The true value of Christmas

  • Festive family: Lefroy Brownlow Place and daughter Charlene Tyrrell enjoying the Christmas season together. When Lefroy was a child in the 1920s there were a lot fewer presents, so when he was a father he wanted to give his children more and loved giving Charlene a bike (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy).

    Festive family: Lefroy Brownlow Place and daughter Charlene Tyrrell enjoying the Christmas season together. When Lefroy was a child in the 1920s there were a lot fewer presents, so when he was a father he wanted to give his children more and loved giving Charlene a bike (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy).

  • Simple pleasures: centenarian Grace Woodley remembers a chicken was a treat at Christmas when she was growing up (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy).

    Simple pleasures: centenarian Grace Woodley remembers a chicken was a treat at Christmas when she was growing up (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy).

  • Thinking back: centenarian Winnie Oatley remembers Christmases from years gone by (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy).

    Thinking back: centenarian Winnie Oatley remembers Christmases from years gone by (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy).


In today’s materialistic world it’s hard to imagine a child feeling grateful that Santa left a piece of fruit in their stocking.

Christmases were a lot different when Lefroy Brownlow Place was a child back in the 1920s.

“We’d hang out stockings on the sideboard,” the 103-year-old said. “In the morning we’d find an orange, handkerchiefs or maybe a pair of socks. Santa Claus gave us what we needed rather than what we wanted. Christmas was Christmas back then.”

Part of it was that many people didn’t have a lot, he admitted. Families had to be resourceful with whatever they did have.

The Place family used a cedar branch as a Christmas tree; they hung handkerchiefs and socks as ornaments.

As an adult, he wanted to give his three children more. He remembers the excitement he felt when he bought his daughter, Charlene, a special bike.

“I rode it home and almost ran into a tree,” he laughed.

Although the St George’s resident has had some health challenges this year, he’s happily anticipating spending time with his family tomorrow.

“I am looking forward, God willing, for this coming Christmas so we can get together again and have a joyous time,” he said.

“If you are not grateful for what you do have, what good is it? If God gives you these things, or the idea to get these things, you must be grateful and I am grateful. I am pleased that God has granted me this year and all the years I have had.”

Winnie Oatley, 101, said that seeing Santa Claus at Clifford’s on Water Street was a highlight of her childhood Christmases.

Owned by the late Robert Oliver Clifford, a Member of Parliament, the St George’s store was a beehive of activity because it sold gifts.

“It was located where Wahoo’s is today,” Mrs Oatley said. “I never knew who played Santa Claus.”

Also exciting was the annual hunt with her dad, Leonard Leighton, for a Christmas tree.

“We always found a little cedar tree,” she said. “We made decorations out of crepe paper. We just had a very simple Christmas.”

Her family usually celebrated the day with cassava pie and pork at dinner, followed by a Christmas pudding.

Some families cooked the traditional dessert outside, in a tin, because it took so long to boil. Mrs Oatley’s mother, Pearl, cooked theirs inside in a coal stove.

“My mother and grandmother worked together to make Christmas dinner,” she said. “I know we had to grate the cassava.”

She joked that there was probably always a little blood in the dish, courtesy of the chef’s helpers who grated their fingers by mistake.

“I didn’t actually make cassava until I was a grown woman,” she said.

Like Mr Place, she did not get piles of wrapped gifts.

“We got things in our stocking or there were games, like Snakes and Ladders, under the tree,” she said.

She plans to spend the holiday season with her daughter, Joan, and grandchildren.

Grace Woodley, 100, was born in Norwich, Connecticut. Her mother, Alethia Simmons, was Bermudian; her father, Emmanuel de Pina, was from Cape Verde.

When she was eight her mother brought her back to the island for good. Mrs Woodley remembers how her first Christmas here, in 1928, felt so different than what she was used to.

Things were quieter. The decorations her mother brought from Connecticut seemed prettier than what was on offer in Bermuda.

“Now the decorations are the same in Bermuda, and the US,” Mrs Woodley said.

The real “treat” came at dinner when many families would serve a chicken they’d killed in the yard.

Tomorrow, she’s looking forward to being served by her 11 children.

“They always used to put Christmas dinner on me,” she said. “I had to put my foot down and say I didn’t want to do it any more. Now someone else does it.”

Michael Darling, 89, said there was always an apple or orange poking out of the top of his stocking on Christmas morning, but the real treat was when he also found some sweets.

“A chocolate box, like a Whitman’s sampler, was a big deal in those days,” the Warwick resident said, explaining that as everything came in by ship, delivery for the big day was hit or miss.

“Sometimes they were quite stale.”

He grew up at the end of Reid Street, near Fort Hamilton. His father, Leslie, ran Bluck’s, which closed this year.

“During the war years he really struggled,” Mr Darling said.

They always had a cedar Christmas tree, and would reuse all their decorations.

“The tinsel was carefully folded up and put away for next year,” he said.

Christmas dinner was always followed by plum pudding.

“It had these little silver things in the plum pudding, such as a little silver shoe, a threepence and a sixpence,” Mr Darling said. “You were very careful when you ate the pudding. If you bit into a sixpence you’d know it.”

More important was eating a dozen minced tarts between Christmas Day and Twelfth Night, January 5.

“It was supposed to be good luck,” he said.

On Boxing Day Mr Darling looked forward to seeing the Gombeys.

“They would come out and make a lot of noise and would go on playing all the way from Hamilton to Somerset,” he said. “They were followed by children who probably wondered at the end, how they could get home.”

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

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Published Dec 24, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 24, 2019 at 10:31 am)

The true value of Christmas

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