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December 3, 2013

Christmas, Santa and Toys

Harry M. Covert

Childhood days make the Christmas season the happiest times in most lives. In this particular case Christmas trees were the real thing, artificial trees had never reached my family and it was usually on Christmas Eve that most families brought in felled cedars and spruces.


Firemen, policemen, service clubs and churches had the lots. It never occurred to children that the delay for most households was simple; tree prices were slashed in half.


There was no such thing as Black Fridays. Department stores and downtown shops were open on the day after Thanksgiving and it was a delight to window shop and browse in and out and see the toys, candies and other assorted things available.


Greeting cards abounded with such words as Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings. Few and far between were words like "Happy Xmas." Cards with only "City" inscribed were mailed with three-cent stamps to names and addresses.


The mailman in the neighborhood knew the people closely on his route because he saw them twice daily, usually by 10 o'clock in the morning and no later than 3 o'clock in the afternoon.


During the season of joy and pleasantries, it was not an unusual site for the mailman to be refreshed on door stops and front porches with eggnog, cookies, pound cake and fruit cake. Neighborhood youngsters often took advantage of the sweets at the Gaskins, Jones and Goodson houses. Mince meat pies and fruit cakes were delightful.


Up and down the neighborhoods and downtown, midway through December, schools closed until after New Year's Day for Christmas, not for a winter celebration. Christmas was Christmas period. Candies of all sorts were available.


Every child was anxious during this happy time. Each store, the big ones then like Sears Roebuck & Co., Nachman's, Leggett, Kresge's and Woolworth were prepared. Lots of part-time workers where bicycles, little red wagons, 8mm film projectors, cowboys and Indian cap guns and bows, lots of clothes – school clothes – and fountain pens and watches.


Christmas decorations were beautiful everywhere. Every home tree had special colors, angels perched on the top of trees, and every window had various lighted "candles."


As shopping days passed (slowly for youngsters), Christmas Eve finally arrived. Carolers of all ages dressed with corsages and scarves, their nightly strong voices filled the air. Inside every home on my block families were busy wrapping presents. Most of the time tree decorating was left to Santa Claus.


How to sleep with such youthful excitement? This was difficult at best, especially after watching the "The Night Before Christmas" display in a downtown showroom and devouring numerous peppermint candy canes.


Going to sleep counting the minutes before getting up, imagination leaped into the bedroom thinking we had heard Santa's arrival. Since there was no fireplace, he was surely coming in the front door.


The hour came. At 2:30 in the morning, quietly slipping down the stairs, sleepy eyes met a bicycle, a projector with old-time Castle films and a change carrier. It wasn't long before the parents heard the commotion.


Many years later the parents admitted going to bed only moments earlier. They didn’t have a "long winter's nap."


Every December 25 since those happy moments, that morning still resonates. Not one gift was ever returned to a store, especially the bike, which seemed vaguely familiar. I'd noticed it a few days earlier in the ceiling of my grandfather's garage.


Santa had done his job. City streets had another user who enjoyed every moment. Uncle Carlyle brought some maturity to a boy learning about giving and the meaning of Santa and Christmas.


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