Christmas Truce in 1914- The regulars of the British Expeditionary Force had suffered such heavy casualties that territorial units had to be sent to France and Flanders to reinforce them. The 2nd Mons was amongst the first, taking up its positions in the line at Le Bizet, near Armentieres in November 1914. It was here that the battalion took part in the famous Christmas truce of 1914. Private L Browne wrote home to Newport to say “There was a sort of armistice between the Germans and the boys in the trenches and there were even conversations held between them half-way between the two lines. Cigarettes, cakes etc were exchanged, but of course it all had to end the next day."
Pantomime - Pantomime has become a centre-piece of the British Christmas but the more modern form of the genre became established in the mid nineteenth century. This was based upon the popularisation of traditional tales. A pantomime at the Victoria Hall in Newport based upon the story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves ran from Boxing Day in 1869 and old Mother Hubbard created immense excitement in 1874. The Monmouthshire Merlin reports that the pantomimes at the Victoria and Gaiety Theatres were overflowing with audiences in 1883.
Steaming Christmas puddings - Newportonians used to have a tradition of steaming their Christmas puddings at Thatcher's Brewery in Alma Street. The tradition ended in November 1959. The brewery closed a year later.
Christmas day football - Up until the late-1950's Christmas Day football was a regular feature. In 1930 Newport County beat Exeter City 4-0 in front of 3,264 fans. The following day they lost 3-O in Exeter before going down by the same score in Torquay on December 27! Even during the war they managed a home fixture against Bristol City in 1939. In 1945 when the football league was split into north and south they played Arsenal on Christmas Day at Somerton Park in front of 13,003 fans going down 2-1 before losing 7-0 at Highbury the following day. In 1958 they beat Southampton 4-2 in front of 9,034 fans, the second biggest home gate of the season.
Festive rugby - Rodney Parade no longer offers quite the yuletide rugby of yore. Newport's traditional opponents, Watsonians, were the regular fayre on Boxing Day, often playing in front of huge crowds. There were a staggering number of fixtures too. In 1892-93 rugby supporters in Newport were treated to the following home games - Dec 23 Penarth (a 19-0 victory), Dec 26 Rockcliff (19-0), Dec 27 Barbarians (19-0), Dec 30 Gloucester (26-0) and Jan 1 Watsonians (5-3). Five games in ten days! There were 12,000 spectators at Rodney Parade on Boxing Day and 7,000 there the following day. Watsonians from Edinburgh were Newport's regular Boxing Day opponents, in 81 games they only lost to the Scots on 7 occasions. I cannot find an instance of Newport RFC playing on Christmas day although Newport and District seem to have had regular fixtures.
Christmas in 1860 - the Monmouthshire Merlin reported "People, however, a large proportion of whom were evidently from the country, thronged the streets on Christmas Day and probably enjoyed their cosy fireside in the evening all the better. The various places of worship were well filled. On the Mill Pond and elsewhere, skaters and sliders have had ample opportunity for displaying their agility, indulging in a healthful agreeable and exhilarating pastime. On Christmas Day at the Workhouse, the poor of the Union were regaled with roast beef and plum pudding, the result of a subscription raised for the purpose. The Master and the Matron did all within their power towards the comfort of the inmates on the occasion. In the evening a very nicely decorated Christmas tree was introduced, from the branches of which were suspended little articles of use and interest, which were distributed to the poor inmates, who were much pleased with the manner in which the Master and Matron had endeavoured to amuse them."
Christmas Hampers - in his Newport Kaleidoscope Alan Roderick says that in 1896 a special hamper could be purchased from a local department store for a guinea (twenty one shillings) and included an alcoholic selection of a quart of Champagne, and bottles of Port, Golden Sherry, Jamaica Rum, London Gin, Irish Whiskey and Martell Brandy.