Christmas past, present, future a time of hope
As we look forward to heading west and spending Christmas with our children and grandchildren, our thoughts return to memories of eight decades of “Christmas Past.” The common themes running through them are family, fellowship and optimism about the future.
Memories of the holidays in the 1940s begin with a trip into the city on a Saturday morning with our mother to see the decorated windows at the department stores and to visit Toyland in each of them. First Horne’s, then Gimbel’s, then Frank and Seder’s, and finally Kaufmann’s. Sandwiched in between were stops at the Five and Ten’s on Fifth Avenue.
The Bridgeville Community Carol Festival was another special event, with choirs from each of the churches parading through “downtown” before meeting in front of the grade school where everyone joined in singing the old familiar songs. The climax each year was Dr. Pigossi coming out on the balcony of the school and belting out “Ave Maria.”
Christmas Eve services at Bethany Church were always memorable, even the year I was drafted to depict one of the wise men in a pageant. I looked the part thanks to a fine costume, acted the part well as I paraded down the aisle to the altar, and then destroyed the illusion by trying to sing “Myrrh I bring, its bitter perfume, etc.”
Joe and I had a special Christmas Eve privilege — we were allowed to open presents that had arrived by mail. My father’s brother, Joe, and sister, Ethel, were surrogates; they served as the paternal grandparents we never had. Their gifts were always thoughtful and appropriate.
Like all children, we could never wait for Christmas morning to come. We would creep downstairs at the first sign of daylight, then wait patiently for our parents to awake and join us. Our tree always sat in the corner of the living room, by the stairs to the second floor, gaily decorated with ornaments from both of our parents’ families.
We never had a train under our Christmas tree. Like all model railroading buffs, we had a semi-permanent setup in the basement, a figure-eight platform our father had fabricated. My train, which still runs well, was of 1937 vintage, consisting of a locomotive, tender, dump car, lumber car and caboose.
Christmas afternoon was dedicated to visiting our friends in the neighborhood and admiring their trees. A favorite destination was the home of Amos and Gary Jones; their parents always set the neighborhood standard for tree and train layout. Another mecca was Rothermunds. Bob, Dick and Ron were avid board gamers; it was fun to check out their newest acquisitions.
One wonders if Christmas 70 years ago really was that special or if we have encouraged selective memory to erase all of its less-than-perfect aspects. It certainly seems to have been the “kinder, gentler era” that President George H. W. Bush remembered decades later.
It is appropriate that the eternal promise inherent in the birth of the Christ child be celebrated each year. Regardless of one’s religious persuasion, the Christmas story is the ultimate expression of optimism. Through the Great Depression, World War II and all the upheavals that have followed, we have always managed to find hope for the future each Christmas season. This year is no exception.
John F. Oyler is a contributing writer. You can reach him at 412-343-1652 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more from him at mywutb.blogspot.com.