Christmas Eve was a time of frantic activity in our house. It had to be - food shopping and preparation had to be done as close to The Day as possible when few households had a fridge.
The most important shop to go to was the butcher and here we had to queue. Our butcher would have the whole order ready and there was a fast track for mums who had been prudent enough to order the turkey, ham, sausages and bacon in advance so that he could prepare the order but it was still a queue. Then off to the baker to collect bread. Mother usually made her own but at Christmas time became more precious and this cheat was considered acceptable.
Vegetables would be fetched in from the garden where possible. Father grew Brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips but chestnuts would have been bought a few day earlier so they could be cooked and skinned on Christmas Eve ready to have with the sprouts.
This Christmas Eve shopping would be done by Father as Mother was busy in the kitchen. She would be baking mince pies, cakes, and cheese straws and, once the sausage-meat arrived from the butcher, she could make sausage rolls. The Christmas pudding would be brought down from the top shelf ready for the morrow and the precious new jars of chutneys and pickles brought in from the store. Milk would be infused and breadcrumbs prepared for bread sauce and once the turkey (complete with giblets) arrived, she would make giblet stock ready for the gravy. The potatoes would be peeled ready and best crockery sorted so the dinner table could be laid easily after Christmas Day breakfast.
We didn't help much in the kitchen so Father's job was to keep us busy. Shopping was a good activity and the decorations could be tweaked. We also had parcels to wrap but I doubt if our the things we gave were much of a surprise as we were much too excited to keep secrets. Pillow cases were sorted for Santa to leave parcels in and frantic final letters to the great man were written.
There was always some sort of a service for children on Christmas Eve afternoon. Few adults came and it was regarded as a method for getting children out of the way. Meals were a little basic (beans on toast, sandwiches) as cooking efforts were being concentrated on the meals for Christmas Day.
My sister was nine years older than me and she was allowed to have a party for her friends before they all went off to Midnight Mass. I think my parents must have been near-saints to have allowed this! However, each year when I found my filled pillowcase near my bed it always had a note from Santa pinned to it. Santa had writing very much like my sister's boyfriend.