I believe memories of Christmas are deeply imbedded in most of us here in the good old USA. Sometimes I wonder if my kids will have the same kind of memories I do from Christmas. I don’t think so.
There was something really special about Christmas in America in the early-to-middle part of the 20th century. There is still plenty of Christmas cheer to go around, but it doesn’t mark the landscape quite the way it used to. Was it overly commercial, tacky, sappy? Maybe so, but that’s a matter of taste and opinion. Whatever it was, it was wonderful for a kid to see and experience. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.
Main Street Downtown
The song “Silver Bells” came from a Bob Hope movie called The Lemon Drop Kid. The movie is one of my favorites. I even blogged about it a year or two ago (psst…click the “Silver Bells” link above). The scene from the movie and the song itself both exult in the imagery of downtown America at Christmas time. It’s classic.
Below is a good photo of the way things used to be all over America. The day-time photo is from the 1950’s, but this kind of over-the-top decorating still dominated my boyhood in the 1970’s. I’m pretty sure they were still using the exact same decorations in the 1970’s that they used in the 1950’s. In fact, below is another photo – one of my hometown, Anaheim all done up for the holidays in 1971. Check it out!
Christmas Tree Lots
Christmas tree lots just ain’t what they used to be. At least not where I live. There are a few random Boy Scouts lots, but I can remember Christmas trees everywhere as a kid in Southern California. The grocery store would have a huge stand of trees under strings of lights (with big 60-watt white light bulbs) in the parking lot. The vacant lot on the corner had the same lights and the same huge stand of trees. Car lots, churches, hardware stores (before Home Depot) – all with Christmas trees! There was the wonderful smell of douglas firs, the white flocked trees, the pink flocked trees, and accompanying the sound of the Percy Faith Singers on the loudspeaker was the buzz of a chain saw and the sound of wood stands being hammered onto the stump-end of the trees. You know that tree-buying scene from A Christmas Story? That’s pretty much what I remember.
Last year, there was ONE Christmas tree lot similar to this in our town. I took my kids there so they could experience this at least once. It wasn’t quite the same. Here are some a familiar images – one real and one imaginary – for those who remember the old city Christmas tree lots. (P.S. I am well-aware Charles Schulz was taking a swipe at the commercialization of Christmas in his TV special. It’s still a great memory.)
Check out my nostaligic nod to this memory in my original oldtime radio play, O Christmas Tree!
Miscellaneous Christmas Junk
Who remembers the snow-in-a-can complete with stencil set? Nothing said “Christmas” in sunny California like fake frosted window panes.
Highly-Flammable Christmas Lights
Remember these colored Christmas tree lights? Boy, did these things get HOT! But the incredible warmth of the colors is unforgettable. Modern light bulbs feel a little too clean and bright. I prefer the old glow of these babies, which look incredible in the “squint test”! In typical retro fashion, even the BOX is cool!
Old Christmas Ornaments
Remember the satin-covered styrofoam ornaments? So chic. The satin strings would always begin to unravel, leaving bald spots and big knots of frayed satin.
How about the chirping bird ornament? It seemed so cool on the tree in the Christmas section at the craft store, but within a few minutes on the tree at home it was like a torture device. It’s still a classic…and I still have one. I turn it on each year for approximately one minute.
These made-in-Japan pixies/elves are a Christmas classic that appeared on our tree and all over the place at my Granny’s house…
Then there’s the all-time favorite “dancing Santa”. Whoever created this little guy must have made a bazillion dollars. The felt coating would rub off and gave you the creeps to touch it. We had one that actually lit up with one of those highly-flammable Christmas bulbs (see previous photo in this blog).
Nobody puts tinsel icicles on their trees anymore. I’m not even sure they sell this now. It was legendary for static-clinging to your jammies. Done right, I suppose it had its appeal, but back in the good old days nobody seemed to be able to resist the urge to throw gobs of this stuff on their trees. To wit…
Finally, angel hair. This wispy creation caught the light in really neat ways and looked really dreamy, but after sticking your hands in this stuff for a few minutes you realized your mistake. As the box below warns, angel hair is spun glass that leaves prickly shards in every square inch of your hands – just like home insulation. Ouch!