A look back at Christmas pasts in Falkirk

Falkirk Infirmary nurses sing carols round the wards circa 1960
Falkirk Infirmary nurses sing carols round the wards circa 1960

By the time you read this the great Christmas spending spree will be almost over and bigger waistlines and smaller bank accounts are some weeks away.

Today we celebrate an important moment in the cycle of life like our forefathers for thousands of years.

Around about 300 years after the birth of Jesus, the church began to mark the event and ever since the winter celebration and the birth of Christ have been inseparable.

But long before the stable, wise men, shepherds and star, people held back the dark days of winter with burning fires, Yule logs and large quantities of strong drink. Plants like holly and mistletoe helped ward off evil spirits and people carried green trees and shrubs into their houses to remind them that the warming days of Spring were not far away.

Many things we associate with Christmas began in those pagan days and were taken over by Christians and adapted to the new message. However, the pagan connections and the enthusiasm for celebration in the old church, led our Reformation forefathers to reject the whole idea of Christmas declaring December 25 as “ane work day”. It was not unknown for the Kirk to send its elders round the parish to sniff out a festive goose in the oven.

No “pagan feasts” or “wicked birds”, after 1560 and certainly no religious services.

Things stayed much the same for the next 300 centuries but began to lighten up in the Victorian era. The Falkirk Herald in the 1880s and 90s had many reports of parties for children in the Charity School in the Pleasance and the ‘Ragged School’ in Kerse Lane, with plenty of cake and sweeties and new fangled Christmas trees.

The churches began to acknowledge the feast with special sermons on the Sunday nearest December 25 and there were carol concerts galore. St Francis Catholic Church and Christ Church did have services and the midnight Mass in Hope Street was “attended by many Protestants” attracted by the experience of worship in the hours of darkness.

High Street shops were well stocked with gifts and the Post Office reported problems delivering the growing number of cards which the Herald said was just a passing fad! And so it continued through years of war and depression as the 1926 Falkirk Mail magazine demonstrates.

Yet despite this, the old reservations remained. In the 1930s one man recalls going to his granny on New Years Day to collect a plain wrapped present.

“Why do we not celebrate Christmas gran?” asked the child.

“Because we’re no heathens, laddie” came the reply.

I remember in the 1950s my father working on Christmas Day and it wasn’t until 1958 that it was declared a holiday.

Beginning with the occasional Watch Night service the reformed churches began to adopt the feast as a major moment in the life of Christians.

In the 1950s most people found it hard to make ends meet and there wasn’t much of today’s over indulgence. Fathers assisted Santa by building dolls’ houses, forts and trains and mums sewed, knitted and embroidered. Most houses had a Christmas tree with big coloured light bulbs and the family made paper rings which were hung from the light fitting to the corners of the room.

Stockings were hung up and the proverbial apple and orange, along with a threepenny bit were Santa’s first gift.

Those were hard times 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.