No other holiday carries with it the number of traditions that Christmas does. We have national and regional traditions and most families have traditions unique to them. We usually had Christmas at my aunt’s home and my aunt was wild about Christmas. She began shopping in mid-summer and preparing certain dishes far in advance.
She had a “secret” recipe for soft sourdough iced sugar cookies with sugar sprinkles and I have never had better. She also made a walnut bundt cake that contained finely ground walnuts and mayonnaise. She covered it with a nice chocolate icing and placed it in the freezer for several months. It was my absolute favorite Christmas food and unfortunately, she took the recipe with her when she passed.
Aunt Kate always had a big tree with a mountain of wrapped presents around its base. We kids would lie on the rug in front of that tree for hours looking at those packages with our names on them and trying to imagine what would be found inside.
These were the days before Toys”R”Us and huge toy sections of stores like Walmart. In Greenfield we had several small stores that sold toys. The ones I remember most are Ashling’s Hardware who seemed to specialize in sporting equipment and bicycles. My first real bike, a Roadmaster 26″ single-speed with genuine Bendix coaster brake and a horn inside the tank, came from Ashling’s as did my Hutch plastic football helmet with a clear plexiglass mouth guard. High cotton, I was! I was still running paper routes with that bike in high school.
Ashling’s is also where my parents got my first Daisy Pump BB gun. I obviously didn’t make myself clear since I really had my heart set on a Daisy Red Ryder lever-action. Red Ryder was a radio and TV show that featured Wild Bill Elliott and Robert Blake in the role of Little Beaver. Regardless of the Daisy model I was able to almost immediately get in trouble by shooting a hole in the Pure Oil delivery truck’s windshield when the driver, Mr. Charles, passed our house. Wasn’t any time before the police paid a visit and absconded with my new gun for a few weeks. Must have worked since I didn’t shoot at any more motorized vehicles after getting it back.
Hamilton Electric was the other toy seller I recall. Hamilton had an upstairs loft in their store and at Christmas this area was converted into a genuine toy store where Santa Claus made an annual appearance. I don’t know if my parents ever bought toys at Hamilton but going there to ogle and see Santa was a huge tradition.
The tradition that was probably the most important to me was the arrival of the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Catalog, the Wishbook. Before TV this is where kids all over America found out what toys were hot. I don’t exactly know where I acquired my reading skills but much came from slowly perusing every word of the Wishbook’s toy section and then doing it all over again. There wasn’t a day between the book’s arrival and Christmas that I didn’t spend some time reading, hoping, and praying that Santa would make my dreams come true.
I haven’t a clue about today’s toy world and where today’s children find their dreams, Sears stopped publishing their 300 plus page Christmas Catalog years ago. What I do know is that the choices and availability are endless these days and the task of deciding what one wants from Santa is far more complex then ever. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.