I wish you the most joyous of holidays as well as a healthy and happy 2020. During the coming year, we will continue to explore new and intriguing topics. But before we bid adieu to 2019, I would like to share with you some of my fondest holiday memories, which date back to my childhood, from the mid-1950s into the early sixties. Those holidays were so special that they remain firmly etched in my heart and mind.
To say things were simpler back then is an understatement. It’s important to keep in mind that the country had half the population it has today. I grew up in Ansonia, a small city in Connecticut. My sister and I were raised in the Roman Catholic tradition so Christmas was a very big deal in our household. My mother loved Christmas more than any other holiday and prided herself in transforming our home into a joyous celebration of the holiday. One of her favorite holiday knickknacks was a robust bust of Santa Claus which she displayed prominently on our living room wall the day after Thanksgiving.
For many of you who were born into a different generation, it must be hard to imagine a time which, by today’s standards, seems so technologically primitive. But not knowing what the future held for us, we didn’t mind it one bit. Back then, there were no cell phones, cable television, color television, iPads, computers, Internet, Facebook, credit cards, direct deposit, etc. However, the average family did enjoy the benefits of four “modern” devices that were cherished.
First and foremost was the family car. There were no seat belts and gasoline only cost 17 cents a gallon, but the cars were spacious and comfortable. The only discomfort occurred when we took a summer ride in our bathing suits and the plastic seat covers hadn’t cooled off yet. Ouch!
A second important innovation was the telephone. Unlike today’s version, it was rather large, the color was usually cast iron black and it was exceedingly heavy. We had to dial out to an operator to make a call. Sometimes, when you picked up the receiver, you heard your neighbor’s voice, which meant you had to wait until they were done to make your call. Despite this inconvenience, the telephone was the center of our social lives.
A third “essential” modern convenience was the radio. Many families would huddle around the radio in their living rooms on Sunday afternoons to listen to the likes of The Shadow or Fibber McGee and Molly and other favorites. This was our source of entertainment, news, information, weather reports, etc. Radio was clearly king until the fourth device started to appear in the mid to late 1950s.
The fourth device, as I am sure you guessed, was the television. Not every family could afford one, but if you could get your hands on one, it was magical. It was black and white, and required an antenna which was placed on top, which was referred to as ‘rabbit ears’. If you wanted to change the channel, you had to manually do so by turning a dial on the television itself. Luckily, there were very few stations to choose from, so you didn’t have to get up much. NBC, CBS and ABC were about the only channels in existence at that time. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Bonanza, Dragnet, Gunsmoke, Father Knows Best, and The Honeymooners were just some of the shows that won our hearts. Of course, at Christmas time, Perry Como and others would have their holiday specials, which always featured wonderful Christmas caroling.
Come December, the streets in Ansonia were adorned with festive garlands and lights, which stretched across their entire width. Each store would try to outdo the other in its festive displays, both visually and audibly. If you couldn’t afford to pay for a gift, you could sign a book and pay it off during the year. To help matters, banks got into the spirit as well. Remember, in those days, you received a paycheck every week (usually on Friday) and you had to go to the bank to deposit it. The banks had large holiday displays promoting “Christmas Clubs.” So, on your weekly sojourn to cash your check, they suggested you deposited $5 or $10 into an account. Then, around the first of December, the bank would hand you a check for your holiday shopping, which represented the savings you had accumulated all year round. My dad loved Christmas Clubs.
As the December days rolled by, the anticipation of the big day became unbearably palpable. To mark the passage of time, we would, each day, roll back a tab on our advent calendar. But, we didn’t need a calendar to remind us that the best day of the year was quickly approaching. Of course, I could never sleep on Christmas Eve. Cookies and milk had to be left out for Santa and his reindeer. I often wondered if deer drank milk but, at the time, it was a detail which was quickly overlooked. I awoke early on Christmas morning and would always find a stocking filled to the brim with trinkets, both useful and fun. After opening our stocking presents, my sister and I, dressed in our Sunday best, accompanied our mom and nana to mass to celebrate the meaning of the holiday. After what always seemed like the longest hour and a half, we quickly walked home. The entire family would gather around the tree to open presents. Of course, I remember some of the amazing presents I received back then: an erector set, a chemistry set, a microscope, a go-cart, an electric football game, board games of all kinds, etc. Looking back on these Christmases, however, I realize the feeling of love that permeated my entire family is what really made the holiday so special. Our love for each other was evident in everything we did on Christmas morning, and on every other day of the year. That’s the type of “present” I’ve never forgotten!
So, this holiday, I hope you are also surrounded by those whom you love because that is truly the most precious gift of all. Happy Holidays!