CHRISTMAS IN THE 80S
by Mark Nobes
From making sherry trifle to watching the Top of the Pops Christmas special hosted by Peter Powell, on this page I'm going rekindle some fond (and no so fond) memories of Christmas past. So grab yourself a handful of cheese footballs, relax (don't do it) and enjoy a glass of cherry coke while I take you right back...
By the way, don't miss the Woolworth's Christmas advert in the video above which is from 1983. It's packed with long-forgotten products and TV stars of the day - see how many you can remember.
The Christmas Decorations
Although there are some festive traditions that still remain today, Christmas was a very different experience for many of us during the 1980s. Most people now seem to put up their Christmas decorations a month in advance. However, back in the 80s, I'm pretty sure that it wasn't until a few days before Christmas day that many people made a start. Indeed, I remember my parents surprising me with a brightly lit Christmas tree on Christmas Day itself.
As we moved from the 70s and into the 80s, the popularity of paper decorations was in decline as more modern, shiny foil decorations became more fashionable. Do you remember those frosted baubles which were made of glass? They were adorned with bands of different colours (There was a lot of green and red, although I remember some being pink!) and patterns featuring Christmas flora and fauna such as mistletoe and holly. Hardly a day passed during the festive period without, at least, one bauble crashing onto the floor and shattering into tiny pieces. I sometimes wonder why we always used to put the tree up in the hall which had a hard, wooden floor!
The Christmas Tree
As I already mentioned, it was always left until Christmas Eve to put up the tree - in our household, at least. My Dad was a truck driver and would often come home with a real tree on the back of his lorry. Now, you can imagine the embarrassed look on my parents face when I would gleefully run around telling everyone that our tree came off the back of a lorry!
One year, we decided to opt for a new-fangled plastic tree. Actually, it was my idea and I would exaggerate to my parents that "everyone at school has one". However, in those days, man-made trees were little more than tinsel glued onto a wire frame, and once erected, they looked like they really had fallen off the back of my Dad's lorry and been run over several times in the process.
Whatever kind of tree we had, my parents would wait until I had gone to bed on Christmas Eve before starting to decorate the tree. Most people had multi-coloured lights which came with a less than generous supply of spare bulbs. Although I tried to persuade my Dad that, after ten years of use, we needed new lights, he would insist that there was still plenty of life in them. That was despite most of the plastic, flower-shaped shades around each bulb being either broken or non-existent - it would take only one bulb to blow for the whole set to stop working.
Although my Mum was trying to keep the tree decorating a surprise, while lying in bed dreaming about Father Christmas, the sound of my Dad effing and blinding because he couldn't untangle the Christmas lights kind of gave the game away. Nonetheless, the sight of a brightly-lit Christmas tree with presents piled around the bottom was still a wonderful sight on Christmas Day morning. My parents got as much joy out of seeing my little face light-up as I did from opening the presents.
Original 1980s Christmas baubles
In general, people had less leisure time and the holiday period was shorter for most working people - you would consider yourself very lucky if you managed to get Christmas Eve off. No doubt, my parents were at work trying to make ends meet, with my Mum still faced with the daunting, but enjoyable (?) task of preparing all of the food ready for the big day after she'd been to work.
Overall, there was a lot more preparation needed for Christmas in the 80s than there is today. My Dad would call out the chimney sweep so we didn't end up having a black and sooty christmas, while Mum would have to fit in a trip to the local butchers to order her sausages, bacon and a joint of meat. We usually opted for beef, although sometimes it was pork with crackling.
One year (possibly 1982), I demanded that my parents buy a turkey. I remember looking-up at my parents with my puppy dog eyes claiming that "Everyone at school is having turkey!". "If you want turkey, then I'll give you turkey!" replied my Dad, with a knowing grin on his face. Of course, just to teach me a lesson he bought the biggest turkey in the World. Okay, so that's probably not true, but it was a monster! Actually, that's not true, either, it was actually just a turkey, but it was certainly the size of a monster. How my Mum managed to fit it into the oven I'll never know. After a week of eating turkey dinners and my Dad repeatedly asking me whether I'd like a turkey sandwich, you can be sure that we never had turkey ever again!
These days, you can buy pigs in blankets ready-made from most stores, but back in the 80s you had to make them yourself. I remember that they were much tastier, too, and made with real, crispy streaky bacon, not the watered-down stuff that we have today which always goes limp and emits a disgusting white residue.
It was also up to Mum to remember to pre-order a copy of the Christmas edition of the Radio Times and TV Times. Although there were only three TV channels, you needed the Radio Times for the BBC1 and BBC2 listings and the TV times for the ITV listings. There were no other listings magazines around, so if you forgot to order them at the newsagents then there was a good chance you would have to get through Christmas without them. Now that would have been a disaster!
It was up to dad to make sure we had enough coal for the fire and phurnacite for the back boiler that gave us central heating. Apart from the climate scientists, nobody had really heard of global warming back then, and even if they had, they wouldn't have cared less about it given the cold winters we had to face. Actually, we were fortunate to have central heating as this was still considered a luxury by many, as was double-glazing. Our kitchen was still single-glazed, as was my Nan's house which also had an outside toilet with a chain. I remember frequently etching my name into the ice on the inside of our kitchen windows, and being mesmerised by the huge icicles hanging down from the guttering.
Although winters were generally colder and more consistent in the 80s, it still never snowed on Christmas Day. Typically, it would usually wait until the day we went back to school, which would often mean an extended holiday. Of course, I was delighted, but my Mum was tearing her hair out as she had to spend yet another day off work looking after me. This was a great opportunity to go sledging, although hardly anyone in our village had proper sledges. Most of us made our own, and I used my mum's tea tray which I placed inside an old fertilizer bag. I'm not sure whether Mum ever did find out what had happened to her tea tray!
With no online options, buying the presents would become a very stressful event. Woolworth's was the ideal store to buy a whole range of gifts. Whether you wanted a Roland Rat cuddly toy or the latest Now That's What I Call Music LP, you would find it here. Dixons was ideal for the latest technology such as a Sony Walkman, a Commodore Vic-20 or a Casio keyboard. You could get the latest computer games on cassette from both stores, and the high street was a very different scene back then, with a huge array of shops to venture into.
Radio Times Christmas 1986 ft. the Fowlers from Eastenders.
TV Times Christmas 1985 ft. Minder
An original 1980s Woolworths Christmas carrier bag
A Woolworths Christmas Pin Badge from the 80s
The Big Day
Before being able to relax around the fire, it was my Dad's job to go and pick up my grandparents and my Mum's job to cook the Christmas dinner. We used to have a Sunday roast every week anyway, so the only real difference was that there were more of us to eat it. This was extra stress for my Mum, and by the time she managed to join us she looked like she was barely able to pick up a fork, let alone eat anything!
I was in my teens in the first half of the 80s, and I was allowed a glass of wine at the dinner table as a treat. It was a very different story when I finally reached the legal age for drinking. For Christmas 1984, I don't think I actually made it to the dinner table after my friends helped me develop a taste for scrumpy cider on Christmas Eve.
Christmas pudding was a special treat, although before we could afford to buy a microwave, you would have to boil it in a saucepan for half a day before it became edible - the same thing applied to the sprouts, too. At some point in the 80s, my Dad bought a Microwave for my Mum as a wedding anniversary present. Can you imagine the delight on her face? Hmm, I think not.
Nobody had a clue how to use a microwave in those days, and the first year my Mum tried to cook the Christmas pudding in one, became the first year nobody ate Christmas pudding. Just a couple of minutes too long and her glorious pudding had turned into something that resembled a sad-looking version of Ayers rock, and it had the same texture, too.
None of this really mattered, though, as by now my grandparents had guzzled down two glasses of sherry each and were away with the elves. All I wanted to do was go and play with my new Major Morgan (The Electronic Organ), especially when it was time for the Queen's Speech at 3pm. However, that wasn't until I'd watched the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops. No one on Earth was going to prevent me from seeing Adam Ant and Blondie miming their biggest hits from the year. I was always excited to see which of the Radio One DJ's would be presenting the show. Would it be Peter Powell, Simon Bates, Mike Smith or David "Kid" Kensen? Bruno Brookes and "ooh!" Gary Davies were firm favourites in our household.
The highlight of my day, though, was the Christmas tea. My Mum had made enough sandwiches to feed the entire village, and by 3.30pm I was ravenous, especially after not having any pudding. Every half hour I was shouting out "Is it time for tea yet?" as I eagerly awaited for the arrival of the potato hedgehog - this was half a potato wrapped in foil and covered with tinned pineapple and cheese on cocktail sticks. One year, my Mum tried to impress everyone by adding a grape onto each stick. It looked terribly posh, but I preferred them without this superficial addition. Some households used half a grapefruit for the hedgehog instead of a potato, but we weren't quite posh enough for such luxury!
I remember there was one Christmas when my Mum had forgotten to buy any cocktail sticks. The only option was to place the cheese and pineapple chunks onto plates, along with the grapes and the cocktail sausages.
Other goodies included cheese footballs and Golden Wonder crisps in a bowl - there was usually one bowl of ready salted and one of cheese and onion - along with vol-au-vents filled with tinned salmon and mini-sized sausage rolls. There was sherry trifle for dessert which was presented in a fancy glass bowl. The trifle was topped with Bird's Dream Topping and a generous sprinkling of either chocolate or multi-coloured hundreds and thousands. Sometimes it was topped tinned orange segments. You could buy Bird's trifle kits in boxes, but my Mum preferred to make her own using strawberry jelly, sponge fingers, Bird's custard powder mix and the aforementioned Dream Topping. Oh, and not forgetting a generous glass (or two) full of sherry.
A cheese and pineapple hedgehog
By the evening, my Dad was itching to light up one of the cigars that my Mum had bought him and put his feet up on the sofa. He'd had to refrain from smoking all day and be on his best behaviour around his parents and the in-laws. At around 7pm, he made a polite suggestion that maybe it was time for them to go home. Half an hour later and they were still here, and he was now starting to be less polite! Finally, by 8 o clock he had managed to bung them into the car and drive them all back home.
This was now the best part of Christmas Day. The joy of being able to truly relax and be yourself, watching The Two Ronnies on the telly and being able to fart and belch to your heart's content - now that's what I call an 80s Christmas!