So today, winter solstice day 2020, we're wishing all our contributors, subscribers and readers a very Happy Christmas. It is of course a Christmas tinged with much uncertainty and for many it will be a Christmas unlike all others.
But Christmas is a time to be positive, to make the best of things, to enjoy the benefits of our community and to look forward to better times to come.
As we come to the end of the first year of our project, we are developing great plans for 2021 - including putting the contributions from 2020 into book form to be available at the Village Fair which we hope we will be able to enjoy this coming year.
Meanwhile we'll take this opportunity to tell just a few Christmas stories with an invitation to our readers to add their own to make up this chapter of Denham's Christmas history.
Al's memories of a Denham Christmas childhood
Christmas in Denham village was always a special time as a child. We would enjoy wandering the streets in warm coats, with hot drinks and singing carols to anyone that would listen. The group our family would sing with would invariably find ourselves back at Madeleine Paton’s home after our job was done for mulled wine, laughter and games. There’s something about an old village at Christmas, I guess it speaks to the Dickensian imagery we are so used to seeing and being a part of during the festive season, but an old village like Denham always felt that little bit more magical to the residents, as if this old-time tradition had a special place to call home itself.
This year, for the first in my 36 years, I shan’t be spending Christmas in Denham, and it feels very sad not to do so, especially given the reason, but for as long as I live I know that thinking of Christmas will always bring vivid memories of joy, cosiness, log-fires, mulled wine, my dad blowing up chestnuts in the microwave, and the sounds of carols on the streets in the run up to the big day. Times change and people move on in one way or another, but these memories I was so fortunate to build as a child at Christmas will be with me forever and allow me to believe in the magic of Christmas forever more.
On the road from London to Oxford, Denham has not for many centuries been a community without new people though of course many of its residents do go back through several generations. In the 21st century the village is home to many whose ancestry is not only from many other parts of the UK but from around the world, all now very much part of our community. They have brought with them their own stories of their Christmas celebrations. We asked Ron, a Canadian, about his memories.
Christmas in Canada Canada is a very big place with much diversity: landscape, languages, cultures, rituals, religions. And my experience of Christmases is in many ways unique and in some ways shared by many other Canadians.
The story I am about to tell is about my experience; some parts would resonate with other Canadians and, indeed, with readers of this publication. My earliest memory of Christmas is being with my brother, John and our parents at my grandparent's home. My cousins and their parents were always there too. We all got along fabulously well.
My grandparents (Mother’s Parents) owned and lived in an 8 bedroom hotel at the main intersection of the tiny village of Arden, Ontario. There were 2 massive (they looked massive to a 5 year old) rooms for us and our cousins. As there were no guests staying, we kids had the run of the hotel.
Every morning between 6 and 7 am, we could hear my grandfather in the basement building the fire in the wood furnace. Given the typical overnight temperatures at Christmas were -10 F, we dared not get out of our warm beds until the convection driven heat had worked its way up to our floor. The main floor was largely heated by the wood stove in the kitchen that my grandmother used to cook her fabulous and simple meals. One of her specialities were donuts with no coatings or fillings. Whenever I am in Toronto, I always have a coffee and an “Old Fashion Plain” donut at Tim Hortons, in honour of my grandmother.
In the 1950’s, we could always rely on having plenty of snow at Christmas. Before the days of snowmobiles, our fun was riding on toboggans pulled by our family car on snow covered traffic free roads. It felt like we were travelling 100 m/h when in fact it was probably 10 m/h!! A great excuse for squealing and laughing. Only slightly less exciting was walking up hills and zooming down on toboggans, sleighs, or pieces of cardboard.
Before climate change had started to impact winter temperatures, ponds and lakes froze solid by Christmas. On the lake near our Village, we would clear the snow off a large patch for skating; we would also clear meandering pathways around the lake which were the most fun. The small pond in the middle of the village was the domain of the village hockey players. Arden had a very competitive team that was considered by the other teams in the local villages’ league as the team to beat. I proudly became a visiting member of the Arden team when visiting at Christmas.
Nothing memorable happened Christmas Eve. We were sent off to bed early knowing we would be up early Christmas morning. Like most kids who were lucky enough to get presents, we did wake early. At the end our beds hung stockings full of all the goodies we liked, regardless of how “good” we had been throughout the year. Grandpa controlled when we were allowed to go downstairs to the Christmas Tree. He said we had to wait until he got the fire built and the hotel was warm; we believed he was taking his sweet time knowing how torturous it was for us to wait.
Our Christmas dinner was set in the hotel dining room, a special treat for all of us. Before we all sat down to eat, Grandpa led the grace hymn: “Be present at our table, Lord, be here and everywhere adored…………….”. (I remember the words after 50 years since our last Arden Christmas.) A second ritual before eating was pulling the crackers, donning paper hats, showing off the toys we found inside, and reading the riddles and jokes.
The Christmas dinner menu was typical and traditional: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, root vegetables, gravy, cranberry sauce, Christmas fruit cake, pumpkin pie with ice cream, whipped cream, or my grandpa’s preference, maple syrup.
There were no alcoholic beverages to be seen. Grandpa was a loyal practising Protestant who lived through prohibition who believed drinking alcohol was evil and the source of many social ills; no one in the family objected and it certainly didn’t put a damper on the day.
So, gentle readers, how does my experience resonate with yours?
I hope you have enjoyed my memories of my childhood Christmases. I have certainly enjoyed this trip down memory lane.
Best wishes to you for a happy Christmas.
Christmas at the Church of the Holy Name
St Mary's Church of course offers the most iconic view of Denham village. Much less well known is the Catholic Church of the Most Holy Name off Old Mill Road behind the Blackbarn Cottages, once the site of the big black barn of Andrews Farm in which Mr. Flyte housed his horse drawn carriages. Sarah remembers when the church was built in 1961.
Prior to the building of the Most Holy Name Church in Denham Catholics attended Mass on a Sunday in Denham Scout hut or the Services at St. Joseph’s, Gerrards Cross.
I remember standing on the small layer of bricks with my mother in June 1961 when Bishop Parker blessed the future building. Since then there has been a regular Mass every Sunday at 9.30 a.m. celebrated by one of the priests from Gerrards Cross. There are extra Services like Midnight Mass at Christmas or special Feast days during the year.
My mother was the first organist (glorified pianist), followed by my younger brother and then me (glorified pianist) for 25 years. I was delighted when Richard Cottle, a professional musician, offered to take over from me and started a small choir which seems to be very popular. We held a very successful concert in June, 2011, to celebrate the consecration of the Church in June, 1961.
For the last few years we have joined St. Mary’s for a joint Christmas concert either there or at the Most Holy Name. Under Richard’s excellent direction we also perform on other occasions during the year.
We have a very friendly congregation with plenty of volunteers to clean the Church, arrange the flowers, read the lessons and generally helping with anything that needs to be done.
We’re very sad not to be able to attend Mass in person at the moment but are lucky to have the Sunday Services streamed from St. Joseph’s instead. Hopefully we will be back to normal sometime in the New Year.
And Richard remembers Christmases past and looks forward to "More lovely Christmases to come".
For my own part I have been involved with the Holy Name Church in Denham for around 32 years. All those who visit tend to agree that it's a lovely little church with an intimate feel and welcoming Community. I am involved in the music of the church, and we’ve had many memorable Christmases over the years. The Church is run by the Carmelites at St. Josephs in Gerrards Cross and we’ve joined forces and created two Christmas albums featuring groups and singers for the parish, The Church holds traditional midnight Mass on Christmas Eve although more recently the start time has been moved to 9pm to make it more accessible for all. We always have a lovely turnout of singers to bolster our choir for this mass, some of then now young adults who used to sing with us as children, it’s a lovely Christmas Celebration and we have half hour of carols before the mass starts. The last few year this lovely service has seen our church crammed full. Over the last decade the church has held some Christmas concerts, a particularly memorable one in 2016 where we were joined by Christoph and the St Mary's Church choir as well as singers from St Joseph’s. Going back about 20 years ago we would often hold an annual afternoon Christmas gathering in the Church with sometimes an informal nativity play and a little party and sing song by the kids. Going back a little further than that I recall Father Patrick would organise a little Christmas gathering at the “Licensed Victuallers” so that was before the days of Denham Garden Village. We are all imagining that this Christmas will be somewhat different but here's hoping for more lovely Christmases to come in future.
We can keep adding Christmas stories to this page, stories about Christmases in Denham and Christmases in far away places enjoyed by friends who now make Denham their home. Logged in followers of this website can use the "Comment" button to add their stories (we will moderate them). Alternatively just email a story to firstname.lastname@example.org.