By Paul W. Barada
---- — Well, here we are right in the middle of the Holiday Season again! What a wonderful, busy, joyous time of year this is. Thanksgiving kicked things off. Now, everybody is getting ready for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. There are presents to buy, parties to attend, and, hopefully, time to spend with family and friends during this special season.
It’s also a time to reflect on the events of the year about to end. It’s also appropriate, I think, to take stock of all of life’s blessings and to reflect on the occasional sadness that comes everyone’s way. Personally, I find myself caught up in the golden memories of childhood Christmases when all of it was very real, exciting and magical.
Just now, for example, I recall the joy of going through the huge Sears catalogue in search of the toy section. I would circle the things I hoped to receive. Then I would write my letter to Santa Claus, listing the items from the catalogue I wanted. My aunts would make sure the letter was mailed, back in the days when a postage stamp was only three cents. Upon reflection, it’s obvious to me that my aunts ordered the toys I had picked right from the catalogue. Every once in a while some hoped for toy wouldn’t arrive by Christmas. My aunts would tell me that Kris Kringle had to have something to leave on New Year’s Eve. I was so naïve as a child that I was convinced that Santa and Kris Kringle were two different people!
So, the gift that didn’t arrive from Sears in time for Christmas usually made it before the end of the year – so Kris Kringle could deliver it on New Year’s Eve! Little did I realize that “Kris Kringle” was just another name for Santa Claus! The net result was just as much fun for me because it was like having Christmas twice – once on December 25th and once, on a smaller scale, on January 1st. Actually, it was a clever bit of deception by my aunts to cover up the erratic deliveries by Sears, and I didn’t really mind because I got presents twice!
We would also go to L.S. Ayres department store at the corner of Meridian and Washington Streets in Indianapolis during this time of year. All the display windows were full of toys and wonderful scenes with model trains running through little villages. Each window was different with a special display. Back in those days, Ayres had a wonderful toy department. They carried a wide selection of Briton’s toy soldiers – some of which I still have. The distressing part is the lead soldiers from the 1950s are now collector items which sell for many times more then they cost when I was a kid.
There was also always something special – almost magical – about Christmas Eve. We always read the famous poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” written by Clement Moore way back in 1823. As an adult I kept up that tradition with my own sons each Christmas until they were way too old to be entranced by the story – to put it in simple terms – until they were old enough to think that sitting around on Christmas Eve listening to Dad read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was really dumb, so I finally let it drop. (I’ll have to ask them if they read the poem to their own children on Christmas Eve.)
Putting up our Christmas tree is also a special memory. The tree always went in what my aunts called “the front parlor.” A parlor was a room, just in case you’re interested, where guests were entertained. The parlor was usually kept in pristine condition for just such occasions – not at all like a “living room” in the contemporary sense. There was also a bay window in “the parlor” where the Christmas tree was put up. Keep in mind that this was a big old Victorian house with ceilings twelve feet high, so it took a rather tall tree to look like if fit a room that size. I remember several Christmases when the tree in the parlor was decorated with strands of real popcorn and cranberries.
The tree also had strands of electric Christmas lights. This, however, was back in the day when, if one light went out, they all went out, which meant searching for that one bulb that had gone bad and replacing it so the strand would work again.
Long before my time, Christmas trees were decorated with little candle holders into which real candles were put and actually lighted! One can only wonder how many house fires there were when a flame came into contact with a dry evergreen bough. A Christmas tree illuminated with real candles must have been beautiful if one didn’t mind the risk of burning down the house!
Speaking of flames, the one thing we didn’t lack in the house where I grew up was fireplaces. The house was so old that just about every room had a working fireplace where coal fires were kept burning to warm the place. As a kid we had a coal fire in “the parlor” during the holiday season – just for looks. Of course the fire had to be out before I went to bed on Christmas Eve so Santa could get down the chimney after I was asleep. It was always difficult to go to sleep on Christmas Eve, but I can remember my aunts telling me that Santa wouldn’t come until I was asleep, so I tried very hard to sleep, but it wasn’t easy!
Waking up on Christmas morning had to be the best single moment of the entire year. In many respects it still is. I hope all of you keep some special memories of Christmases when all things were possible and dreams could still come true.
That’s –30—for this week.