The next stop would be the Bon Ton department store to see Santa and tell him what you wanted for Christmas, which in reality was a recitation of everything you circled in the Sears Christmas Catalog. There you would receive a pin with a picture of Santa that read, “Meet me at the Bon Ton,” and a candy cane. I think I still have one of those tucked into the back of my jewelry drawer. These pins are not to be confused with the battery-operated Santa head pin that I proudly wore on my coat. You pulled the string, which had a jingle bell on the end, and Santa’s nose lit up. It was the BEST!
Our Christmas tree was usually an aluminum pom-pom tree which we covered in Shiny Bright ornaments. They came in every color imaginable and were so fragile that if you even breathed too heavily on them, they would break. Most were round and came decorated with words or scenes, but some were shaped like bells and others reflector tulips. No aluminum tree was complete without an electric color wheel. The wheel contained four colors, red, green, blue, and amber and spun to illuminate your tree in color. Some years we chose to have a real tree and of course covered it with spray snow and tinsel icicles (making cleanup afterwards a real challenge). No matter which tree we selected, one thing remained the same, the Lionel train that chugged around the tree on the platform dad made puffing real smoke.
Also, under the tree was mom’s collection of tiny cardboard houses with cellophane windows and doors (that I always poked out with my fingers, that is how I landed on the naughty list). They were covered with some sort of sandpapery type glitter and came in a variety of shapes and colors. Some were lit and the fancy ones had snowy roofs and others bristly trees.
Then there were the presents! A few special ones stick out from the rest, one of which was a princess doll. She was nearly 3 feet tall and wore a beautiful burgundy gown and a silver crown. She also had long blond hair (until I took scissors to it, once again, naughty list). My brother received a pair of wooden snow skis that my father ended up making into a sled after my brother nearly broke his neck on them. I also loved my metal doll house with rooms full of plastic furniture. I always wanted an Easy Bake Oven, but regretfully, never received one (which may have something to do with that whole naughty list thing).
Who can forget the cookies? Cans, and cans of cookies. Mom would freeze some just to be sure they lasted through Christmas. My grandmother always made potato candy, which consisted mostly of pure sugar mixed with mashed up potatoes, filled with peanut butter then rolled and sliced. She also had clear toy candy in a variety of fun shapes and colors, chocolate covered cherries, popcorn balls and oh, the fudge. I see a pattern developing here, we certainly loved our sugar.
Our church also played a major role in our holiday celebrations. We would practice for weeks for the Christmas program and waited with bated breath to find out who would get to play Mary and Joseph in the nativity scene. The Saturday before our performance there was always a party where each child received a small box of holiday candy and an orange.
As a congregation we always spent an evening Christmas caroling at the homes of our homebound church members. I remember watching the tears streaming down some of their faces as they sang along to their favorite carols. Even as a child, I realized just how important this simple act was to so many. Then it was back to the church for hot cocoa and cookies. Speaking of hot cocoa, do you remember the Santa face mugs? Cocoa always tasted better in a Santa mug!
I will finish by saying that I always looked forward to the Christmas specials on television. I cried when Frosty melted, I hid when the Abominable Snow Monster came out, felt sorry for Max as he pulled the Grinch’s huge sled, and was reminded of the true meaning of Christmas as I watched Charlie Brown and the gang.
The Christmas season truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Create those memories, begin those traditions. Use it as a time to pause and remember what is truly important in your life, all those things that money can’t buy and can’t be wrapped up with a bow.
Rhonda S. Kelley, Executive Director, Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce