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Project Britain

British Christmas Traditions
by Mandy Barrow

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Christmas Memories

Woodlands Junior School is in the south-east corner of England


Below are Christmas Memories from visitors to our website.

Christmas Shopping

"Shopping in England on cold wet December evenings with the wonderful windows of the stores lit up and inviting you to come in. The butcher shops with their turkeys hanging up and the lovely green grocers with their fresh herbs and mistletoe."
Eileen M


Christmas in England in the 1940s

"I was born towards the end of the War, so my memories date to the late 1940's. Our Christmas always started late on Christmas Eve. Mother would have invariably been to the market as it closed hoping for some last minute bargains. 

As we prepared for bed we would write our present requests and holding them above the flame allow them to drift up the chimney in the smoke to Father Christmas. Then upstairs and our stockings (large socks) were placed at the bottom of our beds. It was so difficult to get to sleep. 

Fathe Christmas

We would wake while it was still dark. 

‘Has he been yet?'


We would grab our stockings and run to our parent's room. Only to be sent back because it was too early. We'd sit on our beds feeling every bump and shape. What was in there? We would never dream of unpacking them on our own.

Eventually the shout would go up. 

‘He's been!'

Dragging our stockings we'd all tumble into my parent's bed. Who would get the best place, in between my parents? It was warm. No danger of getting cold when the excitement began to fade, and there was no danger of falling out when someone got over enthusiastic. I had five brothers and sisters, so it was a bit of a squeeze.

Then, officially at least, we'd take it in turns to remove a present and show it to the others.

At the top of the Christmas stocking there was always something soft and cuddly. A small doll, or teddy, or something similar. Then a painting or activity book. I always liked magic painting books, where you just had to add water for the picture to appear, or those shiny scribbling book where your pencil produced the same effect. A small pack of colouring pencils, we might need those for school. A toothbrush. We always had a new toothbrush. Some sort of game, perhaps a pack of cards. Old Maid, Happy Families and Snap spring to mind. Or maybe the latest playground craze. Jacks, Five Stones, Yo-yos. Then if we were really lucky another small toy. A car or, in those days, a gun for the boys and tomboys of the family, or perhaps something to make. A packet of sweets or a small chocolate bar. Finally the essential item of clothing, a pair of gloves, socks or pants. We'd reach the heel, an apple, an orange and a handful of nuts. Then joy of joy a pink or white sugar mouse. Something that had to be eaten immediately. 

Right in the depths of the toe was a bright shiny penny. Not a lot, compared with what some lucky children seem to receive these days.

Although we did not realise it at the time, we were the lucky ones. We had not been evacuated during the War. My father had not been in the forces. We had not been bombed out and lost everything. My father had lost a brother during the Battle of Britain, but we were not faced by the mental, physical and social problems of so many living near us. Problems still faced by so many, both in this country and throughout the world. 

Our home was filled, especially at Christmas, with love and security. I think my Christmas stocking expresses the anticipation of Advent, and the wonder, joy, magic, mystery and love of Christmas. The two days of Christmas were filled with fun and laughter. 

In addition to our own family we were normally joined on Christmas Day by my uncles and aunts and 3 cousins, and on Boxing Day by my uncles and aunts and 7 cousins. Both my parents came from large families."



Christmas in England in the late 1950s / 60s

CarolersI live in Australia now and Christmas can get quite hot, but I was born in England and have some lovely memories of my Christmases. My eldest sister and I always went carol singing usually two weeks before Christmas and back then in the late 1950's early 1960's everyone would let you sing and give you sixpence and a mince pie or sausage roll. It was a very special time. The money we collected we used to buy Christmas presents for others. The last time I went carol singing was the Christmas before I got married in 1966 and I only went because my youngest sister wanted to go and she had no-one to go with. I felt I was a bit old then and hid behind a big white fluffy hat which was all the rage then and a white coat, but it didn't matter people still like carol singers and we were still given our sixpences or more often shillings and mince pies.

Our Christmas mornings would always be the same. We'd get up very early and we too would have a stocking and in our younger years they would be full of toys, sweets (which we now in Australia call lollies), and we would always have a tangerine in the toe. Christmas tree

Our stockings as we got into our early teens were little white boots which were quite hard and glittery and they would have small things like lipsticks, perfume, eye shadows and things like that. They were so pretty.

Then we would "unload" the tree after breakfast and everyone would be given a gift one at a time and that gift had to be opened before any others could be given.

Lunch was always a feast of turkey and all the trimmings, with crackers on the table and we also had a large hollow Father Christmas or Snowman which was filled up with little gifts and this would stand on the table until everything was finished and then we would have a lucky dip and pull something out of the Father Christmas or Snowman whichever we had bought that year.

We often played games in the afternoon until everyone basically flopped with exhaustion from such a busy day. We did have really nice Christmases as youngsters.

AustraliaI married my husband in 1967 and we decided in 1972 to come to Australia with our children to live and of course this meant that Christmas was then in summer. Even though I have experienced wonderful Christmases here I still hanker after a cold snowy Christmas. Our last one in England was snowy (not that it snowed on Christmas Day) but there was snow everywhere that year and it was beautiful.

Christmas here for us is still a very traditional English Christmas, in that we do all the trimmings, even have a hot lunch with turkey and Christmas pudding. If the weather is sunny we usually set up trestle tables under the back verandah and decorate the verandah with Christmas decorations and the tables have crackers and Christmas crockery and we have a great time with family and friends.

We still have Christmas stockings in the morning, that is anyone who stays over on Christmas Eve gets a stocking, it's just a bit of fun for everyone before the tree is "unloaded". We have a lot of fun and my husband and I usually go to the midnight service at our Church on Christmas Eve so the day starts early really, as we're no sooner in bed than we seem to be getting up again. But it is the most blessed time. We too "unload" the tree after breakfast and after I've started the turkey and pork cooking so that we can take our time and enjoy each person's gift as they unwrap them and see what they have been given.

We often play games as we used to back in England and then have a fairly easy afternoon. Tea time is leftovers and cold salads and desserts if anyone wants it. I often make pavlovas which are a light dessert like meringue but with a marshmallow type middle. They are quite delicious and usually have cream and fresh fruit on top.

We as a family, are still very traditional English for Christmas, but there are an awful lot of people in Australia who prefer to spend the day on the beach with a barbecue or as with our first Christmas in Australia, we were invited to spend it with friends and it was at the Botanical Gardens, I can't say I liked it that much but it was nice to share with others a completely different type of Christmas (we had sandwiches that day).

I wish you all a bright and happy Christmas and New Year. God bless you all

Brenda Dawes


Christmas in the 1970s

I was born in 1969 and lived then on the Isle of Dogs, London. My family were quite poor and my mother did an amazing job at Christmas time.

My brother and I would be sent to bed early on Christmas eve having put out a small glass of sherry and a mince pie for father Christmas. We were so excited we found it hard to sleep and tried to stay awake to hear the bells of the sleigh. We always dropped of to sleep for a few hours at least!

I remember waking and trying to feel if there was a full stocking on the bed when my foot found something heavy.. I was up and out of bed full of the Christmas feeling We would take the stockings into my mum and dads room and sit at the foot of their bed and open the treats Santa had left us. There would always be some felt tip pens and a colouring book a selection box of chocolate (not like you would get today) I would get an outfit for my Barbie doll and my brother would get a matchbox car (of which I was jealous!), a pair of socks and an annual usually Blue Peter. There would always be a satsuma and a bag of chocolate coins right at the toe of the stocking. My dad would always disappear and make a cup of tea and bring it up for my mum, Then we would go down stairs to sit by the tree and someone would give out the presents.

Looking back now its amazing to me that we got so much when our family had so little to spare. My mum was clever and saved a little each week and collected green shield stamps just so that her children could have plenty to unwrap. There would always be that moment when all the presents had been unwrapped and then she would say 'hold on ... what's this two more' and it would be the thing you had wanted most that year.

Green shield stamps
Green shield stamps

Popular in the UK during the Sixties and Seventies, shoppers collected the green coloured stickers in a book. The books could later be exchanged for a range of household goods such as household items, garden furniture and toys.

I would love the look on my mums face when she opened her present from me. She always made me feel it was the best thing she had ever got.

My mum would then set to and start cooking dinner .... she would sing carols and hymns along to the radio and the table would be laid with the best table cloth and cutlery (which was kept in its own box) There was an atmosphere in the house that felt like the world outside had stopped and our family were the only people in exsistance.

Dinner would be huge and we would all be sleepy. My dad would be snoring in his chair with a paper hat on his head. In the evening we would all watch tv with just the tree lights on and the house would be warm (it wasnt usually) and we would all snuggle up on the sofa. My favorite time was Boxing day we would always get a board game and play it as a family and then the table was set out with every cold meat and type of seafood you could get then sausage rolls, cheese and homemade pickles, It was a rare treat to have some smoked salmon but sometimes there was just a little. Best of all a jar of pickled herring, worst a jar of pickled walnuts ... I would stare at them but never try one!

It was always a time of plenty... short lived tho it was and always a time that I felt just how much we were loved. I rarely saw my dad other times of the year as he worked so hard. He was out before we woke and he was home after bedtime. Even when we were older my mum still did us stockings full of party poppers and silly little things. I have my own daughter now and I try to recreate the Christmases of my childhood the easiest and most special part is the love and the hugs we share. We light candles for those who are not with us, especially my mum and talk about those people, remembering who they were and what they did but we are never sad.

I wish you all a warm and loving Christmas

Jaine Ross


Christmas in the 1980s

Christmas meant knitting Nativity dolls as a whole class in school, and the endless practising for the Nativity service in our local church- a little play, Bible readings. Every year we would have-and still do- a Christmas party on one of the last days of school. Off we went to the local hall, and there we played games such as Spin the Lid- where you spin the lid of the Roses tin and call the name of another child, they have to catch it before it falls to the ground-one handed if you are in the older classroom, two handed if you are little. Other games we played included In and out the Dusty Bluebells, The Farmer Wants a Wife,the King's Keys, Musical Statues and the great excitement of Pass the Parcel. Another favourite was The Shopping List Game.
After all that excitement, the mums and dads and preschool kids would arrive around 3, and we would have a cup of tea for the adults, and juice and lots of yummy homebakes for the kids. The excitement would mount as the lights would dim....a loud knock on the door and SANTA would come into the hall with big sacks of presents for all the boys and girls from the school, and for their preschool brothers and sisters.We always had to sing a Christmas song for Santa coming to us! I remember thinking that my name would never be called out.... and wondering if I would get into trouble for opening a present before Christmas Day. None of us could resist the temptation though, and would rip off the wrapping paper to play with whatever gifts might be inside.
After all that excitement, and getting to run around with our friends, we would go home, sick from eating too many sweets and goodies, but really excited as school was breaking up for two weeks, and we were eagerly awaiting a visit from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve....
Merry Christmas from all in Inver NS, Donegal, Ireland.
Emma Stinson,
Senior Classes teacher,


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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.