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British Christmas Through The Ages: The Swinging Sixties!

25 Nov 2021 by Liz Tod

*Updated 21/11/2022*

In the last blog we looked at the Christmases of post war Britain and saw how austerity was still very much in place.

Gradually though, and certainly by the end of the ‘50’s, the festive season would be much more recognisable as our own today.

So, what happened in the next decade, The Swinging Sixties, thought of by many as the most defining decade of the 20th century?  And what did Christmas look like?


Recovery from the war

 It started off bleakly with recent memories of post war austerity but the economic situation improved gradually; between 1959 and 1967 the number of incomes below £600 a year dropped 40%.

By the end of the decade car ownership was becoming common (in 1961 31% had access to a car and by 1971 it was 52%) and people spent more on entertainment and holidays (by the end of the decade going abroad was becoming popular).


Why was the 60s such a ‘defining’ decade?

The developments in fashion and music were phenomenal and social and sexual attitudes were changing.

This was the first teenage generation free from conscription and they were letting themselves be heard.

In just 10 years London, seen as the ‘Swinging Centre’, had gone from being bleak and conservative to a capital city full of freedom, hope and promise.

London was considered ‘cool’ and the baby boom of the 1950’s meant a large young population.

  • Rock n Roll!

Rock n Roll had made its appearance in the 50’s but this decade was a turning point with the arrival of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and others. Many lyrics in the songs encouraged rebellion against authority. Festivals were popular together with, especially in the late ‘60’s, recreational drugs.

  • Fashion in the 1960s

Before the ‘60’s, young people tended to dress as mini versions of their parents but with a shift in attitudes this changed.

Now it became very youth-orientated and was seen as liberating. This decade saw the birth of the mini-skirt, Vidal Sassoon’s bob hairstyle, eyeliner, flamboyant shirts for men and generally bright colours.

  • The first contraceptive pill became available on the NHS in 1961. Previously having to rely on men for contraception, women now had more control.


Other memorable events of the 1960’s.

  • In 1961 first man, Yuri Gagarin (Russian), in space.
  • The Profumo Affair – a scandal in British politics that was said to have permanently affected the British public’s trust in politicians.
  • In 1960 in UK, it became an offence to drive, attempt to drive or be in charge of a vehicle whilst under the influence of drink or drugs. No legal limit was set until 1967.
  • In 1961 the Minister of Transport, Ernest Marples, gave a road safety warning which was televised. It was ‘don’t drive if you drink’. His motto was ‘live and for God’s sake let others live’.
  • The UK’s first Labour government for 13 years was elected in 1964, with Harold Wilson becoming Prime Minister.
  • 1966 - we won the football World Cup!
  • 1967 - BBC 2 was the first channel to have colour.
  • 1969 the first men to walk on the moon. Though not British this huge event ended the decade with a feeling of excitement and optimism.


Let’s now dip into a sixties Christmas by starting with the popular festive food and drink…..


For Christmas Day:

  • Capon – very popular.
  • Turkey – starting to become popular.
  • Goose.
  • Chicken (though expensive).
  • All the trimmings we have now.
  • Christmas Pudding.
  • Sherry trifle.
  • Christmas cake – usually homemade and decorated with figurines that were collected over the years. It wasn’t unusual to have a huge robin towering over Father Christmas!

For Christmas parties in the 1960s:

  • Ox tongue.
  • Luncheon meat.
  • Piccalilli.
  • Little silverskin pickled onions.
  • Pork pies.
  • Gammon.
  • Sausages on sticks.
  • Cheese and pineapple on sticks, often stuck into a foil covered half grapefruit!
  • All shops were closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Christmas drinks in the 1960s

  • Watney’s Red Barrel.
  • Double Diamond.
  • Rum n Coke.
  • Port and Lemon.
  • Babycham.
  • Snowball.

All bought from the off-license.


Christmas decorations in the 1960s

  • Good old paperchains.
  • Christmas trees, both real and artificial, with plenty of tinsel.
  • Foil or honeycomb bells and stars.
  • Holly sprigs behind pictures.
  • Nativity Scenes – often homemade.
  • And a Blue Peter Special – a crown made of coat hangers with candles at each end!


Favourite toys of the 1960s

  • Etch-a-sketch.
  • Meccano.
  • 3D ViewMaster.
  • Mousetrap board game.
  • Sindy.
  • Action Man.
  • Kerplunk.
  • Spacehopper.


Christmas entertainment in the 1960s

Christmases were very homely with the majority of people entertaining at home. Eating out was still too expensive for most. However, with car ownership growing, families could get together more easily making festive parties popular.

TV ownership was also growing and by the end of the decade, most homes had one.


Popular TV shows in the 1960s

  • On Christmas Day, the Queen’s Speech of course!

Did you know?

There was no Christmas broadcast by the Queen in 1969. Instead, there was a documentary called Royal Family, made to celebrate the investiture of the Prince of Wales.  

It was watched by 30 million British viewers. Protected by royal copyright, it has not been seen fully since the 1970s though clips of it have been used since to celebrate royal events.

  • Billy Smart’s Circus.
  • Coronation Street (not necessarily on the Day itself but there would be Christmas themed episodes).

Did you know these Coronation Street facts?

  • The first episode was aired on ITV in December 1960. In March 1961 it reached number 1 in TV ratings and remained there for the rest of the year.
  • Originally broadcast twice a week, it changed to 6 times a week in 2017.
  • In 2010 it became the world’s longest running TV soap opera.
  • It currently averages around 6 million viewers per episode


Next time it’s Christmas in the 1970’s, the era of discos and bell-bottoms…