Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Circa 1957

Winter Sunrise.

I was only seven years old, but I remember a few things. I remember riding in the back seat of the 1957 Chrysler Windsor and going over to my aunt and uncles house. They had the lower apartment and Grandma and Grandpa Spada had the upper. We’d go over there every Christmas Eve. I was sent out to the car with my older brother and sister. Mom and Dad would place wrapped presents under the tree we had at home. When we got home from Aunt Angie’s house, Santa had made his visit and we had Christmas at home. This usually in the wee hours of the morning on Christmas Day.

I found this picture of a 1957 Chrysler Windsor on line. My Dad's was black.

Funny what you remember. I can still see the neon lights of that pizza place on Chicago Avenue, the one we always passed on the way to Grandma and Grandpa's. It was big and bright and had the head of a chef, in orange neon, complete with chefs hat, and I can still see this sign from the back seat of the family sedan. I even still remember trying to pronounce the word that was spelled P.I.Z.Z.A. After all, Peetsa sure wasn't spelled with any Z's in it, was it?

Faux snow "flocking" on Christmas tree limbs. Does anyone do this anymore?

I still thought it was Santa Clause. My brother and sister knew better and ran the interference by getting me into the car while the set up was made. I played with my cousins, Donna, Linda, JoAnn and Tommy. Uncle Tom would eventually put on a Santa outfit and bring a bag of presents and hand them out to us kids. Sometimes it was uncle Willis. There was drinking going on, so Santa was usually hammered by the time Santa arrived. The home made red wine, the cloudy stuff with all the pulp. Special anisette or some kind of liqueur.

Amlings Flowerland was an icon on North Avenue. Here's what it looked like in 1972 at the front entrance.

I remember Dad going to Amlings Flowerland on North Avenue and buying a flocked tree. In earlier years, Dad would buy this can of flocking and do it himself, but things might have gotten better financially and he bought one that was already flocked. It looked like fresh snow had fallen on the Christmas tree. I think we did graduate to the silver aluminum Christmas tree sometime during the 50’s. Of course we had the four color wheel shining on the tree making it sparkle. Dad also put spotlights, white and colored, shining on the house itself.

We ate heartily at Auntie Angie’s. We went to Christmas Day mass, in the morning of Christmas day, at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Melrose Park, a suburb just West of Chicago. (This site is really cool to me and my childhood). I didn’t realize it at the time, but that old church was beautiful inside. I had to go to church every Sunday with my Mom. I didn’t like attending church service at all. And the mass as celebrated on Christmas seemed longer than ever. I couldn’t wait to get back home to play with the toys I had received as gifts for Christmas.

The interior of the old Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, the one I went to when I was a kid growing up in Melrose Park.

Mom made a big dinner for Christmas at home. We had a complete traditional American dinner of Ham or turkey with all the trimmings, then, as good Italians, we also served, at the same table at the same time, Lasagna or Ravioli with meatballs and sausage, Southern Italian style. Salad and desserts also included. Leftovers throughout the day as we ate at noon every Sunday and Holiday.

These aluminum Christmas trees were considered cutting sdge in the 1950's/ They sell on Ebay for hundreds of dollars now as collector items

So much has changed in the world. Or has it? Maybe all that has changed is new and different communication and an awareness of some things we never thought of before. Let me explain.

In my circa 1957 world, we celebrated Christmas. We weren’t Jewish, so we didn’t know what the Jewish people did. We did what we did. The Solstice was happening, but my family didn’t teach any of us kids about it. It was Christmas. We did certain things every year, we had tradition. We used our culture as we knew it, taking from the old country and putting a new spin on it here in America. My family had been in America only 40 years or so, relatively NEW Americans. We said Merry Christmas to everyone and anyone, no matter what religion or race they were, they knew what we were trying to say to them.

Now, I get about a dozen e-mails each year bitching and complaining about how we are supposedly made to say Happy Holidays and can’t say Merry Christmas. People over reacting to political correctness. It’s all bullshit. In the right spirit, a spirit of loving, forgiving and accepting your fellow man, (as in mankind ladies, don’t get me started on the gender issues, please), when someone would wish you a greeting in their religion or culture, it is taken as a compliment that the person thought enough of you to wish you well. It doesn’t matter if I am told Happy Kwanzaa because I was brought up Catholic and celebrate Christmas. What matters is that another human reached out and touched me with their spirit.

By the way, I don’t belong to a Catholic parish or attend mass. I don’t even consider any of the rules and laws made by the Pope and Catholic hierarchy. Am I a Christian? I don’t know. I don’t know if the greatest story ever told is true or not. There will be those that will tell me that they know of my fate at death because of my skepticism. All I do know is that the sun rises every day. I know that nature is everywhere and mankind has treated it poorly in the name of progress.

Back to 1957. People strung lights on their houses. We’d drive around at least once around Christmas to see the displays and Ohhhh and Ahhhh at this or that treatment. I knew I was suppose to be on good behavior if I was to get gifts from Santa Clause. I remember Dad coming home from work and bringing a box of candy or a bottle of booze, gifts from vendors he dealt with. Neighbors would stop in and have a cup of coffee and some home made cookies, maybe the men would have a shot of that bottle of booze and wash it down with some cold spring water. The mailbox was full of cards every day. Mom displayed them all over the living room. There were stacks of cards awaiting addresses or stamps on the kitchen counter. We sent a card to everyone we knew and it seemed like everyone we knew sent one to us.

When I grew older and started a family of my own, the gal I married had the same values as I did about Christmas. Give gifts, send cards, spend time with family and friends. There was no guesswork. Just the food choices were different. The Italians trumped the Irish Germans in my mind, but that is what I was used to. When we had a child in 1973, we started our own tradition in our own home for Christmas. It broke the hearts of our parents, but we didn’t do it to hurt their feelings. We did it to survive in our own right, with our children.

This year, 2009, we revert back to 1991, the last year we celebrated Christmas together in our own tradition. We’ll put up a tree and spend Christmas together, eating, laughing, playing games, listening to bad music, (My theory, if Christmas music was good, they’d play it all year long) and just being together in a spirit of love and kindness.

More on this in the days ahead as I get my head twisted into the season. In the meantime, hope you don’t get too stressed out. I know it’s hard to do all you want to do for everyone you would want to do something for, but it is the thought that counts.

Peace to all.


Mel said...

Oh gosh...the memories you touched on. (some mine, some told to me) Drug home holiday trees, the mounds of cards displayed on every flat place there was and then hung around the doorframes. Silver trees with changing lights--and the traditions of the family....

I wish folks Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Season's Greetings and a Blessed Hanukkah....I don't think it's political 'correctness' that drives the wishes--it's just whatever happens to come outta my mouth. LOL (which oughta scare everybody!)
I do have to be concerned about my delivery in certain places--and I can do that. But I'm with you--no matter what your holiday wishes for me, I'm grateful for spirit in which they're delivered.

So--Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings and a very Merry Christmas to you and yours. I'm excited you and the grandkids are indulging in the adventure awesome is that!

I wanna see the tree topper--and the chains they helped make! :-)

I, Like The View said...


I'm reliving my childhood Christmases as you speak

really really love the peace sign for the top of your tree, that's very very wonderful!

my 12 year-old daughter wanted to buy a can of fake snow the other day, but it's not something I'm familiar or comfortable with. . .

we'd left the tree that she chose and we carried home from the florist's, in the tiny courtyard at the back of the house, overnight, planning to find the boxes with the xmas decs. . .

. . .and then yesterday it snowed! only a little, an afternoon of light flurry - so we actually had some flakes on our tree!!!!!


. . .

. . .

ah, see, I'm just sitting here now, thinking about how lovely it can all be

. . .

. . .

thanks, man, for such peaceful thoughts to start my day

susan said...

I remember too, like the differences of opinion as to whether you were supposed to open your presents on Christmas Eve or in the morning. At our house it was morning and it was the single day of the year when I got out of bed before my parents. It was just the three of us as a family in Canada but we too had hundreds of cards and sent as many. The cards to and from England had to be mailed very early because they went by sea. In those days airmail postage was so expensive there was a special airmail letter you could buy that folded this way and that and had several glued flaps to be stuck down. You'd have to open them carefully to read the closely written letter inside.

We always had a real tree, usually a blue spruce, and my favourite lights were the long thin ones that bubbled with color when they were lit. Then we'd hang the small glass ornaments, some shaped like apples that had the middles bitten away and others that had cone-like depressions. There was a white star at the top that lit up and boxes of heavy tinsel to be draped or tossed onto the tree. I could spend hours in the darkened living room just communing with the tree while listening to the Nutcracker or the Messiah on the record player.

There were skating parties with friends and neighbors dropping by. My mother bought fruitcake (she never could bake a cake) but made wonderful sausage rolls, mince pies and lots of food of all kinds for people to share. Yes, there was lots of drinking, smoking, dancing, singing and laughter. They were good times and simpler ones too.

There was so much more but my comment is already long enough. I agree that wishing people the best of the season no matter what their tradition is the thing to do.

Merry Christmas, Spadoman to you and your lovely family.