Why the Christmas Archives?
ometimes the best ideas happen almost by accident. I have always loved Christmas. My mother worked very hard to create for my Polish father an interpretation of the Polish Christmas Eve ‘Wigilia’ as a means of lessening the strains and after effects of trauma following his last Christmas in Poland being beaten up and interrogated by Stalin’s bullies.
His subsequent Christmases were spent in the notorious Vorkuta Gulag then following escape and the long walk from Siberia to Iran, enduring the shortcomings of flying on operations with a Polish Spitfire squadron. A comforting family Christmas was not on the agenda for some time!
Of course as children we were aware of the sadness and suppressed frustration that dad felt when Christmas approached, but the true spirit always won through. That was due almost entirely to the tremendous efforts my English mother made for this wistful, brave, honourable yet damaged man she married
Inevitably I grew up, left home and despite spending one very snowy Christmas in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, I missed that spirit of goodwill, where even unlimited skiing could not make up for the lack of midnight mass, family and food that typified every earlier Christmas for me.
In time I married, and to her credit my late wife Maria also bought into the ethos of our family adapted Polish Christmas Eve. On to that she grafted a number of her own traditions including the Yorkshire groaning table and a few delicious delicacies she had learned of while attending finishing school in Mallorca.
The seventies were a time of recession in the UK and it was obvious that we had to come up with some really new idea if we were to live in a manner something approaching comfort for our own growing family. It was the combination of our joint writing abilities, my late wife’s interest in all matters historical and my abilities at brandishing a camera that led to the establishment of ‘The Christmas Archives’. Armed with noting more than charm and the ability to talk the hind legs off a donkey, I started persuading manufacturers to donate samples, their own archives of crackers, decorations and catalogues. Somehow, I wheedled us on to both radio and television, while Maria went round antique fairs, junk shops, car boot sales and neighbours, obtaining examples of old cards or decorations that they normally would have thrown out.
Soon we had created a network, our good friend and very capable antique dealer Lorraine O’Shea soon enlisted her family in chasing down the odd, the pretty, the sacred or the downright extraordinary item that had a bearing on Christmas.
We persuaded craftspeople to start making nativity scenes and got them exhibited internationally, starting with the Barbican Centre then various castles and stately homes around our native Wales.
Being bearded, liking children and pretty gregarious I was often called upon to act as Santa Claus, be it at a local school fete or even on national TV.
All the while I was building up the Christmas Archives Photo Library while Maria built up a humungous collection of artefacts that we stored above a church hall in Cardiff. Eventually such very reputable and capable bodies as The Bridgeman Art Library: www.bridgemanimages.com contacted us in order to represent some aspects of our Christmas artwork collection. Alongside that activity, props were hired out for film and TV, set design followed on then books were commissioned and published.
Inevitably this mountain of work grew to the point where two people alone could no longer handle it. It was with a mixture of relief and regret that we sold the bulk of the archive collection to the Felissimo Corporation in Kobe Japan: http://www.felissimo.co.jp/int/ along with the services of our then nineteen year old daughter Emma, to act as liaison, source of information and local designer in Japan.
After that we concentrated on books and more TV production work until Maria died unexpectedly in 2007.
Despite the shock of this, and suffering the inevitable effects of bereavement and a spell of ill health, I was determined that the great work should continue.
We had been assisted for a number of years by a true gentleman, Walt Howe see: www.walthowe.com who constructed an excellent website for us. Working from his base in the Eastern USA Walt has constructed one of the most significant and accurate Christmas websites available anywhere on the net. It is on the back of this noble effort that the future of Christmas Archives will develop.
Back here in the UK I have moved on, developed new relationships and with the assistance of a remarkable lady, Kathy Annandale, sketched out how the Christmas message in all its many iterations will remain relevant in the 21st century.
Our mission, if we indulge ourselves by calling it that, is kindness. There is not a lot of it around these days and much internet content is geared towards selling dubious services or exploitation.
Sadly, Christmas itself has become an excuse for over indulgence in food and drink, riotous behaviour and the inevitable Christmas arms race that leads to debt, distress and all yoo often, family feuds.
This should not happen! Christmas is a time of goodwill, whether or not you come from a Christian tradition or even if you look right back to pre Christian so called pagan celebration. They were all typified by a desire to be nice to each other.
So that is what the Christmas Archives is all about. It is helping everyone to understand where Christmas comes from, why it is celebrated and giving ideas on how to enjoy it in the company of others without the sense of impending bankruptcy.
Enjoy the feast, have fun and help those less fortunate than yourselves, for that is what it is all about.