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Friday, 25 December 2009

1940's Michigan Christmas Story

By Judy Watten

Dad cut down a spruce tree in our woods and brought it inside the week before Christmas. He put the lights on it and mom did the decorating.

Were we taught to believe in Santa Claus? In 1943, when I was almost six, I was with mom and dad when they were doing some Christmas shopping. On almost every corner there was a person dressed as Santa Claus. Some were ringing bells and some were just there to get the shoppers in a festive mood.

I remember that the second time we saw Santa, I asked mom, “How could that be Santa when we just saw him back there?”

She explained that he was the spirit of Christmas and not a real person. Giving presents on Christmas made Santas of everyone. That made sense to me and I didn’t ask about Santa again.

On Christmas Eve most years. we drove to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Grandma didn’t like a Christmas tree indoors so she decorated the living trees out in front of their house with lights. She set up an artificial fireplace in the living room with the heap of gifts in front of it.

I loved the way our family did Christmas. Everyone was dressed up and after dinner on Christmas Eve the festivities would begin.

We arranged ourselves in a circle and opened gifts according to our age — oldest first. Grandpa would open one of his whisky or cigar packages, then Grandma, then Dad, then Mom, then me and my little brother Jimmy. Then Grandpa again. All our packages would be opened long before Grandpa had opened all of his. Grandpa received dozens of gifts from the families on his rural mail delivery route.

After we opened our gifts, we played a horse racing game. There was a long strip of paper with flammable lines embedded in it, each one representing a horse. We would each pick a horse, bet a penny on it, then the ends would be touched with a lighted cigarette and the lines would begin to burn.

We’d cheer on our horses and of course, one line would burn to the end fastest and the rest would lose. I cried and cried one year when I didn’t win even once and lost all my pennies. What a stupid game that was.

The toys and games we received in the 1940s were all so different from today, nothing with batteries, nothing electronic. Most years I got a new cowgirl outfit and new cap pistols. Mom gave me a doll each year, hopefully, though knowing I would probably never play with it. Jimmy and I received a boomerang which we couldn’t use until springtime. We were never told it was a hunting weapon or that it came from Australia.

We liked jigsaw puzzles, yo-yos, tops, kaleidoscopes, Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, coloring books and connect-the-dot books. We blew iridescent bubbles.

One Christmas, Jimmy got a toy electric train. Dad would get down on the floor with us as we arranged and rearranged the tracks, sometimes in a big oval, sometimes in a figure eight. I was very fond of the electric smell of the transformer which lingered in the living room.

Since dad was a chemist, many of our gifts had a science connection. I often got a chemistry set and one year a set of minerals with a black light. I loved using that light to discover what materials would fluoresce.

One of my other favorite items was a glass prism. It was about six inches long and the triangular cross section dimensions were about two inches each. Jimmy and I spent hours walking around with it, bending and refracting light, making rainbows on walls and floors. Dad also gave us a gyroscope. We were fascinated because, in contrast to our toy tops, it could keep its balance while spinning, whether it was vertical or not.

I’d be very surprised if my grandchildren, John, Henry and Lucy, would have fun playing with many of my 1940s toys. Lucy, six, does play some of the same card games. John and Henry, 12 and 10, play chess and checkers. I have never won any chess games I’ve played with them.

And about Santa Claus. It amuses me to remember that though we didn’t believe in Santa Claus, we did have the Tooth Fairy.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I think life was was simpler we enjoyed each other and the gathering of the family it all made sense today it's so commercial I wonder how we got so far away from the real meaning of Christmas.

Lovely story..

Dorothy from grammology

Fun story about a time when some assembly may have been required but no batteries were needed to fuel the fun.

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