all the TV I can stomach – I eat cheeses I like, like Brie and Camenbert, all plastered onto Jacob’s Biscuits for Cheese. I drink fizzy wine chat online to whoever Is around  watch  as much tv as i want!! Merry Christmas!


Advent Calendar Giveaway!

one commenter can choose from my backlist-good luck!

The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this – just save them up for Christmas Eve.)

20 How many drummers drummed?


33 Responses

  1. I’m just as your Dad, way too many sweets that the doctor always frowns when I come in for check-up time but what can I do, it’s delicious! Wish you the best, Merry Ho Ho Ho!

  2. Aww, that was a lovely journey into nostalgia. We used to have nuts of course and the obligatory Eat Me dates. 😀. But now everything has changed and families have moved on and are cultivating traditions of their own.
    Nice post, Erastes. Thank you and have a VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS with lots of sparkly wine and cheese and biscuits. 😉

  3. Ahhh, what lovely memories. The nuts story made me laugh – are there any nutcrackers that actually work?

  4. One of my happiest Christmas memories is of the year that our first pecan nuts coincided with having a kitten. He loved the way they slid across the lino and we were finding them all over the house for months. Mum said she found one 20 years later when they moved house – it was tucked behind the leg of the sideboard.

    Ah memories.*sigh*

    I will be online at least some of Xmas evening and will look out for you then 🙂

  5. Glad I keep my sweets up on the table so my doxies can’t get them. Knowing them they could get together, figure out how to scoot the chair over and climb up. Would not put it past them. As for the nutcracker, we gave up and used a hammer. 🙂 My Mom and Dad are passed, so the traditions I have now are a mix of mine and hers. She loved Christmas so very much. I thought it fitting that she passed right after Christmas, so she was able to enjoy it one more time.
    I’ll be around all Christmas, see you on the net. 🙂

  6. All these things that Americans just don’t have! I mean, yes, there are places in some of the grocery stores where you can make a mix of candies, and even a chain of candy stores in the malls that are dedicated to that, but it doesn’t seem to be a huge Christmas tradition. Hershey’s Kisses wrapped in red and green foil are more like it. And nobody I knew ever made a big deal about nuts in the shell — we had nutcrackers in my house, but they were for cracking lobster claws. 🙂 No Christmas cake — some people I know now make fruitcakes, but when I was growing up, fruitcake was widely considered an inedible brick and a bad joke — and certainly no address from the Queen. And no Jacob’s Biscuits for Cheese.

    Treetop fairies, yes. I was over at a friend’s house on Saturday, and her tree had a near twin to the one I begged from my mother’s friend in 1974 — net skirt held out by wires, little blinking lights in the skirt, blonde bubble haircut and all. I had no idea they still made them like that. I showed admirable restraint and didn’t beg for it this time — but then, I no longer play with Barbie dolls ever since my kid outgrew the collection that had all been rechristened with Harry Potter names. We had the licensed Harry and Ron and Hermione and Hagrid, but the Barbies stood in for Fleur Delacoeur and Parvati Patel and Cho Chang and such.

    It sounds like you’ll have a good Christmas despite the loss of traditions. I look forward to pictures of Sasha and Lucius and Severus with their tinsel!

  7. It was fun to read about your Christmas traditions when you were growing up. Thanks for sharing them.

  8. Oh bother, now I am craving Parma Violets.
    Forging one’s own holiday is always a tad bittersweet, but rather fun in its way.

    • Thank you! It’s taken a few years but I think it’s best to just ignore the day as far as dad is concerned rather than getting all resentful that he doesn’t care even to decorate or buy me a present. He does, but he doesn’t need to knowhe did. LOL

  9. A trip down memory lane – Woollies pick n mix was the best!
    I make my cake in October and do feed it weekly.

  10. Great post!

  11. I see a definite theme to you past Christmases there.

  12. Ahhhhhh, that was bittersweet , sweet in the end. I remember a few Christmases alone in California. What did I do? Get St. Andre tripe cream Brie (like butta!) some Vermont extra sharp cheddar, and a tub of ice cream. Then I’d curl up and watch MGM musicals with my dog, lonely but fairly content! Those are good (bittersweet) memories!

    • I think i’m lucky in that I’ve never felt lonely, I like my own company, and my furry family and there’s always so much to do-read, play games etc. Ice cream sounds like a GREAT edition. *adds to list* thank you!

  13. Pick ‘N Mix sounds like an epic book series waiting to happen…

  14. I like peanut brittle, See’s Candies and my hubby’s homemade chocolate fudge 🙂

    Happy Holidays!

    • Mother’s favourite was peanut brittle – there was a lovely brand called Randall’s Nut Crunch and when it went out of business no one ever made one the same – really brittle covered in chocolate! i used to make her some each year. Merry Christmas to you my dear

  15. We used to have a fairy with a net dress. 🙂

    My dad used to crack wlanuts in his hands…

  16. My dad did the barehanded nut-cracking thing, too. It’s a man thing, I guess. We have a couple of the old U-shape nutcrackers and a set of picks. Haven’t seen many Brazil nuts lately. I read somewhere they’re pollinated by some kind of rare insect and who knows if the bugs are endangered.

    We always get in-shell nuts — and wind up using them for months, mostly in baking, since we both love the ‘nut-and-fruit stocking’ but don’t really eat lots of nuts.

    There was a store in Evanston that had the Christmas mix of candies–Weiboldts. We always went to see Santa there, and my most enduring memory is being incredibly hot in my wool snow-pants and coat, and always in a hurry. With 4 of us kids, and a 30-mile drive to get there, it seems weird that the parents bothered. But.. that was before malls, and our small town wasn’t big enough for anything more than a five-and-dime. Which, looking back, was not a bad thing.

    Merry Christmas!

  17. I had never heard of picknmix but this made me think of Dad’s candy jar, that Mom keeps filled up even though Dad’s protests it’s not for him. But he stops by the jar constantly, looking in and take his pick on his way to his study.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  18. The nutcrackers! We had two pairs like that that didn’t work either. My Dad liked gadgets so we had some other strange gadgets for getting into nuts over the years.

    My Childhood Christmases were all about buying food items that we didn’t eat but ‘had to have’: Jacobs Biscuits for Cheese; cheesy footballs; Turkish Delight, pink and white cubes in round wooden tubs (which I did eat); Creme de Menthe sweets – like Turkish Delight only green and minty; Eat Me dates with the plastic fork thing; nuts that we couldn’t crack. And there were satsumas to eat as well.

    Have a warm and peaceful day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: