We all look forward to Christmas and Nidderdale Museum glows with warmth and friendship as its delightful Christmas tree welcomes visitors climbing the stairs to Room One.
In her booklet about Feasts and Festivals in Nidderdale, Eileen Burgess notes various aspects of this happy festive season and quotes Mrs Mary Light, née Whitfield of Middlesmoor, who shares her childhood of the early years of the 20th century:
“On Christmas morning the band played at both villages, almost house to house. It was a glorious sound and the carols resounded all round the hills. Our excitement was preparing tea for the bandsmen who, when they had finished playing, arrived at our little house. Mother prepared tea, everything was home-baked, with my sisters and I helping her and enjoying every minute of it.
It was often very cold, with drifting snow, but the fire of peat and sticks made up for all the bad weather. The bandsmen played a carol for us and it is this memory that has stayed with me all my life…
We were content with the simple things in life. Our Christmas was home, and the friendship of all the children we grew up with. We had parties in the village school and the Sunday school.
We hung up our stocking on Christmas Eve and were always delighted to later find in it an orange, apple, spice pigs and a little book.
This was our Christmas and we were happy and content and never wished for anything else.”
The grandmother of Mrs Pawson of Hampsthwaite said: ‘At Christmas we had the mummers and wassailing, they usually came at 2.30 am and shouted, “Half past two and a very fine morning!” The muffin man came, he sold havercake (oatcake) and a man with pottery, and the sweet woman and the tingalary (hurdy-gurdy) man’.
But for the poorest families, Eileen observes, Christmas could be a hard time, particularly if the weather was bad in the previous weeks. Lucy Dawson, of Pateley, born in 1888, whose father worked at Scotgate Ash Quarry, remembered one particular year when there had already been a hard frost for several weeks. ‘On Christmas morning, my father said he had nothing to give us except his love’. She looked with envy at her older sister, living with their grandparents, who had a large, beautiful doll, and plenty to eat.