Well, Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas season has finally begun. Have you got your tree up yet? Have you started your present shopping?? Have you found yourself reaching for the eggnog yet???
Even though I have been an occupant of this planet for over 50 years now, the Christmas season still remains as magical to me as it did when I was a child growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Jean Shepherd was wiser than he knew when he proclaimed in that classic yuletide movie A Christmas Story (1983) “Christmas was on its way. Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas around which the entire kid year revolved.” Amen! And it is still that way for adults too.
So as the turkey leftovers disappear and the meager Thanksgiving decorations come down (usually just a cornucopia on the dining room table), I find myself asking how did I know that the Christmas season was finally here back when I was a kid?
Here are my top 10 indicators that Christmas was on its way:
10. Thanksgiving night usually featured the annual showing of Miracle on 34th Street (1947) the story of how one year Kris Kringle became the Macy’s Santa Claus. It was the perfect holiday transition movie because its story began on Thanksgiving morning and ended on Christmas day. Edmund Gwinn is perfect in his Oscar-winning role and was there ever a more realistic movie child on screen than Natalie Wood’s Susan Walker, just the right blend of child-like hope and real life cynicism. Her mantra (“I believe. I believe. It’s silly but I believe.”) has proved very useful over the years. And there was just enough holiday magic thrown in to get you to believe.
9. My family started listening to holiday music on our stereo. Out came the special albums played that one month of the year, collections like Columbia Records’ The Great Songs of Christmas and Christmas With Clark (available at your local Clark gas station when you filled up your tank!) featuring “Don Janse and his 60 voice children’s chorus.”
But the first collection we always listened to was our 8-track tape of Christmas songs recorded off the radio and the first song on that tape was Perry Como’s “There Is No Christmas Like a Home Christmas”.
8. The Wish Book catalogs from Sears and JC Penney arrived in the mail! My sisters and I took turns leafing through its pages (forget those stupid clothes sections!) and going crazy at all the toys available. We would dutifully write our names beside each item we wanted. In later years, Mom asked that we institute a star system to indicate what we MOST wanted that year.
7. My elementary school teachers started hanging up classroom decorations. They included cardboard cutouts of Santa Claus and Nativity scenes. Some even erected small Christmas trees in the corner of the classroom. And we drew names out of the hat to see which student we would get a Secret Santa gift for. But the decorations I enjoyed the most were these:
6. Companies would start airing Christmas themed commercials both on TV and on the radio. Back in the 1970s when we lived in Weirton, West Virginia, there was a local furniture store named Heslop’s.. One year, their holiday jingle was “Deck the halls with furniture from Heslop’s. Fa-lalalala La la la la.” My father would sing it for years after every time the season began. I guess it just stuck in my brain.
5. Mom would apply Glass Wax Christmas stencils to our front windows. Was there anything more festive????
4. Celebrity Christmas specials began airing on TV. It seemed like anybody who was anybody had a Christmas special back then. Even Bob Hope had a regular special entertaining the troops in Vietnam. For me, it seemed the best ones were the ones hosted by Bing Crosby and Perry Como. Nothing could get me into the spirit of the season faster than Bing Crosby crooning “White Christmas”. And there was nothing like Perry Como singing “Ava Maria”.
3. Mom started making holiday cookies and holiday snacks. My favorites were the Spritz cookies and the meatballs in grape jelly.
2. Animated holiday specials began showing on TV. I am glad to have grown up in the heyday of the animated Christmas special. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty the Snowman (1969), Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970) all debuted before I was ten. But the Holy Grail of specials for me was and remains Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). That’s a lot of my childhood up there on the screen in that special (without the red nose and the ability to fly). In my dark days of school bullying and peer ostracizing, it was Rudolph who gave me hope that better days lay ahead. And it is a message I carry with me to this day.
1. We finished decorating our Christmas tree by putting our nativity set under the tree. We were one of those families that used the Thanksgiving holiday to get a jumpstart on Christmas decorating. We had used an artificial tree since the mid-1960s so putting it up early was a no brainer. And the final touch was placing the red skirt around the tree and placing the nativity scene at the base (pictured below)
I would then sit under the tree, stare up at the lights and decorations, listen to the music of the season and anticipate with a smile the magic that lay ahead.
So what did YOU do as a child to get the holiday season started? What traditions helped you get into the holiday mood?