My Mum loved Christmas. She and Dad worked so hard to make it special for us kids, which wasn’t easy in the 1950s with just my Dad’s wages as a dockside labourer. But every year the little tree came out of the cupboard along with the decorations and trimmings. The lemonade man delivered a crate of fizzy pop which went under the stairs ‘for Christmas’. We always had chicken, which was a luxury in those days. Christmas cake, puddings, sausage rolls and mince pies were all home made and went on a pantry shelf ‘for Christmas.’ But we knew that Christmas was really for us, and every year we would wake to a sackful of presents at the foot of the bed.
It was only later that we realised the sacrifices our parents made every year and the months spent paying off Nanny Cocky, who was an agent for Littlewoods Catalogue and the tallymen who came knocking for what would now be called payday loans.
We were poor like most people on our estate. But our parents had a generosity of spirit that was their greatest gift to us. And, when we grew up and married and had families of our own, it was only natural that we should strive to give our children the Christmas we remembered.
But the Christmas I remember most was in 1984. It was the year of the Great Miners’ Strike and before our children were born. As Christmas approached, the miners had been out for nine months but what about the children? Our community had been hosting miners throughout the strike, raising money at factory gates and on the high street. As Christmas approached I spent my Saturdays dressed in a Santa suit in the town centre shouting, “A turkey on every table! A toy for every child! Victory to the miners!”
When my stint was over, I would hurry down to the Labour Club, hand over the collection to the visiting miners and head to the bar for a well-deserved pint. Until the barmaid whispered, “Santa, look behind you”. I turned to see the expectant faces of local children in the club on a Saturday lunchtime. No beer for me until I had greeted them all, made some excuse about getting back to Rudolph and slipped into the backroom to change, before emerging as plain old Mike. Only then would she serve me!
There are many political lessons to be drawn from that strike. But my abiding memory every Christmas is of a generosity of spirit that goes beyond individuals, their families and their friends. In periods of class struggle it unites us in solidarity and sacrifice.
This winter, as the politicians and the media step up their lies about greedy workers ruining Christmas, it is clear to me that we are once more seeing the generosity of spirit that is central to our working class identity. The ruling class is too selfish to understand it and that is our strength.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Uncommitted member of the Labour Party. Will they expel me before my direct debit expires?