Christmas at Gatwards has always been a very traditional affair and whilst this year Christmas may not be quite the same, it most certainly won’t be cancelled.
Christmas School Holidays at Gatwards
As a child, as soon as the school term broke up for Christmas, I used to come with my mother to the shop most days of the Christmas holidays. I just loved being in the shop with Mum - being around all the Christmas decorations and the excitement of the build-up to the big day.
By the time I was 12, I used to help the team with the gift wrapping and earn myself some extra pocket money.
Helping out with the Gift Wrapping
I remember the shop often used to be shoulder to shoulder on the last Saturday of Christmas and on Christmas Eve in the 1990s. The words: “Gift Wrap Please Charlotte” would frequently be called out and team members would hurriedly bring me Gatward boxes containing all sorts of beautiful items of jewellery.
I’d often sneak a peek before gift wrapping and beautifying them ready to be placed under the Christmas trees of our customers. Even when I had left home and I was away at university, I’d still look forward to coming back to help over Christmas.
Christmas Carols in the Square
A family business is always very much a team effort. In fact, it never felt like Christmas had really arrived for me until I had come back and spent time in the shop and soaked up the atmosphere in Hitchin. You can hear the Salvation Army band playing the traditional Christmas carols in the Market Square from inside the shop and I would often step out into the square at lunchtime to take it all in.
My mother, Lisa Gatward also recalls standing on chairs in the living room in the flat above the shop with her sister, Anna Gatward and watching the band play the carols back in the 1950s.
I remember those exciting days in the lead up to Christmas that were full of buzz and brought so many stories with them.
There were the men who came in during the afternoon on Christmas Eve after the pubs used to close at lunchtime. They would often be merry from lunchtime drinks and anxious to find something special for their wives before we closed. We would rush around helping them to choose a gift, wrap it for them and send them on their way into the night suitably adorned with our trademark green Gatward bag.
One year, I remember a gentleman with a little too much Christmas cheer who fell asleep at the serving counter when my Mum was helping him. We had to gently wake him up, help him to his feet and call a taxi!
From Ice Sculptures to Marriage Proposals
For a number of years, Gatwards became known for displaying ice sculptures inside the showroom. My mother recalls one of the Faberge eagle and another year when there was an Omega Watch embedded in the ice sculpture. Local children came to see the sculptures and we would hand out Christmas chocolates to them.
Ever the romantics at Gatwards, we have witnessed many marriage proposals on Christmas Eve inside the shop. I recall one gentleman even got down on bended knee to his blushing fiancée and proposed with the ring they had chosen. We were all so excited as we cracked open the champagne to celebrate with them.
Christmas in 2020
Christmas has definitely changed over the years and December is no longer the whirlwind it used to be. The arrival of online shopping and customers starting their Christmas shopping earlier each year has certainly spread things out so that we are never quite shoulder to shoulder in-store. Of course this year, we have to limit the number of customers in our shop anyway due to the pandemic.
Having been closed these past 4 weeks, we know the festive season will feel quite different again this year. What won’t change though is the very traditional Christmas feel inside the shop with the wonky floors and beams and all the Christmas lights. The fun and excitement will still be there as we will be busy doing what we do best and that is helping our customers choose the perfect gifts for their loved ones and helping those gentlemen who will be popping the question.
Hitchin will still feel Christmassey with the giant tree already standing proudly in the market square and the outdoor Christmas Markets taking place in the coming weeks.
Whatever you're doing this Christmas, we wish you a happy, healthy and joyful festive period. From all of the team here at Gatwards.