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There is much grumbling to be heard around Christmas time - about how prices of everything seem to be going up along with children’s expectations, about tedious relations falling asleep on the sofa and the mountain of food that has to be prepared to feed them, about unwanted presents that we try to look delighted with and mind numbing programmes on the TV that bore us to death - but the grumble most often heard is how the entire shebang seems to be kicking off earlier and earlier… Christmas Selections in stores from October, Christmas TV ads from early November and a week or two later carol singers banging on the door demanding our charity. Unfortunately it has always been thus…

In “The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren” by Iona and Peter Opie, first published in 1959, they write…

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To the older generation preparations for Christmas seem to start earlier each year, and the carol singers are said to become more and more commercial. One correspondent says that in her district “innocent-eyed little girls (not boys) have taken to ringing the doorbell before they start and asking politely ‘Please may we carol?’” If permission is refused they go away, still politely, but without having wasted time on an unprofitable venture. If permission is granted, they know the householder will generally say “Here’s a penny for you. Just sing one verse and go away.” Again they have wasted the minimum of time. This practise can however largely be attributed to the general unwillingness of grown ups today to give time to listening to what the children have to offer. The children themselves say that want to give as good a performance as possible; that they go carolling because they like singing and the fun of going out on a winter’s night.

While I fully accept the pleasures of singing together in the street on a cold and frosty night my cynical 21st century self wonders why the children of the 1950’s did not mention the pleasures of a pocket full of loose change.

In the 1950’s the most popular children’s ‘street’ carols were “Good King Wenceslas”, “The First Nowell”, “We Three Kings” and “The Holly and the Ivy”. In some parts the children would close their chorale with this traditional rhyme…

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Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny would do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny God bless you.

By 1951 in London inflation had already struck…

Knock on the knocker, ring on the bell,
Give us a shilling for singing so well,
If not a shilling a tanner would do,
If not a tanner, God bless you.

The more business savvy kids in Tunstall in North Staffordshire had already come up with a closing rhyme that was much more of an inducement to the poor penny-struck punters of the Potteries…

Slip down the cellar and see what you find me,
An apple or a pear or a good strong beer,
And we'll never come a-carolling till this time next year.

It was the “We’ll never come a-carolling till this time next year” bit that did it for me.

The North St Margarets Residents Association (NSMRA) will be carol singing on Tuesday 12th December in support of the Shooting Star Chase which provides hospice care for children.

They will be starting from the Small Hall at All Souls Church in Northcote Road at 5.30pm with mulled wine and mince pies and hitting the streets at about 6.00pm. Their circuit of the neighbourhood will take about 1 hour. Children are welcome to join the group.

It seems that the latest trend in carol singing involves banging about with plastic cups. Is it a mug’s game?

– from Martyn Day