Pete's December 1996 Article.
"A 1940's Christmas" by Pete Bennett
Usually its what's under the tree on Christmas morning that stays with us in the form of memories as the years go by. Not so for me though. It was what was under the tree on Christmas Eve, that I recall.
It was December 24, 1948, when I was just 9 years old, that I got my electric train. It was an American Flyer made by the A. C. Gilbert Company and it smoked and made the choo choo sound. I also recall getting my first bicycle around that same period of time, maybe 1946. The bike was a Schwinn, was blue and had one of those fancy horns that was mounted between the crossbars. Also a bell adorned the handle bars and a light was mounted on the front fender.
Why December 24th you might ask. Well, at our house, it was a family tradition to open our gifts on Christmas Eve. That is, if we went to Christmas Eve services at church first. oh yes, the requirement also was, that we had to behave too. That, for me, was always the hardest part. I was always a little hyper, especially at Christmas time. Perhaps a better word is, excited.
I never recall thinking it was strange that Santa always came to our house, every year, while we were in church. I guess I just took it for granted that by "doing the right thing" and for going to church, we were rewarded.
I still recall the engine of that train, it was the model of a Pennsylvania Railroad engine of the type used at that very time, had 6 drive wheels and the number 312 on it. There were 5 cars and a "little red caboose." Why I recall so well, is because, I still have the train in our attic and I still set it up occasionally at Christmas time just to re-live the thrill of the first sight I ever had of it. My mother had told me to take good care of it because the $53.00 that she had paid for it, was a lot of money for a struggling family to spend on a toy!
Now maybe you may feel that my mother shouldn't have told me how much she had paid for it, but I'm glad she did. It made me value it even more and made me feel I had a good reason to treasure it for a life time. I have! Recently I passed it on to my son so that he can show it to his grandson on Christmas.
Christmas in the forties I will always recall as happy times, but not because they were always easy. Youth was so blissful. The only real obligation we really had was behaving in church. Yes, in church, where for several years was required to recite Clement C. Moore's poem, "The Night Before Christmas." Now, looking back, I often wonder why they had me recite a poem not of a religious nature. Do you think it might have been part of their strategy to get me to behave? (It's a l-o-n-g poem.) Maybe you would like to read it to your child, this Christmas season, as my mother once read it to me. It' not television, but oh the memories it made! I still feel excited each time I hear those words............Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night, my good friends, is my wish to you this Christmas Season 1996. The same one I might have wished you fifty years ago. Now, let's get home and open those presents!!!!!!
"The Night Before Christmas"
(or by its real name A visit from St. Nicholas)
By Clement Clarke Moore
(As first published in the Troy, NY Sentinel on Dec 23, 1823 as Anonymous)
'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In the hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And Mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon, on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wandering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away, all!",
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So, up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys and St. Nicholas, too.
And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof,
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf;
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye, and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight!"
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