Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Memories of Christmas Past
We whose childhood spanned the 1940s were truly blessed. Yes, our nation was at war for half of the decade, but we were united in hope and ultimately, in victory. Life was slower, families were closer, neighborhoods were safe, and Merry Christmas was the wish on everyone's lips.
Politically correct was unheard - a nativity scene graced every town hall, Christmas carols played on every radio station, schools held Christmas concerts and closed two weeks for Christmas vacation.
My sister and I never made the school choir but at home we spent hours singing Christmas Carols, our lack of talent made up for by enthusiasm and volume. We sang our favorites, Away in a Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem and Hark the Herald Angels Sing over and over, standing in front of the register from the coal furnace until our legs nearly cooked.
In the 40s every Christmas tree was freshly cut or potted and the pungent smell of evergreen filled homes for days. In 1946 England introduced bubble lights to the U.S. adding motion to our family Christmas tree. The multicolored lights, shiny ornaments and tinsel transformed our living room into a Christmas wonderland.
The eagerly awaited toy catalogs from Sears, Montgomery Ward and Spiegel arrived and grew dog eared in no time as we made our lists. We'd never get all that stuff, but we had fun dreaming about it. We might receive a doll, games and books, but always necessities like socks, mittens, and pajamas. We appreciated every gift and displayed them proudly beneath the tree until it came down on New Year's Day.
Later in the day we'd go to my maternal grandmother's for our second Christmas with aunts, uncles and cousins. Another tree, more gifts, and more fun followed as we played the latest games - I remember Sorry one year and Clue another. Christmas dinner with all the trimmings topped off every wonderful Christmas day.
My tenth Christmas is my most memorable. I received a huge box containing many smaller boxes all wrapped and nested inside each other. Finally I found a wrist watch in the smallest box, a special gift from my father, totally unexpected and a sign I was growing up.
Looking back, it seems the commercialization of Christmas began innocently enough with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Created by Montgomery Ward in 1939 as a Christmas giveaway book, Rudolph grew bigger than life with six million copies distributed by 1946. Ward's catalog soon featured several pages of Rudolph gift items and marketing based on a children's character was born.
The economic boom that followed World War II forever changed Christmas and our lives. At last the desires of the depression came true - a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. The pace of life picked up as we had places to go and money to take us. The simplicity of life in the 40s was no more.
Technology lurked in the form of television. In 1949 my family acquired a 10 inch black and white TV. Playing games, reading aloud, and listening to the radio ended - now after dinner everyone lined up in front of the flickering tube to be entertained by Uncle Miltie, Captain Video and lots of commercials.
Am I becoming maudlin? Yes, I guess so. Today, it's easy to long for what used to be as my children live hundreds of miles away and I contemplate my fourth Christmas alone. I've trimmed my little artificial tree and will celebrate reason for the season, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, God's gift to all mankind. May your Christmas be blessed and your new year full of promise.
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23 January 2011