When the cake was cooked, after being tested with a knitting needle it was cooled, wrapped in towels and carefully stored away. Everything came out fresh at the right time, everything being natural and fresh that went into the making, even butter being used as margarine was not yet popular.
We in the North East are lucky between North and South, so we can keep the Southern Christmas cake and also the Scottish Hogmanay- New Year, so some folk cut their cake at Christmas while others keep it till New Year. The custom was that whoever visited the house, friend or stranger they were given a piece of cake and a glass of wine, often home made ginger wine.
The hoops from the butter barrels were collected from the shops and one hoop would be placed over the other to make a sphere and would then be tied. Coloured tissue paper was bought in a packet, cut into wide strips which were folded in half longways, then the scissors snipped the fold half way down all along the fold. Each strip was wrapped around the hoops mixing the colours and then glitter ornaments were fastened around. This was called a Mistletoe and hung from the ceiling. The children's stockings were hung by the fireside on Christmas Eve, in readiness for Santa Claus. An apple, orange and nuts would be found in each stocking in the morning and if lucky maybe a small toy.
More preparation in the early days was making a new mat. Many folk liked to have a new mat to put down for Christmas Day. These were made on hessian or even with a hessian sack opened out. These were sacks used to hold potatoes and vegetables. The material was stitched into the wooden frames. A pair of frames could be 3, 4, or up to 9 feet long. The long ones being used for quilting. They were of stout wood with a folded strip of strong material tacked down one side so that the hessian could be sewed onto it. When all was stitched up one frame had the hessian rolled over it, leaving space for working. To stretch this tight some wide laths with many holes was pushed through slots in the big frames and then stabilised with nails through the lathe holes. A pattern was then chalked on the mat. A favourite was the Prince of Wales Feathers. This was a brown cut out, laid on the hessian and chalk marked around it. Another was the plate pattern. When a plate was chalked round it was moved to cover 3/4 of the first one and so on. Each division would be filled with a different colour and outlined in black, as was the wide border of the mat.
There were two types of mats, proddey and hookey. (Some call it proggy). The only tools were a thick piece of steel tapering to a point with a knob at the top for the proggy clips and a similar tool but with a hook at the end like a large crotchet hook for the hookey clips, ( these were often made by the pit black-smiths) From the storing of old clothes the clippings were made. Proddy ones were cut into finger wide lengths, which were then cut into pieces the length of a matchbox. Hookey ones were just the long strips rolled into a ball. >>
Proddey mats were made by making a hole with the prodder and then using it to push one end of the clips into the hole, making another hole close by and inserting the other end into it. One hand was always underneath the mat to direct and pull the clip. The hookey one was worked right side up with the length of the material held underneath and being pulled up in loops by the hooked prodder. The children were also workers for they cut up the clippings.
The long frames took up a great deal of the room, which was usually the kitchen (it being the only room) and each end rested on a table or chair.
Neighbours often came in and helped to prod and when at least the mat was finished there was a pan of toffee made amid much rejoicing.
The mat would be rolled up and maybe deposited under the bed or on top of one for extra warmth before being laid on Christmas Eve. Some of these mats could be two yards by one and would take two people to take it outside to shake it. Another tradition was to paint or freshen up the fire surround.
Christmas was very much looked forward to but was certainly not a commercial event.
Guisers were in evidence also, that is people dressed up to disguise themselves, woman usually in male attire. They visited houses, for doors were never locked, so they could walk in and be offered refreshments, Some folk made more fuss at New Year and would not cut their cake until then. Just before midnight all doors would be locked and everything was quiet until the buzzer blew and the Church Bells rang on the stroke of midnight. The door would only be opened to the expected caller who had to be a dark man , for a 'first foot. He was supposed to fetch good luck to the home and to prove it he would have a lump of coal in his hand to put onto the fire. The ashes from the coal fire had to be removed before the stroke of midnight and everything tidied up ready to welcome a New Year.
Sometimes high spirited lads would push all the rainbarrels over so the rain-water would run down the street. These pranksters were likened to the present day vandals, but in a much milder form, for they had no intention of harming anyone. Other pranksters would tie some string to a house door sneck (opener) and fasten the other end to the next door before knocking on the doors. Their reward would be witnessing the futile attempts of the householders.