Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Christmas Traditions

“Tradition” is another word for “how we’ve always done it.” One of the things that is true of many of our families in Youngstown is that they had a rich set of Christmas traditions. This week, I’m going to reflect on some of those during the Christmas season and then next week focus in on those around Christmas Eve and Day.

One of the more lavish displays in my neighborhood (c) Robert C Trube, 2014

One of the more lavish displays in my neighborhood (c) Robert C Trube, 2014

Christmas lights and trees. Most of our families would string a few strings of the big old outdoor lights on the front porch and around the door, usually in late November-early December, hopefully on a weekend day when it wasn’t too cold. Most of us didn’t put up Christmas trees until around the week before Christmas, maybe a little sooner, because we had real trees and they would only hold up so long indoors before all the needles were on the floor and they became a fire hazard. But, oh, the house would smell lovely. Dad always decorated our tree and he was absolutely meticulous in getting the lights placed just right so they would reflect off the tree ornaments. One year when I was probably in fifth or sixth grade, dad was away for work a good deal before Christmas so I went up to the local tree lot and selected our tree. But dad still decorated it. Said I did a good job picking it out.

There were always those few who would go all out on their Christmas displays. There was one off North Belle Vista near the freeway that you could probably see from space! They had lights, and music, and even a Santa Claus mail box. As I recall, many of the homes in the Newport area had wonderful displays as well as some on the North Side. In the evenings before Christmas I remember us often going for rides just to see the lights, or doing a little extra exploring after we visited the relatives. I suspect there were many others places that I either never saw or have forgotten that someone else reading this will remember.

An advertisement for the original NBC airing of Videocraft's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, promoted as a General Electric Fantasy Hour.

An advertisement for the original NBC airing of Videocraft’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, promoted as a General Electric Fantasy Hour.

We grew up in what were, I think, some of the golden years of TV Christmas specials, many of which are still airing (for example the 50th anniversary of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer). Somehow, Christmas and Burl Ives just seem to go together! I remember seeing Rudolph and Frosty the Snow Man and a Charlie Brown Christmas when they first came out. We still watch Charlie Brown and love listening to Vince Guaraldi’s astounding music that accompanied this show. Of course, there were all the great singers of the time, who each had their own Christmas special as well. As a kid, I always thought Perry Como’s name should have been Perry Coma! But I knew people who loved him!

These days, they start playing Christmas music just after Halloween and they stop on Christmas day. It seems when we were growing up, that we heard more and more Christmas music on the radio the last weeks before Christmas but that it continued from Christmas through New Year’s Eve, accompanying all our visits to family and friends throughout that week.

One of the things we did was make many of our Christmas decorations. We made popcorn strings to put on the trees, or garlands made of red and green construction paper. Remember Readers Digest Christmas trees? There was a way you could fold the paper and then spray paint it and drizzle sprinkles on it to make snow covered trees. I also know people who made Mr. and Mrs Santa Claus the same way buying the heads at an art store. Then who can forget Christmas wreaths made out of old IBM punch cards? It actually didn’t take much–my wife recalls making wreaths out of  wire coat hangers and colored tissue paper. My dad would fashion Christmas trees by rolling cardboard into cones, covering them with wrapping paper, and punching holes in them and putting a string of Christmas lights in them. As I mentioned in my post on “Repurposing” we were great at finding new uses for old stuff long before the word came into vogue.

I could go on and on about Christmas traditions and personal memories but I always find it is even more fun to hear yours. What were some of your favorite family traditions in the weeks leading up to Christmas?

 

 

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