Ghosts of Christmas Past

I recently shared the following video on my facebook page.


Yes, it’s funny.  Their accents are endearing, and the story she tells is amusing (if not completely believable).  But for me, it was more than just funny.  It invoked a deep feeling of nostalgia for an English Christmas.  It shifted memories into place like jigsaw puzzle pieces.  What I saw and heard awakened a sense of longing for my English heritage.

I have only spent one Christmas in England, and it was many many years ago.  I was 9.  The memories I have are precious to me; memories of playing charades with my great aunt, my granny cheating at a game of Sorry, and my great granny stroking a small stuffed mouse I had received as a gift and still have to this day.  I also remember other Christmases of my childhood, of time spent trying to schedule and complete international phone calls and of English traditions of Christmas crackers, Christmas pudding, and of course, the Christmas cake.

There is no American equivalent to an English Christmas cake.  Here is one my mother made:

English Christmas cake, made by my mum (photo by Sally Scott)

It is a dense fruit cake topped with a layer of almost paste or marzipan and then covered with a thick layer of royal icing.  On top of that go the decorations.  In the video above, the missing decorations were replaced by ball bearings and that’s what caused all the trouble.

I remember as a young girl being excited to see the decorations come out of their special box and the yearly tradition of wondering what kind of village it would be where the birds were almost as big as the trees and houses and Santa came in on skies and was taller than the church.  Yes, our decorations mismatched, but they were OUR mismatched decorations and they were special.

Listening to her description of Christmas afternoon and the rhythm of the day felt familiar.  Dinner in the middle of the day, followed by an afternoon of sitting by the fire and listening to carols.  Or in her words, they “went into the front room and sat around the fire, like you do, and had a glass of what you fancy.”  Then it was time for Christmas tea with the cake, followed by more sitting and nibbling on oranges, dates, and figs.  She could have been describing a Christmas from my childhood.

Our family has changed and grown and our traditions have changed and grown with it.  Our dinner is now in the evening, and we don’t serve oranges, dates or figs (although this does answer the question of why my parents always have a container of dates around at Christmas).  We still do Christmas crackers and wear our paper hats and tell bad jokes.  And my mother always makes a Christmas cake, although these days we tend to eat it on Christmas eve.

What Christmas traditions from your cultural origin do you remember?  Which ones do you still include?  Are there any you would like to take out of the memory box, dust off, and incorporate into this year’s Christmas?  I would love to hear your memories.  Thanks for listening to mine.





About Katherine J. Scott

Welcome to my website and blog. I am a writer and librarian interested in historical fiction. My works in progress include a trilogy about a stonemason from Elizabethan England and a novel loosely based on the Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries housed at the Cloisters in New York.
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