“I was feeling hungry, so I had a bar of Turkish Delight.” The lady’s face beamed with a look of guilty pleasure.
“Do you remember when we only had Turkish Delight at Christmastime? It came in wooden boxes and was coated in sugar and we were only allowed one piece each.”
“I do. And there were dates, boxes of dates. We only had those at Christmas.”
The dates were easy to remember, round-ended boxes containing two rows of the fruit, with a thin two-pronged fork for taking them from the box. They had a capacity to make one’s fingers very sticky, and were as strictly rationed as the Turkish Delight.
Christmas always brought treats not enjoyed at other times of the year. My grandmother would have a large tin of Quality Street from which her grandchildren were allowed to select one sweet at a time. It was always a disappointment to have to choose when the tin was running low, there would only be coffee flavoured chocolates left and even the adults seemed to have shied away from those.
In retrospect, Christmas treats seem an odd and unlikely assemblage. Tangerines would make an appearance. Oranges may have been regular purchases through the year, but only at Christmas did their smaller counterparts appear on the sideboard. Perhaps they were thought too frivolous at other times, too much a luxury rather than a healthy choice. Bags of nuts also appeared, almonds and Brazils and walnuts. Turns would be taken in using the nutcrackers, shards of shells would fly across the table and one would be left to try to dig the kernel from what remained. There were family size bags of crisps, ready salted, opened when visitors came, and allowed to boys in small handfuls. Fizzy drinks not bought during the rest of the year were enjoyed for a few days.
Christmas in those times was a brief, but extraordinarily sensory experience. Retailers had not resorted to tactics that lead to festive fatigue, incomes were insufficient to provide for much more than a few special items in the shopping basket. Perhaps, in retrospect, it was a case of less being more, growing affluence has meant that things once considered Christmas treats are now thought no more than everyday purchases.
Hopefully, among the excess of Christmas now, there are schoolboys who still find there are things that make the season special, things that will be remembered in fifty years times as being as tasty and rare as Turkish Delight and boxes of dates.