Christmas 50’s Style
The 1950s were a simpler time. TV was black and white, channels were limited, usually only three, there was no cable TV, computers were the size of small houses, and telephones were hard wired into the house. Christmas sixty years ago was very different from what we experience in the 21st Century.
Artificial trees were rare, the few that were around were shiny aluminum; some were lit with a spotlight that had rotating colored lenses. It was not out of the ordinary for a family to go to the “woods” and cut their own tree. Many houses had the smell of a freshly cut pine tree for weeks. If a family going to the woods came across a suitable cedar tree, they thought they had found a treasure. As time went by the fresh green tree would begin to change color and by the time, often New Year’s Day, that the tree was taken down the needles would often be a shiny brown.
Lights for the tree were about the size of an adult’s thumb. LED lights were not on the inventor’s list yet. On most of the strings of lights if one burned out, each light on the string would have to be checked because one light burning out killed the whole string. If two or three strings were plugged together, the problem was compounded. It could often take as long as an hour to check the string of lights, find the burned out bulb and replace it. One of the popular things to put on a tree were the little strings of shiny soft aluminum called “icicles”. The soft strings were often placed carefully on the tree at first, making a nice pattern, then as those applying the icicles got tired or bored, they were often tossed on by the handful, landing in clumps. Those falling on the floor were not easy to pick up or sweep up. Often on the Fourth of July the odd icicle could be found on a rug or in a corner.
Lots of trees were decorated with chains made from strips of colored construction paper glued together in rings to make the paper chains. Usual colors were red, blue and green. Another decoration was often popped corn put on a string with a big needle to make another “rope” decoration. By the time the tree was taken down the formerly crunchy popcorn had a rubber like texture.
Children often spent the weeks before Christmas lying on the floor pouring over the toy pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog. Dolls were popular with the girls and cowboy things for the boys. Mothers would look at “house stuff” and daddies found a new tool they could not live without. A nice neat catalog in October was usually a mess of frayed pages by December 26. The closer to Christmas, the more frantic the competition over the use of the single catalog became. Most towns has no shopping malls, it was a matter of “going to town”, fighting for parking places and putting nickels in parking meters. Picking gifts from the catalog gave those having to do the “town shopping” an idea of what to buy and simplified the shopping that had to be done. The catalog was often called “The Wish Book.”
Those doing the cooking would read the old family recipes and make a list of what was needed from the grocery store. Cans of cranberry sauce, pumpkin, and mince meat would be stockpiled in the cupboards, or anyplace available in the kitchens. Deep freezes were not all that common, turkeys were often bought fresh. If frozen turkeys were available the amount of defrosting needed was carefully calculated so that the thawing and cooking could be done as simply as possible for the cook. Ideally the sugar and flour needed for the Christmas baking had been found on sale and bought early. Pie crusts were mixed by hand and used as soon as possible after being made. The thought of frozen food at Christmas was unimaginable to the moms in aprons with hand mixers and rolling pins. Pans of cornbread would be baked days early to use in the dressing to go with the Christmas turkey.
Stockings were usually the red mesh net type, hardly seen now. Christmas was the time that the kids and often the adults received fruits and nuts that were not always available any other time of the year. The stockings were stuffed with oranges, apples, hazel nuts, brazil nuts, almonds, pecans, and peppermint candy canes. One of the favorite candy treats was the ribbon candy. It was a wide candy ribbon white, green, or red that was rolled out flat and then pushed together to make a “scrunched up” ribbon. When that appeared in the stores, it meant that Christmas was near. It said “Christmas is here” like nothing else at the time.
Christmas was the time when the nuts were in large quantities in the stores. The nutcrackers and picks would come out of storage and the kids would lay on the floor with a bowl of assorted nuts in front of the black and white three channel TV and watch Milton Berle, I Love Lucy, Mr. Peepers, and on Sunday nights, the Ed Sullivan Show while they took turns cracking and eating the nutty treats. The apples and oranges were usually made to last a while. The candy canes usually were the first to go.
Christmas morning was the time that the presents were opened. Those from Santa Claus were attacked with gusto and the colored papers ripped off and piled up on the floor. The fifties were the times that boys and girls, also, watched Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gene Autry, Rin Tin Tin, and Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. Presents from Santa reflected those favorite movie and TV stars of both boys and girls. In those years girls, almost as often as boys, were seen wearing the genuine imitation Davy Crockett coonskin cap, complete with tail. Other presents might be new clothes for the kids and something for the kitchen for mothers, anything from a necktie to a fishing rod and reel for daddies. There were “electric” appliances, but very few “electronic” items.
At the end of Christmas Day, at midnight, the National Anthem played on the TV, the Indian Chief “test pattern” came on and Christmas was over for another year.