Published Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Guest Column: Christmas in the 1940s


Special to The Newnan Times-Herald

The first sign of Christmas for us back in the 1940s was the arrival of the Sears Roebuck Catalog. This exciting book arrived sometime in the late fall, and we all fought over who would get to look at it first.

It contained everything a heart could desire, and oh my, the toys! We called it the Wish Book, and we turned down the pages that displayed our “Want” lists. It was the only catalog to arrive at our home, and each one of us in the family would spend hours just turning the pages and wishing and wanting.

The Monday after Thanksgiving when we returned to school, we began practicing the Christmas Pageant, and we couldn’t wait to see who would be Joseph, Mary, a shepherd, a wise man or an angel. When we were assigned our parts, we couldn’t wait to get home to tell our families what part we had and to get started on our costumes for the big event.

Our teachers were so patient with us during those exciting weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they did their best to try to teach reading, writing and arithmetic to us children as our attention had been turned toward the excitement of Christmas.

Mother started right after Thanksgiving preparing to bake the fruitcake. This was as much a part of Christmas as anything, and I marveled at her time and effort in cutting up all the different kinds of fruits, picking out the pecans which she and Daddy had gathered from the trees in front of our home, and then putting it all together so that it could be “soaked” with “spirits” weeks before we ate it at Christmas. I can still smell that heavenly aroma coming from the kitchen when that cake was baking.

Then, I watched as she hand grated fresh coconut for that mouth-watering coconut cake which was also a part of our Christmas.

When I look back on the time my mother spent in the kitchen preparing these delectable items, I wonder how her poor legs and back held out along with doing all the other household jobs that she did for us.

In the early 1940s, we were still experiencing the aftermath of World War II, and money was very tight. My favorite memory of those years is not what I got on Christmas morning, but going with Daddy out into the woods on my uncle’s little farm to find the perfect Christmas tree. We walked and walked until we could find a cedar tree that we thought would be just right for our small living room.

Daddy took his saw and cut the tree down, and we walked the long way back to put it in the trunk of the car. I would be so excited I could hardly stand it. I couldn’t wait to get home and help decorate it. Daddy would put it on a wooden stand which he nailed together, and Mother would spread an old sheet around the bottom.

Then came the lights — all different colors. We had some glossy glass balls, some plastic icicles, the silver icicles and some treasures we had made at school to adorn the tree. And right on top, Daddy put the Angel. When he plugged in the lights, it was pure magic. I remember sitting in the living room hours on end just looking at that beautiful tree.

During those years, the only decorations I remember were the wreaths on the front doors which were made of greenery gathered from the yards. The berries were either holly or nandina. There was such a warm feeling when you walked or rode by a house and saw that beautiful Christmas tree proudly standing in the front window all aglow with the colored lights. There were no white lights at all, just the colored lights, and when one went out, the whole strand would go. Then, I remember Daddy having to take each bulb and test it to see which one was the culprit. You always had to have extra bulbs on hand.

In remembering those years as a child, I so well remember going to Kessler’s (where Golden’s is now) and going up the stairs to the toy department.

What a thrill! Bicycles, train sets, dolls, doll carriages, little stove sets, tea sets, toy guns, a child’s paradise.

Of course, during the war, there were no new bicycles, but if you were fortunate enough, Santa Claus might bring you a used one which had been refurbished. The men in the fire department spent their spare time reconditioning toys for us so that we would have our Christmas wish granted.

F.W. Woolworth was on the other corner, and I always bought Mother an “Evening in Paris” bottle of perfume and bath powder. Every Saturday, Santa Claus stood in front of Kessler’s ringing his bell and talking to the children as they came up the street.

Christmas morning could not get there soon enough for us. In those days, we expected very little, so whatever we got, we were elated. Our stockings sometimes had a tangerine (which was a real treat), some candy and some firecrackers. We would rush outside on Christmas morning to shoot the firecrackers, light the sparklers, and set off the Roman candles.

If we got a bicycle or a tricycle, we couldn’t wait to try it out. And, then, we just had to tell our friends what Santa had brought.

Money was tight in the 1940s, but Christmas was truly meaningful. We loved the choirs singing the carols in the church. We loved going Christmas caroling in the neighborhood. We loved opening Christmas cards and reading them. We loved being with our families and our friends.

I am certain that my Mother was stressed as mothers are today, but I never heard her complain. I never heard her once say she would be glad when it was all over. Christmas in the 1940s, as I remember it, was a very special time for me, and I will always remember how simple and plain life was then.

My prayer this Christmas is that every little child will be remembered and can know the true joy of Christmas.

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