Until I was nearly thirteen our house was a TV-free zone, which meant my only exposure to advertising in the home before then was in the pages of newspapers and magazines, neither of which featured largely in my childhood reading habits. Even on our trips to town, there weren’t really any adverts for toys or games on display, which must have spared our parents much of the pre-Christmas pestering today’s parents seem to have to endure.
Instead we girls relied on one very special Saturday to inform ourselves about the latest toys and games and decide what suggestions or requests we might include in our annual letter to Father Christmas. That Saturday was the day in late autumn when our local Co-operative Society opened its Toy Fair in the big meeting-room on the first floor of its premises in the main street of the east Lancashire cotton-town where I was born.
Almost trembling with excitement, my younger sisters and I would be taken by our parents by bus into town, where we would join the queue for admittance into this Aladdin’s cave of childish treasure. There we would spend a blissful hour or two wandering round the displays to find the special one or two items we felt we might be able to ask Father Christmas to bring us. Even then we had a very clear understanding that we couldn't ask for much, but that if we were modest in our requests, we would probably find them satisfied on Christmas morning.
|Not our Co-op, but it gives a good idea of the style|
The other great treat of that day was the visit to Father Christmas’s grotto in a side-room off the main hall, with the inevitable question as to whether we had been good, and the invitation to whisper in his ear what we would like him to bring us for Christmas. Then he would hand each of us a small gift as an earnest of the treats to come and we would go home, tired but happy, to start counting down the days to Christmas.
Soon afterwards would come the letters to Father Christmas, written out in our very best handwriting, with no spelling mistakes or crossings-out, which we would leave on the mantelpiece for our father to put up the chimney before he went to bed.
The other ritual which was inexorably linked with the pre-Christmas period as I remember it was the divi. For my overseas readers I should explain that each time one shopped at any Co-operative Society department, one was given a receipt, which was carefully put away safely until it was time toclaim the dividend or divi – our share of the profits of the Society. Twice a year out came the receipts, which were carefully pasted (usually by us children) onto a special claim form, bearing our member’s share number, and even more carefully totalled up by our mother, so that we knew how much divi we could expect.
By the time I was in my teens I was very aware that this bonus went at least part of the way towards paying for the presents which would appear in the stockings we left at the end of our beds on Christmas Eve. By then too I was long aware that our parents helped Father Christmas out by delivering those same presents, which had been carefully hidden in the bottom of the wardrobe in their bedroom, but for the sake of my two youngest sisters my lips were sealed.
The idea of piling presents round the tree didn’t feature at all in my childhood, since our tree was tiny and stood on a table in our small living-room, well out of harm’s way. It’s a pity Simon didn't do the same….
Images via Google