Flipping back through the catalog of the past

The Christmas holiday then and now is what we make of it

Opinion

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By Arlene Jones

Columnist

As a child, the time between Thanksgiving Day dinner and Christmas was always a magical time for me. The day after Thanksgiving was the official day to start decorating the house for Christmas.

Some years we had a real tree, but at some point having an artificial tree came into vogue. I can still remember pulling out the individual silver branches from their paper sleeves in order to put the tree together. The "swishing" sound that those metal branches made is as memorable as any Christmas melody that I hear today. It took hours to put the tree together as each branch had to go into a hole on the center pole of the tree. Then we had to add on lights, ornaments, garland and all the rest of the trimmings to the tree. To finish it off, there was a special rotating light that sat on the floor to shine against the tree and illuminate it. That light projected a trio of colors — red, green and yellow — so that the silver branches reflected those colors.

My next door neighbor, Mrs. Jefferson, always had the fanciest tree of anyone. Her tree had huge pom-pon puffs at the end of each branch and was always one of best on the block.

Many people today look at Black Friday as the official start of the holiday shopping season. For me, it was the arrival of the Montgomery Wards Christmas catalog that would send my sister and me into a frenzy. We would sit for hours going through every page of that catalog as it was our window to the world of what was available. Of course, the toy section at the end of the catalog was popular, but there were so many other images that were ingrained in my memory from that book.

The candy and food section is still vivid in my mind today — page after page of Christmas hard candy could be ordered. From a small 1-pound tin to one that held 5 pounds of candy, the image of that candy spilling out so that all the different shapes could be seen still makes me salivate.

My favorite was the ribbon candy, whose distinctive curl made it hard to put the entire thing into one's mouth, but that still didn't stop me from trying. My other favorite was the raspberry one that had some sort of jam filling, as well as the Christmas tree candy, which was round with an image of a tree in the center. I would spend hours poring over the images of the various fruitcakes, wondering just who in their right mind liked the dense cake filled with green and red cherries, raisins and nuts.

The bicycle section was another favorite place, where I spent hours reading every description so that I knew which bike came with what. Some bikes had a chrome battery-powered headlight that shone bright. Others used the energy of the wheels to generate the power necessary to make the light come on. Some had horns while others had chimes. Some were single speed while others were three or 10 speeds.

A number of pages were dedicated to ice skates. Some were plain while others had the fur cuff. Then there were the ice blue ones with the matching blue cuff whose price tag was beyond what my mother could afford, but still I longed for them.

The Christmas holiday then and now is what we make of it. Take time to remember the "Christ" in Christmas and we all will be better for it.

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