Books make super Christmas presents so I thought I’d gather together a selection of gorgeous Christmas books that would make perfect stocking fillers. And it’s a touch of wartime nostalgia for day 12 with the delightful A Ration Book Christmas by Jean Fullerton.
With Christmas 1940 approaching, the Brogan family of London’s East End are braving the horrors of the Blitz. With the men away fighting for King and Country and the ever-present dangers of the German Luftwaffe’s nightly reign of death and destruction, the family must do all they can to keep a stiff upper lip.
For Jo, the youngest of the Brogan sisters, the perils of war also offer a new-found freedom. Jo falls in love with Tommy, a man known for his dangerous reputation as much as his charm. But as the falling bombs devastate their neighbourhood and rationing begins to bite, will the Brogans manage to pull together a traditional family Christmas? And will Jo find the love and security she seeks in a time of such grave peril?
Jean was born in the East End, so I asked her to tell us a little about her childhood East End Christmas.
Unlike today, when I was a child the shops didn’t start putting up their Christmas displays until the Saturday before, which is when Christmas started for me. My parents took my brother and me on the number 25 bus, through the city to the West End to see the Christmas lights. We got off at Oxford Circus and walked down Oxford Street under the twinkling lights to Selfridges to see their window display and visit Father Christmas.
Our Christmas tree, a three-foot-high artificial one, would be put up the day after along with the home-made paper chains, tissue Chinese lanterns and concertina coloured paper bells and balls. After a lot of sneaking into a corner to wrap them in secret, the presents would be placed beneath.
On Christmas Eve I would hang my sock at the end of the bed ready for Father Christmas and wake to find it filled with a satsuma and a small bar of Cadbury’s fudge finger or something similar. In those days there was only one main present and not a character toy from a block-busting franchised or state of the art electronics but a doll, trainsets, jigsaws or a Meccano set and perhaps in addition just a few very small gifts, like a set of pencils, on the tree.
Christmas morning was opening presents before breakfast then putting on our best clothes and heading off to church. From there we made our way to my Aunt Nell’s house a few streets away from ours where the whole Fullerton family, uncles, aunts and cousins, squashed around the table for Christmas dinner. When it was consumed and cleared away, we gathered around the piano for a sing-song. My dad, who played by ear would strike the opening chords to a familiar tune and everyone would belt out the song. Each member of the family did a turn. My uncle Jimmy was a bit of a crooner and would always sing a Bing Crosby ballad, while Uncle Bobby, the youngest of the Fullerton brothers by a decade, lept around to the latest rock and roll number, which the children danced to. The sisters, Martha, Nell and Millie, would join together for an Andrew Sisters number. This would lead everyone into the songs they’d sang while sitting out the Blitz in a shelter or at an ENSA concert in the desert. The entertainment would conclude with my Aunt Nell singing the old Al Johnson number When I Leave the World Behind, leaving not a dry eye in the house. We would finish the night with pint for the men, a small brandy for the women and a glass of Tizer for the kids before we all departed just before midnight to our own homes.
All the Wartime generation of my Fullerton family have gone now but from the songs they sang to the china duck on Aunt Nells wall through to my Dad’s experiences in the Eight Army, they live on in my books.
It sounds like you all had fun together, Jean. What is your favourite Christmas memory?
That is a very difficult one as I have so many, but it would have to be the first Christmas me and the Hero@Home spent together as a married couple forty years ago. He was a policeman then and we lived in a freezing, police flat in Wanstead. He was on night duty, so I crept around getting the dinner ready while he slept then enjoyed it together by candle light.
How romantic! When do you put up your Christmas tree? And do you prefer a real or artificial one?
Our tree goes up a week before Christmas and although I’d love a real tree ours is artificial.
How do you usually spend Christmas Day?
As a rector’s wife the lead up to Christmas is always busy but for me Christmas starts with the crib service, or Mayhem in the Manger, as my husband calls it, at 4pm on Christmas Eve. It’s a service for children and they are encouraged to dress as the characters in the Christmas story, but unicorns, fairies and super heroes are also welcomed. My three daughters and their children come too, and we all sing the traditional carols then back to the Rectory for a family supper. After they leave, we take a breather before heading back to church for Midnight Mass arriving home around one am. On Christmas Day after I’ve put the meat in the oven, me and the Hero@Home head back to church for the morning service where there is a prize given to the parent who been awake the longest and children are encouraged to bring their noisiest toy. We usually have one or two of the daughters and their children to lunch after which, while my Hero@Home collapses exhausted in front to the TV, the rest of us play board games or make craft things at the table. Christmas tea, if anyone can face it, is usually bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon followed by mince pies. After the family departs, we just put our feet up and enjoy the peace and quiet.
That sounds wonderful – and I love the Hero@Home tag! What present are you hoping to receive this year?
I know it sounds cheesy but I’m not hoping for anything for Christmas other than having all my family around me.
Many people say that,Jean, and I totally agree – there’s nothing better than having family around you at Christmas time. I hope you all have a lovely Christmas and thanks for dropping by to talk to us.
Jean Fullerton is the author of eleven novels all set in East London where she was born. She worked as a district nurse in East London for over twenty-five years and is now a full-time author.
She is a qualified District and Queen’s nurse who has spent most of her working life in the East End of London, first as a Sister in charge of a team, and then as a District Nurse tutor.
She has won multiple awards and all her books are set in her native East London. Her latest book, A RATION BOOK CHRISTMAS, is the second in her East London WW2 Ration Book series featuring sisters Mattie, Jo and Cathy Brogan and their family.
Find out more about Jean here:
When Saffy’s sister called to say she was stuck abroad with no hope of getting home to run her usual ‘singles Christmas lunch’, Saffy knew she would have to abandon her plans for wild festive parties in the city and head down to remote Cornwall to save the day. But family parties are so not her thing and both her sister Hannah and sexy single dad Logan seems certain she’ll never manage. Can she prove them wrong? Now available in print and as an ebook: