Christmas Eve in WW2

24 December 2020

During the Second World war we celebrated Christmas even though Britain’s future was uncertain.  Despite food being rationed, many of us living in a village[1] had our own garden or allotments where our parents ‘dug for victory.’ We were able to produce fruit and vegetables and various herbs.

This state of affairs was taken as a culinary challenge. Neighbours did a lot of trading or swapping. Those who kept chickens were pleased to accept some vegetables in exchange for a dozen eggs. One neighbour received a food parcel from a relative in Canada and she gave us some sugar, a tin of salmon and some precious dried fruit.

We, as children, enjoyed making paper decorations – coloured chains that criss-crossed the front room, and small pieces of cotton wool threaded onto cotton and dangled down from the top of the window to look like snow. We also made paper lanterns to hang at intervals from the chains that stretched from the picture rail to the central ceiling light.

On Christmas Eve, my sister and I wrote letters to Santa Claus on small pieces of thin paper. I could write my name but needed Dad’s help with the rest of it. My sister did her best handwriting. We had been encouraged to ask Santa for a surprise rather than a specific (possibly unattainable) toy.

When the letters were finished, Dad would poke the fire a little, then he would send each small letter up the chimney, the smoke and heat lifting them up out of sight where, he said, the fairies would take them to Santa Claus. Then he would hang our stockings either side of the fireplace. Of course, we also had to leave a plate with mince pies and a glass of sherry for Santa on the mantlepiece. Mum would still be in the kitchen creating some warm, spicy cooking smells which followed us up to bed.

We shared a large bed, giggling and whispering to each other in our excitement. My sister told me that we must listen for the sleigh and the reindeer on the roof. When mum came up to tuck us in and kiss us goodnight, she said that we must go to sleep because Santa Claus only came when children were asleep!

J M Harker

Illustration by Jennie Harker

[1] Quorn