Vivid in my memory is the Christmas of 1918. I was six years old at the time.
Bank Street was a close knit community. Doors were always on the latch. We children wandered in and out of each other’s homes without so much as a “by your leave”. In preparation for the festive period, the wooden floors had been scoured with carbolic soap and a stiff scrubbing brush. The stone flags of the downstairs floors had been whitened with rubbing stone. Bright upon the floor before the open range lay a new rug hand pegged from wollen rags. A kissing bush, covered with tissue paper, chinese lanterns, edible white sugar mice and mistletoe, dangled Christmassy green against the lime washed ceiling.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, I awoke to the first sounds of the day. The poking of the banked up fire. Sizzling fat bacon being cooked in the soot blackened frying pan. The closing door as father leaves for work in the mine. An express train by –passing the village with lightening speed. The clatter of the iron clad clogs of the mill and foundry workers. The ear splitting shrieks of the work sirens. The milkman’s pony and trap rounding the corner. Neighbours greeting each other. The clatter of the measuring ladle against the milk churn and pints of frothy, fresh milk being poured into white jugs.
One of the highlights of Christmas Eve was to go in a group to look into the village shop windows. Each held a magic of its own. As the afternoon waned we would return to our own street, climbing one of the dividing walls so that we might peer into the Royal Hotel yard. We would watch the carters grooming, feeding and stabling their horses. Adjacent to the wall was the manure midden. We would inhale and enjoy the pungency of the ammoniac smell emanating from the steaming dung. Before the dark of the day finally fell, we would await the familiar figure of the lamp-lighter. Long pole held high aloft, he would give a touch to the gas jet. With a hiss and a pop, the street lamp would flare alight.
Some time later the brass band with the boom, boom of the big drum would be heard as the uniformed musicians marched through the cobbled streets to draw to a halt before the big gas lamp in the high street. Carols would be played, shining brass instruments blaring forth the age old tidings of “ Peace on Earth – Goodwill to all men.”
After being candle lit to bed, there came the ritual hanging of the stocking, the night prayers, the tucking in, the extinguishing of the candle, a cuddle, then left to sleep. I knew exactly what my stocking would hold when I awoke as did all my friends. Nuts, an apple, an orange, a few sweets and the very special surprise gift.
I find myself wondering if my clear memory of that particular Christmastide could be due to the fact the war with Germany has ceased on the eleventh day of the previous month. Over all the village there was an air of thanksgiving for the long awaited peace.