People may have had less, but Christmas in days gone by was about more than just buying presents, according to Times Group historians PERCY REBOUL and JOHN HEATHFIELD

If, like Scrooge in Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol, we were forced to look at Christmases past, we would see that a number were celebrated in less fortunate times: notably Christmas 1918.

The First World War, one of the most terrible in world history, had ended in the 11th hour of the 11th month of that year.

"We have fought tyranny for ever," said David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of the day. Some six weeks later, it was Christmas. There was scarcely a home that had not known someone who had been killed or injured in the conflict. The mood was more sombre than celebratory.

In those times, Christmas was still viewed as a religious festival and was very traditional. The local newspaper said: "The reappearance of waits street carol singers is reminiscent of pre-war times, but it will be generally agreed that the quality of carol singing is not what it was before the war. We do not refer to the juveniles who go around murdering old world carols or modern popular songs, but the properly organised singers. Where are the violins and cornets and portable harmoniums? Still, it is pleasant once more to hear familiar melodies warbled round the streets."

Charity, not commerce, was the order of the day. Alderman Syrett made an appeal for money for the Blinded Soldiers' Children's Fund, which raised more than £1,000. The Finchley Voluntary Nurses Fund also appealed for money because it was nearly bankrupt. Again, more than £1,000 was raised. The Middlesex Prisoners of War Fund helped those who had suffered financially during the war.

The relatives of Lance Corp James Weir, of Etchingham Park, Finchley, who was in the Middlesex Regiment, were told on Christmas morning that he had been killed on October 16. Henry Holden, of Lodge Lane, Finchley, had been killed on November 4, just one week before the war ended.

For some local families, the news was much happier, William Laurie was released from a German POW camp. He said he had been well treated and had received Red Cross parcels. Privates Mantel and Broughton, captured on the Somme in 1916, were also returned.

Today, local shops and supermarkets provide almost any fruit, vegetable or flower all the year round. Then, much of the produce was seasonal and home-grown. At Christmas, however, all the stops were pulled out.

Harvey & Shillingford, grocers, advertised ginger from China, figs from Turkey, grapes from Spain, plums from France, nearly up to pre-war standard'. J Salmon & Son had British wines for 2s 3d a bottle (11p), a large tin of biscuits for 10d (4p) and 12oz tins of tongue for 2s 8d (14p).

Messrs Hall & Co, drapers, were open until 7pm on Christmas Eve and reopened on Boxing Day morning. The staff of Priors store worked on Christmas Day preparing for their Boxing Day sale. Symons Pianos at Tally Ho Corner was selling a Broadwood short grand piano for 30 guineas and a cabinet upright piano for 11 guineas.