Elaine Everest looks back to Christmas’s past.
When Natalie (yes, I’ll name the culprit) decided that our theme this month was to be ‘the four seasons’ I could not think past winter. In fact it was Christmas that stuck firmly in my mind. I don’t plan very much for Christmas – apart from making sure I’ve entered at least one dog show over the holiday and I’ve not lost the port, stilton and redcurrant recipe to go with our rib of beef. However, there are some Christmases I do plan with meticulous detail.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those people you’ll find queuing overnight on Boxing Day to buy cheap crackers and cards in the sales for Christmas yet to come. No, my planning is for the Christmases in my novels. I write historical novels – aka sagas. My favourite time period is the thirties and forties but mainly the war years. So, a story running over a few years can include a few Christmases. Unlike modern novels where our characters can repeat the same festivities year after year with the amount of food and presents only being limited on available cash (or balance on the credit cards) my characters have to live with the threat of losing their homes, loved ones serving overseas and the loss of people they hold dear. They also have to make do and mend and cope with rationing – and work and run a home.
I enjoy discovering how women kept their families fed year after year. It was difficult for them to cope with Christmas during the war years just as it is difficult for this author to carry my story with characters who are under a tremendous strain. I have the fear that I only have to get something slightly wrong for a reader to pop up and tell me that no one could place their hands on a bar of soap in 1943 or that shops closed early or stayed open late on Christmas Eve in 1939.
Talking of Christmas Eve and 1939 I wrote a lovely scene where my main characters went to work on the day before Christmas and certain events happened that were essential to my plot. I’d looked forward to writing the scene. I researched what would be on sale, what kinds of presents the girls would buy for each other and how they would celebrate the season. The day I wrote the scene I had gone down with a bug of some kind. Being brave and soldiering on (that means I was on a deadline) I wrote the scene through bouts of coughing and sneezing and reminding my husband I was too ill to cook. It was only later, as I lay in bed thinking about things, a nagging doubt crept into my mind. I tried to ignore it but no it kept poking at me as I tried to sleep. In the middle of the night I reached for my phone and typed into the search engine, ‘what day did Christmas Eve fall on in 1939?’ Yes, I was right to check – it was a Sunday! Not a problem for novelists writing stories set in modern times but for me it was a rewrite as shops never opened on a Sunday back then. That alone guaranteed a restless night! Next day I checked my notes and there it was in red – don’t forget that Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday in 1939! I blame not feeling well for that mistake!
So why is December 1963 in the title of this blog piece? Apart from continuing the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons theme it is also a Christmas I remember well. I had turned ten years of age on Christmas Eve and on the Boxing Day we went to spend the day with my Auntie May and Uncle Len. Dad did not drive so the treat was a taxi cab home late in the evening. It was only a few miles but too far to walk for us kids. However, that was the night the snow fell and fell and fell. We arrived home the next morning and what an adventure it had been just wondering if we would ever see home again. For this little girl a memory of Christmas past was formed – December 1963. Oh what a night!
Happy Christmas everyone!