Over the past two evenings the BBC here in the UK has run a kind of reality documentary called Back In Time For Christmas. The basic premise of this was to transport a family back to the experience of a typical Christmas of previous decades. The first programme looked at the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, whilst the second covered the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. My apologies if those links to the BBC’s iPlayer don’t work outside the UK, I’m not sure on the availability!

These programmes featured the same family – the Robshaws – who had been the guinea pigs for a previous series called Back In Time For Dinner, which transported them back to previous decades but without the Christmas theme. Despite my feeling that some of the ‘facts’ given to us in the voiceover may have been wide of the mark I find this kind of social history programme fascinating. Of course it is contrived – move away from the house in which the events were set and you could see some pretty futuristic cars for the 1940s, for example – but having lived through most of the periods covered this struck more than a few chords with me. And it got me reflecting on how our Christmas celebrations have changed over the years, but also how, deep down, the tradition of the day has stayed remarkably constant at the heart of it all.

I was born in 1953 so the first Christmases I can really remember were probably in the early 1960s. Lest we forget – and we do! – Christmas is a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Of course it has its origins in pagan rites, but the Christmas story is at the heart of Christian religions. People with other religious beliefs may or may not take part, depending on the prevailing customs of where they live, but that is really the nub of it. The supposedly more politically correct “Happy Holidays” or the Birmingham Council renaming of the festive period as ‘Winterval’ – I kid you not – are in my view abominations!

The programme showed the 1950s family attending church on Christmas Day which, to be honest, I never remember us doing in my childhood. My parents used to take us to church for the monthly family service and for special occasions, but I recall the annual carol service as being on the Sunday before Christmas, not on the actual day. Funnily enough, the Robshaws’ boy said exactly what I used to think about the service, i.e. how long it lasted. The reality was that it didn’t! In my defence, my days of doing this were before the ubiquity of central heating, and the church dated back to the 13th century. As you sang the carols you could see your breath in front of you! We used to go outside afterwards to warm up.

This was something that my now ex-wife and I did our best to replicate with our girls when they were little: Christmas began with the very child-oriented Christingle service on Christmas Eve, which was also attended by my mother-in-law, who then came to stay with us until it was time for her to go home and get ready for the next Christmas. (This ‘may’ be an exaggeration). I deny any connection between this and the fact that I usually worked between Christmas and New Year. Honestly! Anyway, my point is that although we weren’t particularly religious, we wanted to be part of this tradition, which felt meaningful and helped our girls understand that Christmas means more than just loads of presents, food and chocolate. Especially the chocolate! It is a good few years since we did this, but every year you can see similar services being attended on a widespread basis, despite a huge downturn in church attendances overall throughout the year.

Christmas as we celebrate it, and have done for more than 150 years, is above all a time for close friends and family. The programmes made that point well: their focus was on how the Robshaws and their three children adjusted to the differences in the types of family Christmas we have enjoyed over the past 60 years. From the amazingly sexist gender stereotyping of the earlier years, when the approach to a woman’s role appears to have been dictated by Tyson Fury, through to the more recent adoption of labour-saving practices – especially with Christmas dinner – Christmas has moved forward, reflecting changes in society. Maybe it is nostalgia, but seeing the 1970s version of the family all sitting together around the TV, watching the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, brought back so many happy memories for me, although I was in my 20s by then! I’ve spoken in a recent post about Morecambe and Wise, but it is still a staggering thought that around 40% of the population were sharing that experience by watching the programme as it was broadcast, with no catch up services to rely on.

There is so much wrong with our world. I’m looking forward to Christmas as a way of forgetting that for a while, and as a way to focus on those that we love and cherish in our lives. Many are not so fortunate, and it should also be a time for us to reflect on the good things in our lives, and to turning our minds to what we can do to help those less fortunate. However we do that, I hope we all have a wonderful Christmas time, to quote a certain ex-Beatle.



30 thoughts on “Christmas

  1. Although we are not a religious family, we have always encouraged our children and they theirs to experience Christmas carol services etc. because Christianity forms the basis of our culture. We also encouraged them to find out about other religions. Our youngest, who went to a church school, dragged a reluctant father to church for several Sundays when she was at primary school until she grew out of that phase. Now atheists, she and her children and her brother’s children take part in their school’s annual carol concert at the cathedral, both as part of the choir and the school orchestra. My husband usually attends. I still listen to Carol’s from St Paul’s very year. You don’t have to be Christian to appreciate the music, traditions and most of all spirit of Christmas. For us, Christmas is about family and about gratitude and helping others less fortunate.
    I watch those social history programmes, most recently the series about the slums in the East End of London, which at times was harrowing to watch.

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  2. Some of the good things about Christmas have survived. I think my favourite part is the lead in, as we get the tree up and decorated, order the turkey and ham, and meet up with friends for a coffee or something stronger. And Christmas dinner is still my favourite meal! Happy Christmas to you Clive

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  3. I must have missed this series on BBC1. I too would have found it fascinating. I remember watching the Morecambe and Wise Christmas specials in the 1970’s too, a happy time of big family parties for me. We still have the get-togethers but with different people, and I seem to have moved up two generations…

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  4. Reblogged this on Take It Easy and commented:

    This post from a year ago today popped up in my Timehop feed, which prompted me to re-read what I had written. Although the TV programme I mention hasn’t been shown again, and the links only work in the UK, I thought it worth reposting this for the many new followers of my blog who have joined since I wrote this.

    My wishes for this Christmas period are still the same – and in fact have probably been heightened by world events in the past twelve months. Times have changed since the idyllic Christmases of my childhood, and in many ways those changes haven’t been for the better. I know I sound a bit like a beauty pageant contestant wishing for world peace, but is that really too much to hope for? We could at least lower the levels of hatred which are becoming ever more prevalent in society, couldn’t we? Please…..


  5. Hi Clive,
    My wife, daughter and I loved Back in Time For Dinner when it was shown in Aistralia recently. Relived a lot of memories of the meat and three veg era which we then explained to our 22 year old!

    Unfortunately the link doesn’t work in Italy where we are for this Christmas but I’m sure if to will be on TV in Aust which we will be able to catch up with eventually (probably next Christms).

    Couldn’t agree more with your sentiment about Christams – I’m not into “Happy Holidays”.

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    • Hiya! Hope you’re all having a wonderful trip! Those links only seem to work in the UK, sorry, but I hope you get the chance to see the programmes some time. More memories to relive and explain 😊


  6. I eagerly clicked on your “Back in Time” video only to find it was available only in the UK. Oh, well, my loss. I’m very interested in stories set in the past, and especially the accounts of Christmas. Since I am a senior with lots and lots experience of living in the 40s, 50s, and so on, I decided to write a series of stories entitled “A Senior Remembers” They are based on my own experiences with some embellishments, of course! If you wish, do click on my website below. I have a new story to be posted this weekend. I am enjoying your blog, and am journeying through it all!


    • Sorry, I was afraid that might happen! Maybe the BBC will make them available via their YouTube channel. Fingers crossed! Thanks for your kind comments, I’ll definitely take a look at your stories 😊


  7. Thank you Clive for your touching post on Christmas. It’s worth fighting for that it will be allowed to continue in words and in decorations. Our countries are based on Christianity since many years back. The photos in my family album have always helped me to remember further back to my early childhood. That means 3-4 years old

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