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How Christmas used to be

by Larry Patrick

   It has been said that the majority of people living in the U.S. today are too young to remember such things as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King or even the death of Elvis Presley.  That also means many of you don’t know what Christmas used to be like except for maybe old movies, but even they don’t tell the entire story.

    Not everything that happened during the holiday season was always better.  Believe it or not, before the days of Wal-Mart, Target, K-mart and the rest of the big box stores, retailing was “very” different.  First of all, the stores didn’t put out Christmas decorations at Halloween.  Everything seemed to kick off the day after Thanksgiving.  Many of us would be glued to the TV on Thanksgiving Day to watch the Macy’s parade and wait to see Santa at the end.  The three or four networks all carried parades.  Today, those parades have to compete with 200 channels of other programming.  Very few, if any, stores were open on Thanksgiving Day or Sundays.  The great thing for retailers was the fact that everything from late November to Christmas was mostly sold at “full” price.  It was the day “after” Christmas that retailers began slashing their prices.  Few of us had any money left by then.  Today, the sales begin at Halloween and it gets harder for small retailers to make a profit against the big box stores.  However, it is a boon for consumers.

    One of the big treats for most kids was the delivery by mail of the Montgomery Ward, Sears, J.C. Penny or Alden’s Christmas catalogue to your house.  It was an anticipated event.  They were chock full of toys, games, dolls and even live Shetland ponies.  I always wanted one to go along with a cowboy outfit and guns and holster sets, but living in apartments most of my time growing up meant I never got the pony.   My sister and I could sit on the couch and browse for hours and days looking at all of the things we’d like to have.  The catalogue companies probably made parents very happy by keeping their kids entertained for hours.  That’s right, we didn’t have video games back then.

    In the 40’s, 50’s and most of the 60’s, people who didn’t have a lot of money would layaway their purchases until they were paid up.  That’s right, no credit cards.  We had to have patience or cash.  Mom would layaway winter coats in the fall and pay a few dollars a week to the retailer, who held them in their backroom until they were paid in full.  Families often did that with Christmas gifts and many other things they needed during the year.

    While it is probably the same for kids today, it seemed like the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was an eternity. “How many days until Santa comes” was probably the most asked question of mom and dad. 

    People older than me can recall when Christmas might have consisted of an apple or orange in a stocking, if they were lucky.  Being one of the baby boomers after WWII, parents strived to give their children more and most succeeded.  The holiday movie, “The Christmas Story,” is often played on TV today.  It best reflects much of what Christmas was like in those days.

    Today, as adults, we ask ourselves, “Where does the time go?”   We can’t seem to get everything done in the month or so that we have.   Maybe that’s why we need to take a deep breath, sit around a fire and look at the glimmering tree and lights while cracking walnuts or having a cup of hot cocoa with family or friends.  Let’s count our blessings and reflect on the real meaning of the season.  Smile and enjoy it because the season ends all too soon.