Did we all have a nice Christmas? Well, I did. Nice and quiet, no stress; just me and the close family. Thinking back to my english days, Christmas was more like a carnival, at least in the East End of London. The first Christmas parties I remember we had at home in Bethnal Green in the heart of the East End of London. We had a small house, granddad lived downstairs and we had the top floor. My Aunt lived opposite with her husband and we also had a piano. It was bought before the second world war, had never been tuned but it worked. The rooms were decorated with paper garlands in all colours and we had a Christmas tree. The presents were arranged under the tree and after having food which was usually some cold meat, pickles cheese, bread and butter with jelly, fruit and custard as a sweet and a cup of tea for all (we were english) the presents were distributed. Afterwards the party started. The complete family was there. Three aunts, their husbands, and my cousins, we were six cousins. One was born before the war so he was a lot older than the rest. Me and my other five cousins were then kids, all being born after the war.
Grandad was the respected patriarch of the family, his age being then about 75 years. He was seated in the corner with his glass of whisky, cigarettes and his family arranged around him; three daughters and their families and his son with his family. Although it was a small room we all seemed to fit in somewhere. It was then that the true cockney (east London) spirit developed. Everyone sung through their repertoire. I can hear my Aunt Lil today singing my yiddisher mama in full strength which was her imitation of Sophie Tucker. No, we were not Jewish, but the East End of London was partially and my aunts grew up with the songs from the area.
Uncle Arthur and Uncle Harry would sing a song called “Underneath the Arches” together, made famous by a couple known as Flanagan and Allen (way back in the 1940’s). I couldn’t find that song but something very similar.
My mum would play piano to accompany the songs, changing with Aunt Lil. Well playing the piano is saying too much. The right hand always found the melody but the left was more luck than judgement. It was just a good old cockney sing song. Of course “Knees up Mother Brown” was a song and dance known by all, as well as the Hokey Cokey.
As the years went past most of the family were rehoused just outside of London although my family remained in the East End. The piano was replaced by a record player, or gramophone and the music changed for something a bit more modern, although towards the end of the evening everyone started singing their own thing. Yes there were many glasses of beer tipped into the insides of the gramophone, but it was still working by the end of the evening.
We usually met at one of my aunt’s houses and as no public transport was working on Christmas Day evening so we all did a sleep over. The men slept on the floor in the living room and we children were put into beds with our aunts. A bit crowded, but it was all part of the fun. Aunt Lil and Aunt Annie were a bit on the heavier side, but who cares; somehow we managed to get to sleep. They were the good old days.
So back to this Christmas, it was me, my other half and two sons with a small Chrismas tree perched on a table and good food. How times change. I always seem to get a bit sentimental at the end of the year looking back on the older days.