Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

New York, Past & Present – Christmas Holiday Snaps

Happy new year to all.  I know Christmas has been and gone but as we spent a few days in New York prior to Christmas I thought it would be fun to share a few snaps with you.

Has anything changed there since the 1950s? Is it still the most exciting and romantic city to visit pre Christmas? Well I’ll let you judge!


Skating in Central Park – you choose – 2011 or 1955!




© Selma Pickup

The Chrysler Building – wow a masterpiece.



 © Selma Pickup

Look at my own photo of Times Square and compare it to the 1950s’ version. Not much difference.

Source© Selma Pickup

5th Ave Christmas shopping in 2011 is no busier than Christmas shopping in the 1950s.

© Unknown

I also want to just give you a taster of the amazing Christmas display windows that the large stores have just in case you plan a visit next December.

 © Selma Pickup

Hope you enjoyed by holiday snaps!

One again, a very happy 2012 to you all.

Selma x ♥

1950s-Inspired Festive Make-up, Beauty & Manicure Tips

Well it’s Christmas Eve Eve (wahoo!!) and this is going to be my last post for a bit as I’m taking a bit of a mini break for Christmas and exam revision next week. I’m sure you’ll all be busy with friends and family over the next few days as well, but if you do have a spare moment do look through our Fifties Wedding blog archives for some interesting reads!

I wanted to leave you all just before Christmas with some festive 1950s-inspired beauty, make-up and manicure tips – ready for those Christmas Eve drinks, Christmas Day lunches and Boxing Day get-togethers. Also useful for New Year! It especially helps if you read this while listening to cheesy Christmas songs in the background (or maybe that’s just me).

Audrey Hepburn with Santa Clause 1953 - Source

The Make-up

It always seems to me that the Hollywood stars of the 50s always had natural, flawless skin.

Grace Kelly – Source

While we can’t all be blessed with perfect skin, we can do a few things to make sure we have that great base on which to apply make-up. My tips are as follows:

  • Don’t use fake tan.
  • Use a tinted moisturiser.
  • Finish with a very light application of a powder cream such as Benefit’s foundation, or a translucent powder.

I hardly ever wear foundation on a day-to-day basis, but it is worth doing for parties and events as it covers up all the little capillaries and blemishes. The worst mistake is to apply too much foundation though and to use a colour that doesn’t match your own. I like Benefit’s Some-Kinda-Gorgeous foundation. It’s a cream to powder formula which fives a very silky and even application and you only need a very small amount.


Thick black eyeliner is of course essential to achieving that 1950s glam look. Sophia Loren always amazing eyes and was queen of the cat-eye liner. This style is great for Christmas parties because you need to go heavier for evening events when lighting is darker and your eyes need to stand out. It doesn’t give as defined look but I like the way it blends. When shaping your cat eye, your liner should be barely there near the inner corner of your eyes and gradually get thicker as it reaches the outer corners.

Sophia Loren - Source

Lots of people like using liquid eyeliner (I’ll admit it looks great when done perfectly), but I have never really mastered the art. I stumbled across a great tutorial via Nerdy Girl Makeup that uses a matt eyeshadow and a gel liner if you want to know how to do it.  These pics below show the basic steps.  This look was achieved using the Inglot AMC Eyeliner Gel in “77″ with a MAC 208 brush.


After doing some research in Boots I also found a great product that work well to create that Christmassy magical look. This sparkley eye-liner by Too Faced is just perfect (top left and below, £14 from Boots). It’s subtle (which I like) but still adds that special sparkle.

Picture – source

I can’t rave enough about Benefit’s new false lash effect mascara too. Forget those fake eye lashes – just beef up your own!

As far as lips go, anyone with dark hair and olive skin can pull of any shade of red very well, but if you’re not blessed with Mediterranean looks it’s just about picking the right tone. If you’ve got very pale skin and blonde hair try and go for what I call ‘rose reds’ – that is to say reds with pink tones. Orangey reds also would look great. If you’ve got red or brown hair then any bright red will probably suit you very well, but consider your complexion too. Red faces don’t look great with red lipsticks!

Marilyn Monroe with her rose red lipstick Source

The Nails

You’ve got to have manicured nails for the festive season – even if you do your own. Fabulous nails were very fashionable in the 50s. Some 1950s manicures involved painting the lower half of the nail red, but leaving the half moon section free of polish. My choice would be all-over bright red though!


This is my ultimate manicure that I like to do with my feet up on the sofa, as taught to me by my friend Loren who used to do it as job at uni. Clearly having someone do it for you is nicer but this at-home version will stretch your pennies further.

  • First, remove your old nail polish with your usual remover (I use a nourishing one from Boots).
  • Cut and file your nails. I think nails look better shorter rather than long (too Towie for me), though of course it’s all a matter of choice.
  • Apply a cuticle oil and wait for 5 minutes.
  • Push back your cuticles using a cuticle stick – carefully! Again, you can get these sticks from Boots or Superdrug very cheap.
  • Wash your hands gently.
  • Moisturise your hands with a good hand lotion. The one I’m using at the moment is ‘Ginkgo’s Secret’ from Rituals. If you get something that says ‘extra rich and repairing’ then it sounds good to me!
  • Apply an undercoat (I use Sally Hanson) and then your polish.
  • My one tip is definitely make sure you apply an undercoat as in my experience it helps to prevent chipping and provides a smooth surface for your top coat.

That top colour – of course – needs to be Christmassy. Shades of darker and ruby reds are chic and festive, and bright red is of course very 50s. If you can find one with a slight shimmer even better. Those metallic colours also look great – if you’re not comfortable wearing a colour, ditch the French manicure for silver or gold. Don’t forget your toe nails need the love too – even if no one will see them! Here’s my attempt using a great polish from O.P.I.

© Fifties Wedding

Mac’s Nail Laqcquer is also a great product. It’s a high gloss formula that doesn’t streak like some versions, and also contains conditioners.


The Body

Now for pampering your skin. After a leisurely bath dowse yourself in a luxurious body lotion. Philosophy’s ‘cinnamon buns’ shampoo, bubble bath and shower gel (3 in 1) is full of all those yummy cinnamon Christmas aromas and will make you feel simply delicious. Available from Boots.


Also (my favourite product) Benefit’s Bathina glimmering body balm is perfect to add that festive magical glow to your arms, legs and neck. It really highlights those shoulders and works wonders with fake tan. It’s very understated too, and the smell is heavenly. Shimmer up for baby!


So there we go – my make-up, manicure & beauty tips for this Christmas.

A splash of your favourite perfume and away you go!

All that’s left for me to say is have a wonderful Christmas and New Year. I wish you all the very best time. Ensure you all over-indulge and enjoy every second! It really is a time of year to not feel guilty about all the treats you stuff into your mouth, and a time to really enjoy with the people close to you. Be silly, play games, wear those Christmas cracker hats and be a kid again!

We’ll be back January 1st 2012.

Charlie x ♥

Christmas Canapes & Drinks – How to Host the Perfect 1950s Christmas Party

Continuing with the holiday theme this week (weddings will return promise!), today’s post will be topical for anyone hosting a Christmas drinks party. This will be me on Tuesday evening – yippee.

Parties … owe much of their success to the thought expended on food and drink. Even the impromptu need not take the hostess by surprise if the store cupboard is kept well-stocked with pastry shells in airtight tins and good supplies of canned and bottled delicacies. Ideal Home in 1956

Taking a leaf out of life in the 1950s then, even if you’re not hosting Christmas drinks or a party, this post should be useful as you should always make sure you have a few canapés up your sleeve! Who knows when the unexpected guest might turn up. In the 1950s cocktail parties were extremely popular, and Christmas was a chance for women (yes – just like a good housewife) to show off their culinary and domestic skills. As anyone who has ever hosted a drinks or dinner party knows, maintaining that airbrushed manicured look and a rosy smile is never easy when you’re sticking your head in and out of an oven and panicking about timings. However, in the 1950s the woman was expected to cook and prepare everything, and still retain that air of sophistication and calmness. Not to mention looking immaculate. So how on earth can we do that? My number one tip – preparation! (oh and a splash of perfume and a glass of wine helps)


First of all, prepare as many of your canapes in advance, and just leave a few trays that need to be heated up 5 minutes before your guests arrive. Now I looked for 1950s-themed canapés, but to be honest the Ritz crackers and devilled eggs just didn’t shout Christmas. I was tempted by this rather fascinating 1950s recipe for a ‘sandwich loaf’…but then thought otherwise. It did make me laugh though.


The following are some of my favourite ideas for Christmas canapés. Plus they are easy. It just takes that tiny bit of extra effort, but I promise you will be rewarded by those smiling bellies.

Mini cranberry & turkey pies

For these you just need to combine a mixture of shredded leftover turkey, cranberry sauce and creme fraiche into shortcrust pastry-lined muffin tins. Add your pastry lids, brush with egg and place in the oven until the pastry is crisp and golden. Mmmm….they look so delicious. No one would believe it’s that simple.


Sweet chilli & lime glazed sausages

Cocktail sausages always go down well, but you can make yours much more interesting with this recipe. All it is – soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce and lime juice mixed together and drizzled over your usual chipolata sausages, together with a bit of olive oil. It only takes 10 minutes in the oven for these sausages to turn from ordinary to extraordinary! Also try honey & mustard for another tasty idea.

Left - Source, Right – Source

Salmon frittata

This recipe by Angela Hartnett is so delicious. It just involves beating eggs and then adding them to olive oil in a frying pan to start to cook the frittata. Add some chopped onion, chilli and parsley, and then just before it’s all cooked you add the smoked salmon (at the very last second!). When it’s cool you serve as wedges. So easy and looks fantastic! For the full recipe click here.


Blueberry & stilton blinis

These canapés just shout Christmas. First make a salsa out of blueberries, raspberries, roughly chopped red onion, a little bit of green chilli and some capers. Mix together and chill for 20 mins. Then top your ready-made blinis or crackers with a slice of stilton and the stilton. Voila. For the full recipe click here.

Source - © Tony Briscoe

Chorizo cups with feta, mint & slow roast tomato

These chorizo canapés are just so colourful and look simply scrumptious. By putting sliced chorizo in a mini cupcake baking tray and baking for just a few minutes, you can create these impressive looking cups to fill with your favourite cheese. Feta, mint and slow roast tomatoes work so well, but I’m also thinking a bit of black pudding with manchego cheese could make an interesting filing too. Yum.


Mini filo mince pies

Of course you’ve just got to serve up mini mince pies. Every year I make my own filo mince pies, and they always go down so well. They’re as light as air, but still have that indulgent filling that I just adore. Just line a mini cupcake baking tray with squares of filo pastry (in 2 layers) and then do again to make a base of stars. You can line the pastry with beaten egg or butter to make them stick. Fill with a teaspoon of shop-bought mincemeat, and then top with a final filo square. Brush with egg, bake in the oven for 8 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and and then dust with icing sugar.

© Fifties Wedding

Of course to be truly 1950s-style, you also need to serve a healthy dose of polite conversation with your canapés.

“Please,” “Thank you,” and “excuse me,” salt and peppered everyone’s conversation in the 50s. Children were taught, “manners,” and were required to be courteous, which included never addressing an adult by their first name, saying “yes, Sir,” and “no, Ma’am,” and making requests in the form, “may I please …?”… It’s not that one never heard profanities in the fifties, although it was rare, and many, if not most adults, never used profanity, simply because decent people did not use it.

Quote - Source

So if you think you fall into the ‘decent’ category, dirty jokes to your guests are a no! Having said that, I’m all for letting your hair down, but perhaps you can greet your guests with a glass of bubbly or mulled wine at the door with a ‘May I please take your coat?’

Of course all that polite conversation might go out the window after a few drinks. As it’s Christmas you’ve got to serve mulled wine, but eggnog is also a good choice. There are so many recipes out there to make mulled wine, but I always just use my dad’s recipe which involves red wine, a bit of orange juice and then all the spices – a couple of cinnamon sticks, grated nutmeg, whole cloves and star anaise. Demerara sugar is good for making it a bit sweeter if that’s how you prefer.


Of course in the 1950s it was all about the cocktail. Bubbly (it doesn’t have to be real Champagne) with a dash of cassis makes a winning Kir Royale – my favourite cocktail. Mmmm…delicious.


Finally, you’ve got to set the mood with the music. Some of the best Christmas songs are from the 50s – ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ by Bobby Helms (the original version, 1957), ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’ by Perry Como and The Fontane Sisters (1951) and ‘Santa Baby’ by Eartha Kitt (the original version, 1953).

Also I know it’s a 1963 album, but my favourite Christmas album of all time has to be the classic ‘A Christmas Gift to You’ from Phil Spector. You can’t beat The Ronnettes’ version of ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ and ‘Sleigh Ride’. Awesome

So there we have it –all the ingredients you need to host your 1950s Christmas drinks party! All you need now is that gorgeous 50s frock to match.

My mum is away in New York for her regular post on Monday, so your next instalment on the blog will be Wednesday. I’ve got a fab real wedding to show you all.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Charlie x ♣

DIY Christmas Tree Decoration Ideas

Now I know this isn’t wedding-related, but as it’s the week before Christmas I am in full festive swing and I just had to do a post on Christmas tree decoration ideas. It’s always one of the things I look forward to most about Christmas – decorating the tree with cheesy Christmas songs in the background, a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie. Every year we have the same decorations, though we always add at least one new one. In twenty years time then we might have quite a heavy tree!

This year I made a few DIY decorations as we’re watching our pennies at the moment. OK they’re not too professional-looking, but they were so much fun to make! Also I take great pleasure in their uniqueness :) So today on the blog I’m showcasing DIY Christmas tree decorations.

First up (and I do these every year), I made a Christmas cracker using the inside cardboard from toilet rolls, spare wrapping paper and ribbon. This is so easy to do, and great for using up those leftover
bits that otherwise would go in the bin.

© Fifties Wedding


I love those felt crackers above – what a good idea! Too much cardboard doesn’t look very good on a Christmas tree, and it’s just as easy to make decorations out of felt. Somehow they look far more chic and sophisticated!

Left – Source, Right – Source

Especially loving these hanging Santa outfits – so much fun!

Left – Source, Right – Source

For something ultra funky and special, I just love these felt Christmas tree lights. Amazing!


In an effort to get even more messy, I also made a Christmas pud decoration this year out of paper mache. All you need is flour and water for the mix and old newspaper. Stick the mache-covered newspaper to a small balloon and dry in a warm place overnight. The next day you can paint your balls to be Christmas puds or however you like, and then pop the balloon and hang them up with ribbon when they’re dry. Yes I’m a big kid. I love it. I’ve found some great designs to paint your own paper mache baubles – much better than mine actually!


I also painted some plain wooden balls that I got from an art shop. You can really run free with this one. The best thing is you can just paint over them if you don’t like your design next year!

© Fifties Wedding

© Fifties Wedding

You can’t beat homemade treats on the tree either, though with a dog I opted not to! However, if you are dog-free I would recommend this recipe from Nigella Lawson from her book Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen (2007).


For the biscuits:

  • 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) soft dark sugar
  • 10 1/2 ounces (300 grams) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large free-range eggs, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons clear honey
  • For the icing and trimmings
  • 10 1/2 ounces (300 grams) instant royal icing sugar (made to packet instructions)
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • Gold or silver sugar balls or sprinkles


Florist’s ribbon or wire, for hanging

Special equipment: Set of Christmas cutters

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (170 degrees C).

Place the butter and sugar in a clean bowl and mix together vigorously with a wooden spoon until the color and texture of the mixture becomes pale. Place the mixture into the bowl of a food processor and add the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and freshly ground black pepper. Blend the mixture. While the food processor is blending, gradually pour the eggs and honey down the funnel of the food processor’s lid into the bowl until a dough has formed (you may not require all of the liquid if the dough has come together before it is used up). If the dough is too dry add a little water to the mixture. If the dough is too wet add a little flour.

Halve the dough. Wrap 1 half of the dough in cling film, place it into a freezer bag, and refrigerate. Place the other half of the dough onto a floured work surface. Roll the dough, with a rolling pin, into a disk to about 1/4-inch thick. Using a set of Christmas biscuit cutters, cut decoration shapes out of the dough. Re-roll the remaining dough and cut out more shapes until the dough is used up. Remove the second half of the dough from the fridge and repeat this process. With the pointed end of a small icing nozzle, puncture a hole just below the top of each decoration (through which ribbon or wire can later be threaded to hang them). Arrange the decorations on baking sheets lined with a layer of reusable silicon baking parchment and cook for 20 minutes or until they are cooked through and golden-brown in color. Transfer the decorations to a wire rack to cool.

Prepare the icing according to the packet instructions (the icing texture should be liquid enough to be easy to apply but thick enough not to run off the decorations). Ice the decorations using a teaspoon (use the tip of the spoon for dripping the icing onto the decoration and the back of the teaspoon for smoothing). Sprinkle the gold or silver balls over the decorations and press them gently onto the icing. Cut the ribbon into short lengths and thread the ribbon through the holes in the decorations. Tie the decorations to what ever needs decorating with the ribbon.

You can put your treats in little fabric stockings.

Left - © Fifties Wedding, Right – Source

This photo gave me an idea to do mittens too…that would be so cute.


Or hanging up your treats with ribbon is just as good!

Left – Source, Right – Source

…and here’s our tree decorating in all its glory!

© Fifties Wedding

© Fifties Wedding

Happy Christmas everyone!! Not long to go now :) Feel free to post your Christmas tree pics on the Fifties Wedding Facebook page. I would love to see them!

Charlie x

Christmas in London – A Mum & Daughter Day Out

I am now truly in official Christmas mode. Charlie and I had a wonderful mother and daughter day in London yesterday, shopping, eating and beautifying.

This was my treat.

Selfridges (all photos © Fifties Wedding)

I hadn’t done this sort of day for years and had forgotten how festive London can look.

Both Charlie and I are Christmasholics.  We love the romance and buzz of Christmas, pathetic some might say, but anything that puts a smile on your face has to be good.

We met in Selfridges, which has to be the best place if you want to be plunged  into Christmas mode. Fantastic decorations of paper and glass adorn the store.


Christmas music playing in the background and packed full of people a great way to get into the festive season.

We began with a drink in one of the many pretty cafes dotted around the store and then off to make-up and perfumery, very girly.

Charlie’s Jo Malone perfume

Charlie then had a manicure and French Polish at the Opi Nailbar. She said it was the best ever.

We had a light lunch in Selfridges food hall so as not to fill up too much as my big surprise had still to come.

We then strolled up to John Lewis where Charlie wanted me to try make-up from the Benefit concession. What stunning make-up. I was pampered and transformed by a lovely girl.

The  Christmas theme continued in the store with a live band playing again the store looked very festive.

John Lewis


By now it was mid-afternoon so with our purchases we made our way, via Libertys (so we could see their Christmas Shop), to the highlight of the day – afternoon tea at The Dean Street Townhouse.

For all you retro &fifties admirers, this is fantastic.  It’s a boutique hotel with a restaurant in an original old London terrace.  Tea was served in a lovely cosy room with low velour armchairs, pretty china, sandwiches, cakes and scones and candles. We also had a glass of Prosecco each as a special treat.

This was a perfect end to a perfect day. By the time we walked back to the tube it was dark and all the lights were on, Christmas carols were being sung in various places and lots of Santas seemed to be wandering around.


I’m off to New York this week – another great Christmas location.

Have a happy pre Christmas week.

Selma x ♥


Happy Holidays to All Our Readers

We’re taking a short break from the blog for a few days over Christmas, so we just wanted to take this chance to wish all of our readers a very merry Christmas and festive holiday. We have had so much fun the last two months writing for the blog, and we’ve been really touched by all the lovely comments and support from our readers and followers on Facebook and Twitter. Please do come back in a few days, and next week we will also be predicting wedding trends for 2011.

We hope you enjoy the next few days with your friends and family, and eat and drinks lots and lots no doubt.

We will leave you with a few classic Christmas advertisements & posters from the 1950s to get you in that festive spirit (some of these might make you chuckle!).

Happy holidays everyone!

Charlie & Selma x

Thoughts of Christmas Food & My Filo Mince Pie Recipe

Today’s post is a Charlie rambler one I’m afraid! I’m too excited to think about much more than Christmas this weekend!! One week to go and I am in full festive mode. We are hosting mulled wine & nibbles tomorrow night, and I plan to spend the rest of the weekend doing a few last minute bits of shopping, wrapping and being crafty (with a bit of studying and Apprentice thrown in). Next week we have our office Christmas lunch on Tuesday, and on Thursday I’m seeing the parentals for Christmas Eve Eve dinner (that oh so traditional day). In between I’m somehow going to go to work, start on my coursework in the evenings, wrap presents, prepare the ham, get some last minute food bits and once and for all decide with Hubby what we’ll be eating on Christmas Day.

This year we are having a Christmas just us two (and the dog Loki), celebrating our first year as Mrs and Mrs. It’s going to be very different to past years, and will be a little strange not to be with all the family. However, we both work very long hours and I am so ridiculously excited to spend 2 whole days with my gorgeous amazing hubby Ant!

venison tenderloin with fresh morel sauceI have ordered a Sainsbury’s online shop enough to feed a family of 10, but at least it’s a guarantee that on Christmas Day we won’t be hungry (or sober). We decided a few weeks ago that we would do all the traditional trimmings for Christmas dinner, but are having venison instead of turkey. Slightly odd but there’s just the two of us so we decided to be alternative. We thought we’d have something we really love, but something we don’t have very often. I think a nice port sauce would go well rather than gravy.

However, some things are undecided – Christmas breakfast, Christmas starter, and dessert. I adore smoked salmon so could quite happily feast on that all morning (along with scrambled eggs, and my own personal pre-breakfast Christmas canapé of malteasers). As for dessert, I’ve got Christmas pudding (though neither of us are massive fans), as well as ice-cream and cheese. I would also choose smoked salmon for starter too, but think Ant might want some variety! We were thinking an interesting ham or rabbit terrine might be tasty, but then it would take quite a bit of preparation and both of us are working Christmas Eve (Ant doesn’t finish until 10pm). Prawns are always a winner too (in fact I love prawns so much a few years ago I had a prawn party for my birthday – no not joking).

If in doubt, order it all – and that is exactly what I have done. Thanks to an overdraft we have a fridge & cupboard stuffed full of all sorts of foodie delights JUST IN CASE. Is it just us or does everyone do this? I wonder if after 25 December we will have a need for all this extra food that quite honestly we just don’t eat the rest of the year. I don’t think I’ve ever had port apart from at Christmas, nor a Ferrer Rocher.

Still a few foodie things to think about then, but I think we’ve got a vague menu, and we definitely have all the ingredients for all possibilities anyway!

Here is a recipe for my Easy Filo Mince Pies which I have just made this morning – low fat deliciousness that won’t make you feel guilty for having a few! Honestly this is so easy anyone can do it!

You will need:

  • Jar of luxury mincemeat (I have not yet attempted to make my own)
  • Packet of filo pastry
  • Egg for glazing (or melted butter if you prefer)
  • Icing sugar for dusting


1. Grease a cupcake tin.

2. Prepare your mince pie bases by cutting squares into 3 layers of filo pastry. The size will depend on the size you want your mince pies to be.

3. For each mince pie base in the cake tin, place 2 x 3 layer squares of pastry to make a star shape.

4. Put a dollop of mincemeat on each base.

5. Finish with a 1 layer square of filo.

6. Glaze with the egg, and put in a 200c oven for 5 minutes or until turning golden.

7. Leave for a few minutes to cool, and then dust with sieved icing sugar and serve warm.


Happy Christmas everyone!

Charlie x

Below – Ant’s Arty Photo of our Christmas tree (taken this morning)

Charlie x

A 1950s Christmas

The fairy lights are up, mince pies are going round the office, and Cliff Richard is on the radio…it must be Christmas! Being such a huge fifties fan, all this got me thinking about what Christmas was like in the 1950s. I asked my dad John what it was like for a kid at Christmas in the 50s, and what he came back with is so fascinating! A real treat on the blog today. Over to you Dad!…

Christmas at our house featured a lot of my grandparents. They lived round the corner and came to us for Christmas and Boxing Day. My grandmother could not wait to open her presents on Christmas Day and usually persuaded us all to open ours too at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve. This, she claimed, was what the Royal Family did, but I doubt that very much. This was not a fifties tradition, then, but just my crazy grandmother.

My grandparents, who owned a grocer’s shop in Wembley, a suburb of London,  would travel up to ‘Town’ (i.e. the West End of London) and buy what they called ‘hors d’oeuvres’ (actually pre-made salads – Russian, potato, coleslaw) from one of the then famous Lyon’s Corner Houses in Marble Arch, the Strand or Coventry Street. These salads were to be to be eaten on Christmas night with left-over turkey. It was a massive ritual in our house, probably more important to us than Christmas lunch. Sometimes, I would be taken along for the salad purchase. For a little boy, the Corner Houses had an intoxicating smell of mixed cigar smoke, fresh flowers and food – the smell of affluence, of course, just surviving after the war but now almost never experienced.

Christmas decorations for the house were a big thing, certainly in all the main rooms, and possibly in the toilet too. My brother and I always made multicolour paper chains, which we bought every year from Woolworths in Wembley High Road. I think I am right in saying the Christmas tree was a spindly artificial one, and folded up after use. We had several Christmas tree decorations from my father’s boyhood family tree, including a fairy for the top of the tree which looked as if the cat had vomited it up.

Christmas dinner (i.e. lunch) was cooked of course by my mother, on a Main gas cooker. Main was a well-known cooker brand from the 20s to 50s, the Neff of its day, and I still have the Main cookbook that came with it. The concept of fathers cooking any meal, let alone the festive ones, did not arrive in the UK for another 40 years. In the early Fifties, we had a chicken for Christmas lunch, which was difficult to get and a real luxury after the war, but later in the decade we seem to have graduated to a turkey. I do not think such an expensive item was ever bought, but ‘acquired’ somehow by my father (maybe a gift from a client at work or from someone ‘down the pub’). Even working class families like ours ate comparatively huge amounts at Christmas. My father would be down the pub on Christmas morning, and return to a lunch plate like a scale model of Mount Everest.

The house, of course, was unbelievably cold. There was no central heating but on special occasions like Christmas a coal fire would be lit in the dining room. We went to bed on Christmas Eve with ice on the inside of the window pane, but snuggled up with our hot-water bottles waiting for Santa. One year, the aforesaid Santa left a hamster in a cage at my bedside. I am sure it must have frozen to death by the morning.

I do not remember the family playing party games at Christmas. There was no opportunity, since all the adults would fall into a coma after the Queen’s speech at 3 pm and not come round until about 6 pm when my mother would make a cup of tea, and the hors d’oeuvres  would be begin (see above). I would play on the Cyril Lord (a carpet made out of plastic – don’t ask) with some component of my train set that I had been given. I still have most of these items.

Children watching television: 1953

Usually, the only wine I saw my family drink at Christmas was a small glass of Stone’s ginger wine. Bottles of Babycham and bitter lemon were very popular. Later, maybe it was into the Sixties, my mother discovered something alcoholic – a ‘snowball’, which was a mixture advocaat and lemonade, but I doubt if she realised it had any alcohol in it.

Television had arrived in our house with the Coronation in 1953, and we were the first in the street -  to get a TV that is, not to be crowned. The TV screen was so small you had to have an enormous magnifying glass which folded down over the front. I laughed like a drain at Christmas shows with Mr Pastry and Arthur Askey. How embarrassing that we enjoyed such simple pleasures, compared to the sophistication of Christmas with Big Brother or All Star Family Fortunes.

1953 TV print – © Henry Grant Collection/Museum of London


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