A Christmas from The Past

As a child growing up in the 50s and 60s, Christmastime wasn’t just about Santa coming down the chimney with a sackful of gifts but a culmination of excitement waiting for Christmas. Looking back, it wasn’t so much Christmas day that I remember, but the anticipation leading up to that day.

It started around Thanksgiving evening or the day after when dad would bring down the Christmas ornaments and decorations from the attic. Over the next several days, we would start decorating the house. There was Santa Claus, his hand raised in greeting, lit in the front window. Pine boughs and stockings hung from the fireplace mantle, and a Poinsettia or two bought at Kresge’s would be placed around the house. A wreath hung on the outside front door adorned with a big red bow. Dad would take us to get a tree the following weekend, and that’s when the house started to come alive with Christmas. Christmas music played in the background, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Nat King Cole, with mom singing along, while lights were frustratingly untangled and hung on the tree. They weren’t the tiny miniature lights seen now but the bigger ones that were common back then. Dad would no more than get the lights on the tree when finding one or more of the bulbs burned out. It seemed like he changed a lot of bulbs back then. One year at Garfield School, my classmates and I made red and green paper chains from construction paper to bring home to hang on our family’s trees. I remember hanging mine, but it wasn’t long enough to fit around the whole tree, but it looked pretty special, all the same.

One year mom wanted to string popcorn and cranberries. I was super excited about it until five minutes into stringing popcorn and berries with needle and thread and not making much progress, I realized it wasn’t the fun time I had anticipated. We also hung tinsel, and at the end of decorating, I remember dad lifting me on his shoulders so I could put the star on top. It always seemed to lean to one side, though.

What I remember most was the closeness I felt to everyone around me. Mom would bake and get boxes ready to ship to my older brothers, who lived away from home. She’d pack cookies, fudge, divinity, and date nut bars in a box. She wrapped the outside of the box in brown paper cut from a grocery bag and tied each box with string. Then Dad would take the boxes to the post office to be mailed.

Dad was also in the kitchen making his famous Chex mix. I’m not sure how he made it taste so much better than any other I have had since, but it was the most delicious Chex mix ever. My dad, the head baker at Karmelkorn Bakery, would surprise us with a cookie or two in the shape of snowmen, stars, and Santa himself. But my favorite cookie of all time that my dad made was his well-known butter cookies. They were piped into little stars and sprinkled with red and green sugar. The cookies crumbled in my mouth, and to this day, I have never forgotten that taste.

Both sets of grandparents would stop by and share the beauty and anticipation of the season. Mom always had fruitcake in the house, not the dry fruitcake bought in a box at the store, but the homemade kind that was very moist and made with mom’s loving hands. It was one more of those delicious memories that my taste buds have never forgotten. My dad, who loved eggnog, was in charge of making that. It was homemade, and on nights when visitors happened by, he would make enough to fill a punch bowl with the cups hanging off the side of the bowl, waiting for the next visitor who rang the doorbell.

In the weeks before Christmas, there was the children’s program at church to prepare for, presents to wrap and hide, and arrange around the tree. Secrets were whispered into ears and sometimes spread from one family member to the next.

Mom and dad never went overboard with gift-giving. Many of our gifts were things we needed, such as clothes and shoes, but there was always something that we wanted too. One of the things I loved most was shopping for presents. I remember walking up Ashmun Street holding hands with my mom, dad, and baby sister. During the Christmas season, the stores downtown stayed open late on certain nights. As we walked toward Scott’s and Kresge’s, I was in awe of the enormous Christmas tree in the middle of Ashmun Street and the corner of Spruce. It was beautiful. In the quiet of the evening, with our breath showing in the frigid air and our boots crunching on the sidewalk, I knew then that I would remember that night for the rest of my life.

Once we got inside a store, we split up. Sometimes I was with my mom, and later, I was with my dad. That way, we could shop without the others knowing what they were getting. When I was with my mom, we headed to the men’s aisle where the aftershave was. I remember seeing a lot of commercials on television at that time for Old Spice products. In one ad, I remember a jolly Santa Claus putting Old Spice under the tree showing a happy dad on Christmas morning. That’s what I bought my dad, Old Spice, not the aftershave, but soap-on-a-rope.

When it came time to shop with my dad, we would head to the women’s perfume aisle, where I looked at perfume for my mom called Evening in Paris. I loved the way it smelled. I wanted to get her the big bottle until I read the label. It said Eau de Toilette. I wasn’t about to give my mom something that said toilette, so I found an itty bitty bottle that said Eau de Perfume instead. It cost more, and there wasn’t much in it, but I wasn’t about to give my mom the other one. That wouldn’t have been nice. Dad and I eventually ventured over to the book aisle. My dad loved to read. They had these books called Big Little Books back then, and after looking them over carefully, I chose one for my little sister that I could read to her.

The night before Christmas, mom and dad filled our stockings after we went to bed. Christmas morning, a deep Ho Ho Ho came from downstairs. Jumping out of bed and running downstairs, we found the tree lit and mom and dad smiling at our excitement. We checked our stockings and opened presents while laughter filled the air.

Those were such happy times. Spending time with others and family during the Christmas season is something to be cherished. Mom and dad made sure that we knew the reason for Christmas. It was about celebrating the birth of Jesus. It wasn’t about receiving gifts but giving gifts to others. Many people don’t know the story of Jesus, and I find that heartbreakingly sad. For without the birth of Christ, there would be no Christmas to celebrate. He has given us His most precious gift, promising eternal life to all who believe and follow Him.

Merry Christmas!

Written by: Laurie Davis

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