CHRISTMAS on the surface seems much the same as ever. But there have been some big changes over the years. If you were transported back half a century or more, you would be struck by how dark and dirty everything was.

Pollution drastically cut the amount of winter sunshine in towns so that sometimes you went weeks without seeing the sun. Most people smoked and this made the inside of many homes as grey as the outside. There was little central heating and this tended to make people huddle together near the fire. There would be a vast difference in temperature between the front of a room and the back.

In the days before people had television sets, some families would have the radio as a second focal point to the fire. When TVs started to arrive in large numbers, they were tiny and there was no colour. Programmes were provided by the BBC and were generally uninspiring. It wasn’t until the mid-Seventies that more than half the nation would be watching entertainment such as the Morecambe and Wise Christmas show.

In a world which was much more boring than today’s, Christmas stood out as a bright and exciting festival. It was by far the most widely observed event each year and as a child, I could not have told you when Halloween was although it is big these days.

Father Christmas used to arrive even earlier than he does now, usually parking himself in a department store such as Hannington’s in Brighton. Now he is more likely to be discovered in a shopping mall or garden centre.

Church attendances were rapidly falling, although plenty of people still attended services on Christmas Eve.

Public transport operated on the morning of Christmas Day, partly so that football fans could go to matches, usually local derbies. Return fixtures were played on Boxing Day and often results then would be greatly different, depending on how much players had imbibed.

Shops would be busy in the run up to Christmas. There was no Sunday or late night opening. No sales were ever started before Boxing Day and there would then be long queues outside shops with the best bargains.

Carol singers used to be ubiquitous in December but their numbers have fallen substantially. There have also been few new carols or seasonal songs. After a period in which pop stars regularly topped the charts at Christmas with novelty numbers, these too have faded.

But pantomimes, after enduring a decline in the Seventies, have revived. Most children put out a stocking to be filled when they were asleep. Some had all their presents then but more often families would open the main gifts together. The stocking I hung up was one or of my mother’s and while it might contain at least one half decent bauble, it tended to have oddities such as a tangerine or a piece of coal. In the days before sticky tape was invented, wrapping paper could be saved and used again in future years. I rather fancy this will come back into fashion.

Most cards were in appalling bad taste and contained execrable poetry.

My family would hold an unofficial contest on Twelfth Night to pick the worst card and there was plenty of competition.

There have been huge improvements in cards but the habit of sending them will die as youngsters prefer to use social media.

Food shortages were widespread after the Second World War with strict rationing. We were among millions of families helped by relatives abroad. We always received a food parcel from Canadian relations and I remember sampling Parmesan cheese, discovering how delicious it was.

Those same relations seemed to have only the haziest idea of how old and even what sex we were, making some of their individual presents widely and disappointingly inappropriate.

The Christmas meal was usually chicken, then considered a luxury, as the main meat dish. Beef and lamb, now expensive, were then commonplace.

Few families ate turkey. The excitement of Christmas pudding was in discovering whether you had a coin in your helping.

I don’t recall any alcohol being offered at Christmas and knew other families who dusted off the bottles just once a year. Yet the seasonal death toll on roads was appalling before breath tests.

By far the biggest change to Christmas is increased prosperity. The average household’s celebrations would seem to be the last word in luxury to a family in the Fifties. Generally Christmas is much more enjoyable than it used to be.

But the mid-winter holiday is simply crackers.