Peace, hope and joy

Nurses from Falkirk Infirmary singing at a carol concert in the 1960s.
Nurses from Falkirk Infirmary singing at a carol concert in the 1960s.

By the time you read this the Christmas bonanza will be over for another year and the thoughts of increased waistlines and diminished bank balances will be some weeks away.

For the moment we can enjoy the thought that we have celebrated, like our forefathers for thousands of years, an important moment in the cycle of life.

Since the early years of the Christian church this was, of course, the season of the birth of Jesus but long before the stable and star of Bethlehem, people fought against the dark days of winter with burning fires, Yule logs and copious amounts of food and strong drink while warding off evil spirits with holly, mistletoe and other plants and potions.

Many of the things we associate with Christmas began in those pagan days and were taken over by Christians and adapted to the new message.

And it was this pagan association, and the enthusiasm for celebration in the old church that led our stern Presbyterian forefathers to set their faces against the feast.

From 1560 in Scotland Christmas was banned and treated as a work day.

Sometimes the kirk elders would visit homes to sniff around the kitchen to ensure that the ‘wicked bird’, the goose, was not being prepared for a pagan feast!

We may be sure that Falkirk was no different though it is clear that as the years passed the day was celebrated without much religious connection.

This remained the case until the late 19th century when the Victorians began to relax and beautiful stained glass, as well as organ music, brightened up the Sabbath.

With this came a change in attitude to Christmas though not yet enough to bring services on the day itself. The Falkirk Herald in the 1890s is full of reports of church parties for children with decorated Christmas trees, special sermons on the Sunday nearest December 25 and carol concerts galore.

St Francis Catholic Church and Christ Church did have services and the midnight Mass in Hope Street was, it was reported, “attended by many Protestants” drawn by the special experience of worship in the hours of darkness.

High Street shops overflowed with gifts and the Post Office complained about the volume of Christmas cards which the Herald said was just a passing fad!

And so it continued through years of war and depression as the 1926 magazine illustrates.

Yet despite this, the old reservations remained.

I remember in the 1950s my father working on Christmas Day and there were only occasional Watch Night services in the reformed churches.

In the immediate post-war years with food rationing still in force and most people finding it hard to make ends meet there was little of the over-indulgence of today.

Fathers helped Santa by building wooden forts and trains and mothers and grannies sewed, knitted and embroidered.

Most houses had a Christmas tree with big coloured light bulbs that had to be screwed into the holders and stars and angels made from silver paper.

All the family made decorations like coloured paper rings which were hung from the light fitting to the corners of the room.

On the great night stockings were hung up and the proverbial apple and orange, along with a sixpence (if you were lucky) were Santa’s first gift.

Those were hard times for sure but the Christmas season with its message of peace and hope brought welcome joy and relief in the bleak midwinter just as it had 
done for many hundreds of years.

Ask Ian

Wullie Gardiner wants to know how Wallacestone got its name.

Long before there was a settlement with the name Wallacestone the ridge where the memorial stands today had an ancient flat stone with the letters W W carved on it. People said that it marked the spot where Wallace stood on the morning of the Battle of Falkirk on July 22, 1298. The story goes that it was removed by an old coal miner to make a hearthstone for his fire but he was so disturbed by the ghostly wailing of bagpipes that he destroyed it!