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Christmas at King’s High

What do you remember of your Christmases at King’s High? Were you from the generation who would never dare put a third syllable in the word ‘Angels’ when you sang ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’? Were you one of the wayward sixth formers kept in all afternoon for letting off balloons in the final assembly in December? Did you go Carol Singing on Smith Street? Or did you enjoy the riotous ‘Games Dances’ before the War?  

Before the First World War, Christmas celebrations were rather sedentary affairs, with both the Lower School and Upper School being allowed end of term parties on consecutive days. The younger girls were treated to ‘a charming little play performed by the Kindergarten’, while the older ones enjoyed scenes from ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ acted by the Sixth Form.  

By the 1920s, King’s High girls were reaching out to help others, and thirty-two children from the Warwick Union Workhouse were invited into school for a party in a beautifully decorated school gymnasium, complete with Christmas tree, Father Christmas and a huge plum pudding. Crackers, sweets and presents were distributed to these unfortunate children by the King’s High girls before their guests returned to the Workhouse. Later in the decade, the party guests were from local children’s homes, and the girls put on Christmas plays for their entertainment.  

By Miss Doorly’s time, the highlight of the Christmas festivities was the annual Games Dance. Senior and Junior Dances took place, with party games and refreshments, a live band playing, and staff on hand to join in (or supervise) the fun. These dances were formal affairs with waltzes, foxtrots, quicksteps and old-time dancing listed on dance cards, and, with no boys allowed, it was a great honour to have secured a dance with a member of staff. Miss Doorly kept a tight rein on the type of clothing worn, even by the most senior girls, and one girl was rebuked and sent home for wearing a strapless dress. Then the great day dawned just before the Second World War, with ‘each girl being allowed to bring a boy friend’ [sic.].     But oh, the embarrassment; every girl had to introduce her male guest to a presiding member of staff! However, the male invasion was deemed a success and was allowed to continue in future years. 

After the war, with coming of Miss Hare, the Games Dancing gradually ceased, to be replaced by cakes-and-jelly parties with balloons and paper games. By the 1960s these became form parties, with desks pushed together to make a large table in the middle of each formroom. The walls were decorated with streamers made by the girls themselves, and their mothers each provided a plateful of party delicacies. In the 1970s, mindful of the social mix afforded by the direct grant, the Head was conscious that not all girls could afford to give lavish Christmas presents to their classmates, so the giving of any Christmas present was forbidden.  

By the closing decades of the last century, Christmas rituals became firmly established, with Carol Singing parties travelling to neighbouring towns in the chilly darkness of a winter’s evening, a biennial Christmas play produced by the English department, Voluntary Service inviting the residents of local care homes and old people’s day centres for a Christmas party and entertainment in the school hall, an annual Carol Service in St Mary’s, and carol singing in the final assembly of term.     

The St Mary’s Carol Service is a ritual still enjoyed by Old Girls today, and its comforting format has changed little in over sixty years. The standard of music is always extremely high. In the last few years, this has been joined by the evening Landor Association Carol Service for all the school’s extended family. Unfortunately neither event was able to take place in its regular form this year due to Covid-19, but the Landor Service went on line and was enjoyed by Old Girls as far away as the Hebrides. Several generations of Old Girls will recall Miss Wallace insisting that there are only two syllables in the word ‘Angels’ in ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ – and this is utterly ingrained in our psyches! 

In the twenty first century, brightly decorated Christmas shoeboxes full of gifts  have adorned the school corridors, destined for the orphanages of Romania, and, a hundred years on from the Workhouse parties, this spirit of giving is still present with many donations to local foodbanks being provided by our school community. The huge Christmas tree that used to sparkle in Landor Hall now glitters in the Banbury Road reception area.  Windows and classrooms are replete with twinkling Christmas decorations, and Christmas jumpers and Santa hats are worn – even by the staff. As in previous decades, there is often a highly risible staff play. The catering staff, led by senior chef M. Charpetier, always puts on a wonderful festive spread, but unlike in times past, vegetarian, vegan and special dietary needs are accommodated.   

Happy Christmas to you all – whenever you attended King’s High!  

Polly Beidas.