When Forties retro lifestyler Amanda ‘Edna’ Pickard received her nephew’s Christmas list by text message, she wondered if it would be possible to recapture the joy of Christmas past by recreating a  none-gadget Christmas of the Forties. Find out here if she managed to celebrate the vintage way.

Several years ago my husband and I let our interest in the Thirties and Fofties turn from a hobby into a passion. So lat year, with the festive season approaching, we wondered if we’d enjoy the festivities more if we let our period obsession take over our family Christmas.

It is often said that your childhood Christmases are your best, so we started thinking about our childhood Christmases from the Seventies and Eighties. We recalled that Christmas decorations, family games, Christmas music and eating together all featured highly, along with watching Christmas telly. What was interesting was that we couldn’t remember the presents we had been given.

Harry, my husband once worked in a department store over Christmas, and he knew when Christmas was only a few days away because the customers would panic and buy huge amounts of pointless, worthless tat the store could not sell any other time of the year.You only have to visit a car boot sale in January to find an endless supply of juggling balls, candle sconces and car key defrosters to know they had been smartly wrapped under the Christmas tree a few weeks earlier.

Christmas 2006-1Now our extended family already think we are a little ‘odd’ by living out our Forties fantasy all year round but when we actively tried to stop people buying us presents, they really could not get to grips with this. As much as we tried to explain the ‘no presents’ request was not because we wanted to become partners in Marley and Marley, but because on reflection we thought Christmas was really about the prince of peace rather than presents.

By not receiving  unwanted presents we would also be avoiding trying to work out what to do with them. After all, there is only so much tat eBay can dispose of. For those members of family who insisted on buying presents, we asked them to purchase something edible. A collection of coffee beans from around the world or those fine Scottish shortbread biscuits will always be used and welcome.


Wartime-Christmas-2Our seasonal experiment started well as we worked with our children to make Christmas cards from scrap card and Christmas tree decorations from pine cones and tissue paper. We even used sweet wrappers, which I had been hoarding from the previous months, to embellish our decorations. Our front door garland was fashioned from newspapers and holly, finished off with a dusting of Epsom salts to add a little sparkle.

The crafting of Christmas cards may be becoming more common today but asking our extended family to taste the wartime Christmas foods we planned for Christmas day was a whole different experience.

With just over a week to go until Christmas day we dressed the Christmas tree and put the Christmas lights around the house. We fully expected to get a telling off from the local air raid warden as even our Anderson Air Raid shelter had Christmas lights on it.

For our Christmas crackers and room decorations we used real holly to decorate around the house. From each corner of the rooms hung homemade paper chains made of old newspapers, which we put up with pride, feeling smug that no one else in our street had readable decorations.

Finally it was Christmas Eve and the final preparations were being made for the in-laws invasion, with the dining table displaying the home made wares.

For a parent, there is a great joy in seeing a beaming child’s face on Christmas morning and the expressions on our children’s faces as they were overwhelmed by the pleasures of the day gave us great pleasure.

As for our planned wartime rations Christmas dinner, there was rebellion in the ranks, I followed a wartime recipe and made mock goose/turkey – or whatever you wanted to call it – out of onion, apple, parsnip and sausage meat. It tasted surprisingly seasonal even though there was not a feather in sight with this meal. This did have its advantages, as for the first time ever I did not need to take out the oven shelves to cram an overstuffed bird into the oven, hoping a stray turkey leg would not be sticking out of the oven door.

We did go to town on home produced British vegetables. Even my husband with his hatred of parsnips put a large helping on his plate.

Decorating Christmas Tree 18The one problem I did not expect in with our rations-based Christmas dinner was our family’s reaction. They conspired to sneak in black market foods. Someone brought a dessert and someone else bought the crackers. So Christmas dinner was a much larger spread then we imaged.

With the no telly rule, I feared the family would be staring at an empty corner of the room were the TV once stood, but without the distractions of having to microwaving popcorn before watching  a DVD we introduced our children to parlour and board games.

Then as soon as the day started  it was all over. In-laws gone, children asleep in bed, finally we had time to relax with a cup of tea next to the open fire and reflect on our retro Christmas.

We did make some compromises. We still bought our children some of the modern toys they wanted, and the house was lit up like Sydney Harbour Bridge on New Years Day. But in true Forties spirit we fashioned our decorations from newspapers and our Christmas crackers where made using old loo roll tubes.

The television was banned and we all played games together while enjoying a little alcoholic festive cheer when the King’s speech came on the wireless. At the end of it when my husband and I sat down, with our feet up listened to Bing Crosby on the gramophone, I swear you would think it was 1940 again.

What made Christmas special for us was how much our children enjoyed our retro Christmas and spending less had not affected their enjoyment of the festival at all. Perhaps it was the lower expectation or the interaction of the family preparing, making and participating in the festivities.  Or perhaps it simply shows affluence has no bearing on the level of happiness that can be experienced at Christmas.

So all we have to do now is stop our six-year old faxing her thank-you-letters to everyone, and I think we have cracked it.

Find out more about Edna and Harry on their website www.homefrontfriends.org.uk

7 Responses

  1. MissCaroline

    who uses a fax machine anymore….? 😉

    this is a brilliant idea

  2. Michelle

    I enjoyed your story, I too enjoy the simpler things in life. In the past year I have freely given up the cell phone and tv(never watched it anyway) although going digital with my camera gear was so hard, I clung to film as much as I could. I loved my Diana Camera and my trusty Nikon. But with techology growing so fast I had to give it to keep my busniess going.

    oh and where can I find your wartime ration recipies?


  3. Sheila Brady

    I almost cried reading about the retro Christmas. What a brilliant idea. Being a post war babe I do not remember the shortages, but, I do remember simple Christmas Day’s. The board games were simple ones, the holly was real and you got the gold pretend money with an orange in your stocking. We always had a Christmas Eve supper with sandwiches and Christmas Cake. Not to forget the candle in the window, lit to show Mary & Joseph the way.
    I am 60 now and I have never failed to put a candle in the window regardless of where I am.
    Thank you for such lovely memories. Sheila

  4. Claire

    I never had a retro/vintage Christmas but I remember for the first tens years of my life all presents except those from ‘Santa’ had to be handmade. I don’t know how much my Dad like his decorated tissue box covers but I remember the joy in spending the weeks in advance making, debating and wrapping the presents. I am sure your children will look back on this with happy memories.

  5. eric

    Fantastic idea I would like to learn more about the decorations used. Wonderful job and a good teaching tool to the kids. Thanks

  6. Jackie

    Oh I am so jealous!!! I *dream* of finding a guy in love with the 30s/40s like me! And yes, where do you get your recipes?