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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Phoebe Barton

What a Merseyside Christmas was like in the 2000s and how festive traditions have changed

As a 1990s baby, it's my Christmases in the Noughties that I remember being the most magical.

Christmas in Merseyside has changed since the 2000s, from how we prepare for the festivities to the big day itself. With Liverpool ONE not opening until 2008 and online shopping not being as popular or convenient as it is today, we used to head to our local high street to buy our presents for friends and family.

Some festive traditions have thankfully stayed the same, including Liverpool’s Santa Dash which has taken place in the city since 2004. Father Christmas also still drives around the streets of Wirral and Liverpool in his sleigh collecting money for charity.

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Now I’m in my mid-Twenties, I have to admit I’m a bit of a Scrooge. I find there’s a lot of pressure to make Christmas perfect, from the presents to the all-important Christmas dinner. I believe social media has played a huge part in this, as we all know come December 25 there will be photos of lavish presents and perfectly cooked turkey all over Instagram and Facebook.

With how quickly the years fly by, the next festive season is upon us again before we know it. It all seems like a great big faff. I would love to experience Christmas as a child during the 2000s one more time when things seemed a lot simpler and much more magical. There was no social media or people’s phones pinging away, just family time with great food, drink, games and lots of laughter.

Christmas preparations

As soon as December arrived, it was like Santa and his reindeer sprinkled magic over Merseyside - especially if it was snowing. I’d wake up on December 1 and there would be Christmas lights on practically every street that I’d admire on my journey home from school. There seem to be fewer Christmas lights on houses where I live in Wirral these days, possibly due to the expense of electricity at the moment and the overall cost of living crisis.

Phoebe Barton and her brothers enjoying sledging during a white Christmas (Phoebe Barton/Liverpool ECHO)

Television adverts would suddenly be all about festive food and must-have toys and games, and every radio station was playing Christmas songs. A big difference I’ve noticed the last few years is how early the festive season starts now. This year I heard my first Christmas song on the radio and saw my first festive advert in November.

As a child, the most significant part of December 1 was the chocolate advent calendar waiting for me and my brothers in the kitchen. When we were younger, we’d share an advent calendar which made each chocolate we devoured a bit more special. It also meant the countdown to Christmas would go a lot quicker, as we’d be wishing away the days until it was our turn for a chocolate.

As we got older, we had an advent calendar each, which seems to be the case in most households nowadays. In the 2000s it was rare to have more than one advent calendar per child, but now it’s normal for kids to be gifted one by their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles…

Everton fan Phoebe Barton was not happy that her brother picked an LFC scarf for their snowman that they built one Christmas (Phoebe Barton/Liverpool ECHO)

December 1 would always be the day we put the Christmas tree up and decorated it all together. We’d use twinkling lights, tinsel, baubles and homemade decorations that my brothers and I made at school, Brownies, Guides, Beavers, and Cubs. An annual trip to Gordale on Chester High Road was a must, with its Christmas shop full of decorations in every colour you could imagine - it would blow my mind every year.

The start of December also meant we’d begin to stock up on festive food and drink, with my mum’s most-used warning over the Christmas period starting to make an appearance - “Don’t eat that, it’s for Christmas!” This included the festive chocolate tins of Roses and Quality Street, which have changed significantly throughout the decades with a number of the treats once found inside them now being lost forever.

Although I love online shopping and the ease of it, nothing beats spending hours in your favourite store. In the 2000s, shopping locally seemed to be a lot more popular than travelling over the water to Liverpool, especially with Liverpool ONE not existing until 2008. This meant I’d visit local Wirral towns, including my hometown of Heswall, where I’d purchase presents for my family and sometimes my Christmas Day outfit.

Phoebe Barton in her 2003 Christmas Day outfit from Monsoon (Phoebe Barton/Liverpool ECHO)

This was usually a dress from Mackays, which rebranded to M&Co in 2005, or a glitzy festive outfit from Monsoon. Nowadays, with local high streets changing so much and shops sadly being lost all too often, the majority of us have to travel slightly further afield to do our Christmas shopping. This includes a day browsing Bromborough Retail Park, the Pyramids shopping centre in Birkenhead, or Liverpool ONE.

Festive fun

I have fond memories of visiting Christmas Grottos and meeting Santa, although I have to say I was pretty terrified of him when I was really young. Festive parties with friends were also an annual occasion, with us putting on sparkly outfits and our parents allowing us to wear a little bit of lip gloss and glittery eyeshadow.

I’d always purchase the Christmas number one single and play it on repeat on my bright pink CD player while I got ready. If it was a catchy one, I’d dance around my bedroom, which was the case in 2002 when Girls Aloud’s Sound Of The Underground reached the top spot. Dancing in my room turned into some rather off-key singing in later years, with Gary Jules’ Mad World, Shayne Ward’s That’s My Goal and Alexandra Burke’s Hallelujah all being named Christmas number ones in the 2000s.

A slightly terrified Phoebe Barton meets Santa at a Grotto in Wirral (Phoebe Barton/Liverpool ECHO)

One thing that I still really enjoy about Christmas is festive films. The Noughties arguably had the best Christmas films of all the decades, with The Grinch (2000), Love Actually (2003), The Polar Express (2004) and The Holiday (2006) all being released. In my opinion, Christmas films have never been the same since the 2000s.

With so many ways to watch films now, including the likes of Netflix and Disney Plus, it means the magic and quality isn’t quite there. The huge choice of channels also means it’s rare for every household to be sat watching the same festive film at the same time which frequently happened in the Noughties when the BBC, ITV1 or Channel 4 showed a much-loved family blockbuster.

I’m also a huge fan of Christmas television, and although I was a little too young to appreciate them at the time, many will recall laughing along to special festive episodes of The Royle Family, The Vicar of Dibley, Absolutely Fabulous, Only Fools And Horses and The Office. These have since been repeated, much to my delight so that I could properly understand them!

Phoebe Barton on the right as a sheep in her Christmas nativity at Primary School (Phoebe Barton/Liverpool ECHO)

All parents and teachers will know the feeling in the pit of their stomach whenever the word “nativity” is mentioned. For children, they’re a whole load of fun, unless you were a little shy like me and found it a tad daunting. This was especially true when I was given the part of “The Star” at primary school and had to stand on the stage for pretty much the entire performance with a huge cardboard star on my head.

Many kids were tasked with making their own costumes at school and at home. I need to magic up a shepherd's outfit and headdress? Challenge accepted! I’m sure we can all remember how stressed teachers would be trying to make sure the nativity was perfect.

It's Christmas!

Nothing beats the feeling of Christmas Eve excitement. My brothers and I would leave a little glass of sherry, a mince pie and a carrot for Santa and Rudolph and head off to bed. I remember squeezing my eyes tightly shut in the hope I’d fall asleep quickly so that morning would be here sooner.

Phoebe Barton and her brothers leave Santa and Rudolph some treats (Phoebe Barton/Liverpool ECHO)

When morning arrived, I’d jump out of bed and run downstairs to check if Santa had been. Once we were all downstairs and gathered around the tree, we’d empty our presents out of our stockings and rip the paper off, shouting “oh wow” and squealing after each gift was revealed.

In 2002, I remember getting a selection of Bratz Dolls and enjoyed brushing their hair and dressing them in different outfits. In 2005, I unwrapped the silver Nintendo DS and Nintendogs game which kept me quiet all day, every day, for the next few weeks. RIP to all of the Nintendogs who we then forgot to feed for a month.

The present that stands out in my mind the most, though, is a remote control Dalek that I adored. The reason why it was so memorable was that I accidentally broke the Dalek’s 'arm' shortly after receiving it and was absolutely devastated.

Phoebe Barton and her brothers having Christmas dinner at Thornton Hall Hotel in Wirral in 2003 (Phoebe Barton/Liverpool ECHO)

Once all of the presents were unwrapped, it was time to get ready for the day in my new Christmas outfit. If we were having dinner at home, my brothers and I would play with our toys and watch whichever Christmas film was on television while the adults cooked the dinner.

Some years we had Christmas dinner out, which would be rare nowadays with the current cost of living crisis and how expensive everything has become. In 2003, we went to Thornton Hall Hotel which was really special. There was something about putting on a fancy outfit and eating Christmas dinner with other families in a grand location that felt really magical.

When we were back home we’d get all cosy and play board games and charades while sharing our Christmas selection boxes which were a lot bigger than the ones you find in supermarkets today. I’d fight the tiredness that would come over me as I didn’t want Christmas to be over. Eventually, I’d admit defeat and make my way to bed, ready to impatiently wait 365 days to experience the excitement and magic all over again.

What are your memories of Christmas in the 2000s? Let us know in the comments section below.

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