Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Christmas Fifty Years Ago

“The familiar Christmas music beamed from our downtown tower expresses the wish that the spirit of the season may be shared by everyone.” Home Savings and Loan ad in Youngstown Vindicator, December 27, 1971.

In December of 1971, I was a senior at Chaney High School. I probably had worked my tail off on Christmas eve at the layaway at McKelvey’s, taking breaks to sample the spread of baked goods all the women in customer service and the cashiers had brought in. That night, I’m sure our family all piled into the car for candlelight services at our church followed by a drive around town to see the lights. Christmas Day was a rest before the big work day on the 26th as customers brought in returns and we tried to sell more than we gave credits or refunds for.

I looked at the Youngstown Vindicator for Christmas Eve of 1971. No paper was published on Christmas Day that year. Christmas eve weather that year was cloudy, breezy, with temperatures dropping to the low 30’s with snow flurries. Not too bad for Santa to make his deliveries.

Many churches were having special services Christmas eve and morning. St. John’s Byzantine Rite Catholic Church was featured in a photograph with notices about their midnight mass at 9:45 am Christmas Day mass. One other that caught my eye was Boardman United Methodist’s “Service of a Thousand Candles” at 8 and 11 pm. There was also an article about the tradition of Slovak and other Catholic parishes distributing oblatke to homes, unleavened wafers with holy scenes, blessed by the priest and eaten, often with honey, by families on Christmas eve. Fr. George Franko from Holy Name Church on the West Side was featured in the article. Local fire stations were accepting donations of good used toys up to ten days after Christmas for the Salvation Army.

In national news, the big stories were a Christmas cease fired by American and South Vietnamese troops over Christmas day, even while bombing went on. President Nixon ordered the release of former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa after five years of prison to join his ailing wife. On July 30, 1975, he disappeared from a suburban Detroit restaurant. His body has never been found. Locally, not all was “peace on earth, good will toward men.” Gary Bryner, President of UAW Local 1112 vigorously denied charges of shoddy work and sabotage at the Lordstown Assembly Plant.

Lindley Vickers was still writing columns for the Vindicator, in this case about nature observations at Little Beaver Creek. Youngstown State had just won its sixth straight basketball game under coach Dom Roselli, defeating Illinois Wesleyan 85-76. Boardman handed a previously undefeated Columbus South team an 80-60 loss. Disney had re-released Lady and the Tramp for the holidays. Straw Dogs with Dustin Hoffman, “$” with Goldie Hawn, Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, and Sean Connery as James Bond in Diamonds are Forever were also showing.

Throughout the paper on that day were large ads from many of the businesses in Youngstown sharing holiday greetings. In addition to the iconic Home Savings ad, there was a full page ad from McKelvey’s with holiday greetings in every language represented in the Valley and beautiful ads from Strouss,’ Hartzell, Rose, and Sons, Lustig’s, Butler Wick, Ohio Bell and A&P. All those names are gone. A number of restaurants also had holiday ads while the more enterprising already advertised New Year’s events. The Zanzibar had $20 couples packages!

Peanuts that day featured Snoopy and Woodstock knocking back mugs and celebrating Christmas atop Snoopy’s dog house with the two disheveled and Snoopy commiserating in the last frame, “Bleah!! Every time we have an office party, I drink too much root beer!” Then there is Dennis the Menace praying, “…an’ please tell Santa I got all the clothes I need.”

That’s a snapshot of Christmas in Youngstown fifty years ago. So many memories. For most of us, our family celebrations and our religious traditions, if we had them, are what we remember the most–the three “F’s”–faith, family, and food. Many of the events are in the past or forgotten, a number of the places of business are no more, but the memories we carry last, at least as long as memory does.

So I will close with wishes of Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you who follow these articles. I appreciate you all so much and wish you all the blessings of the season.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

8 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Christmas Fifty Years Ago

  1. I loved your piece as usual. But the illustration really caught my eye. I always thought there was magic in that glowing clock face. Even as a young adult, as I walked west on deserted Commerce St. after my work at one of Strouss’s famous night sales, I thought that as I reached the city buses parked in the back of McKelvey’s I saw Santa’s sleigh cross that circle of light.

    Liked by 1 person

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