This evening my daughter has a few of her friends coming over for a party. They will all be wearing their finest, and the idea is that it will be a sophisticated affair. My best linen tablecloth has been requisitioned, and she and her friend have planned a buffet menu, which is a far cry from the usual crisps (chips) and cocktail sausages!
As a child I remember there were a lot of parties to attend over the festive season. These began with the annual school Christmas party. I can still clearly remember one in nursery school, when I would have been about three. After we had eaten we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Father Christmas. Of course, I knew this wasn't the real Father Christmas, but one of his helpers who stood in for him at the many parties. The teachers told their class of excited children to stand by the window to watch out for his arrival. If we were very quiet, we might just be able to hear his sleigh bells in the distance. I can remember straining so hard to hear them, half convincing myself that I could. Looking back I realise just how clever those teachers were. They got a class full of excited 3 and 4 year olds to stand quietly in one place while they cleared up!
When we were in the juniors our annual Christmas party also involved a fancy hat competition. How these must have tested our poor parents' creative skills. A particular favourite was the Christmas gift, where the child would wear a gift wrapped box on their head, I had one of these one year. Another year I made a Christmas tree. A popular childrens' television programme, Blue Peter, well known for it's 'homemade' projects, that year showed us how to make a papier mache Christmas tree out of old newspapers and tissue paper. I adapted this to make a towering conical hat bedecked with some of our less precious, and unbreakable, Christmas ornaments. As we arrived at school, and we all seemed to walk in those days, we must have looked quite a sight in our festive headgear!
Then came the Sunday school Christmas party. I would be wearing the same outfit I had worn to the school party, having been given strict instructions by my mum to 'keep it clean.' Somehow I always managed to get through the entire party season in the one outfit, which I did keep surprisingly clean. I'm not sure how, as I was usually quite messy, perhaps some behind the scenes sponging went on that I am not aware of. I do know it didn't get washed, which does seem very odd now, but I suppose this was before an automatic washing machine had arrived in our home. I remember the excitement of pass the parcel and musical chairs/bumps/statues at these parties. Really simple games, but we loved them.
And finally the best party of all. The Fire Station Christmas party. When I was little my dad was a fire fighter and every year the children and grandchildren of the firemen (no women in those days) would gather in the recreational hall, which seemed huge when I was small, for the party to end all parties! The place was strewn with balloons and tinsel. We had all the usual games, but we also had an entertainer, usually a magician, and then Father Christmas (another of his helpers who bore a striking resemblance to a rather portly fireman) would appear up on a stage at one end of the room and each child would go up in turn to whisper what we hoped his boss, the real Father Christmas, would bring us. In the meantime we were given a gift to take away with us. And then came the end of the party, which was sad, but amazingly exciting too, because balloons would be released from a huge net on the ceiling and eager hands would grab to catch the biggest and best to take away with them, amidst the sound of much popping!
I remember jelly and ice cream and crisps and cocktail sausages at all of these parties, but there were also the dreaded beef paste sandwiches. These seemed to be a staple at kids' parties in 1960's England, and I hated them, but you were forced to munch your way through a designated number before you were allowed any of the other mouth-watering goodies.