“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”

I have always been a Christmas nut! Perhaps it’s because I’ve enjoyed a 35+ year career in the retail industry. Perhaps it’s because I have always been a cold weather person, enjoying snowfalls to the weeks of sweltering hot days during the summer. Whatever the reason, Christmas has always started early in my mind, in my house and in my life. I have never been one of those old curmudgeons that complain about stores putting out their Christmas items too early or getting upset when they hear ANY reference to the holidays before Thanksgiving Day. I love that time of year and I have always fully embraced it rather than pushing it away.

I have been waiting all year to be able to share with you, some heartwarming items and stories from our youth. For this particular post the year is 1956, but there are plenty more years to come in upcoming posts. For those of you who fit into the “old curmudgeon catagory” regarding the holidays, hang on, it’s going to be a snowy ride!

Virtually everything that was published in The Duquesne Times during November and December had to deal with either some election or the holidays. Just skipping through the articles, photos and ads would give you a solid picture of life in those days. Holiday greetings, recognitions and Christmas wishes filled the pages. Via the images that follow, you may just be transported as I was, into a completely different frame of mind about the holidays. So, grab a hot cup of coffee or cocoa, slip on your favorite pair of fuzzy slippers and flannel pj’s, and enjoy going back to a time that you didn’t even remember forgetting!

Perhaps my favorite part of the newspaper during the holidays were the “Letters to Santa” that were published each year. Be sure to read through them, they are beyond adorable. I checked back and it looks like the letters were published as far back as 1900! Who knows, you might see one that you had written and had forgotten about, or even one that was written by one of your relatives as a child. Enjoy the following letters that were written in 1956…..

One of my favorite articles was the following that boasted the most recent Honor Roll for Duquesne High School. The date was December 13, 1956. Perfect timing for these students!! What great leverage for asking for additional gifts on their list!!!

Merchants each took out a small ad to wish their customers and the City of Duquesne their Christmas Greetings and thanks. There’s even one for my dad’s garage. This is just an example of the many ads….

I hope that you’ve enjoyed the recollections and the memories that they may have brought back. Please let me know!!

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5 Responses to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”

  1. nerdse says:

    I was only 4 that year, but I remember pretty far back, Jerry’s donut shop (at least, I THINK that was the name Mom told me years later) on 1st St. I hated having to drag along with the grownups through the snow – it was icky black because ashes were used instead of salt & everyone had chains on their tires, just about. You couldn’t play in the snow. You went into stores & got hot but you couldn’t take off your hat or coat, just your gloves. Grownups were always looking at boring stuff like clothes, perfume, men’s after shave or cologne, not cool stuff like toys; they got groceries instead of fun things; but if I behaved, we went there before we headed home (saving perishable purchases for last). My mom & GM were tea drinkers & from a very young age I was allowed a cup of tea with milk – it was mostly milk, of course, but all the same, I felt grown up. I wasn’t a big chocolate lover, so I rarely wanted hot chocolate, but I loved tea. I would get a sampling of the donuts my mom & GM got. At Christmas, they had this really clever wreath (for back then; now, it’s fairly common) – all individually wrapped hard candies, not just peppermints, but filled candies & Brach’s Royals, the caramels filled with different flavors like lemon, raspberry, etc. You only got one, so you had to pick very carefully. Since I didn’t like maple flavoring in candy, or coffee flavoring, & that’s what most of the candies seemed to be (esp. after they were picked over), the choice was hard. Mom always helped me. I was given a share of small parcels to lug home to 4th St. If we had perishables, we got the bus that went up Grant Ave. I remember there were 3 lines but can only remember the DeBolt bus went to Pittsburgh. If we walked up, the grownups would stop & talk to everyone. Too much fidgeting would get you in real trouble – parents then didn’t have to worry about having their kids placed in foster care or being hauled to jail for child abuse if they swatted you on the backside for being whiny or mouthy. And as much as we hated & feared spankings, the fear of them kept most of us on the straight & narrow. Very few parent abused their kids with spankings, & kids who weren’t spanked were easy to pick out – & usually universally disliked. If we were shopping in the evening during holiday season, I loved that the streets were festooned with strings of lights going across Grant Ave., 1st St., & 2nd St. in front of City Hall. The walk was easier, even if you were carrying things, because you could look at the pretty lights & decorations. I loved looking at the nativity scene. I would sometimes just stand there & marvel at the statues.

    I remember decorating the tree at our church, & helping decorate the church itself; singing in the choir & in the high school chorus, & the rush to learn all that Christmas music for both – & when I was in High School, with my friends as we sang at our church (the services had been moved to 9 pm by that time) & then at Holy Name at Midnight Mass. I also remember a contest at Duquesne Jr. High when I was in 6th grade, where the room with the best decorations, including on the blackboards, got a prize. I was in charge of drawing the boards & helping others fill things in, & of course everyone pitched in to decorate the room with streamers, tinsel, wreaths, & candles we made from the cardboard rolls used for wrapping paper. Our room won, & the principal, vice principal, & teachers on the judging committee (I believe the art & music teachers did it, not sure though) mentioned that the blackboard had been the deciding factor. For once, the teasing about my being tall & heavy stopped for the rest of the holidays. I also remember snowball fights, snow forts, shoveling out walks for people too infirm to do it themselves, shoveling out fire hydrants if the snow was very deep – & mostly, still going to school in rather deep snow! I remember the year I got an orange snow saucer. I thought it was a weird gift – then I used it & was hooked on how fast it went. I quit standing on my sled & “surfing” it down hill & moved to using the saucer.
    Christmas in Pensacola was odd because the leaves turned color late there – past a Christmas tree we put in front of the sliding glass door that led to the tiny deck facing the inside of the quadrangle of apartments where we lived, were trees in full October, pre-Halloween colors! Puerto Rico was odd; it was so hot, but the beautiful hedges full of white, red, & pink poinsettias & the holly trees were so pretty it didn’t matter. Scotland, though, was so like Duquesne was when I grew up that it took me back. We lived in leased housing in a city about the size of McKeesport on a hill that would rival Grant Ave. & Kennedy! I’d walk downtown & start shopping for gifts for family & friends. Lights were strung across the High Street (Brit for main street) & down the cross street, much like Grant Ave & 1st St. when I was very young. We were still childless then, but we had 2 godchildren – one for whose mother I was a backup labor coach (I taught lamaze classes on base), the first one, when we were in Puerto Rico. In Scotland, while the other family was in Guam, we became godparents to 3 wonderful kids – & to the 2 siblings that would be born to them when they were in Spain later – as well as the sister of our first godchild, who was born in Guam. Scottish houses are small, but we still had our decorations & room for presents for them. We always had kids in our lives. Many servicemembers went back to the US for the holidays, but we stayed put, enjoying the local people & culture (well, I have to admit I was less than enthralled with Asaltos, a Puerto Rican holiday tradition that involved boozed up caroling by loud men into the wee hours!) We helped other families enjoy the holidays by watching their kids so they could have privacy, We got kids for a while & they got a break – not just during the holidays, but we did more whenever we could.
    To me, the coolest thing was our long awaited baby was born on Christmas eve (he was conceived during Easter week – easy to figure out when you work nights & your spouse works days!) We’d gone through 11 yr of infertility workups; they’d get partway done, we’d have to move & start again! We’d been married 17 yr. We always had celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve, & it was like God gave him to us on the day we actually exchanged gifts, after the 11 pm service & a party held annually after the service by friends. It was a bit of a change to have his birthday cake (at least, one of them) on Christmas Eve, then open presents on Christmas Day so that he had his family party on his birthday. He always had several very small cakes – since a bunch of kids couldn’t get together for a big party, we’d have our own small ones with different friends & I’d bake several cakes in pans that were meant to be used for the top tier of a wedding cake! I’d decorate each one differently, depending on which friends he’d be with. I got the idea from a patient of mine who was an AIDS patient – he said he had a birthday week, a nice thing every day, something small, so that if he was sick on his birthday, he didn’t miss out on celebrating it because he didn’t limit it to one day. That was a very adaptable method for a Christmas baby. Now, of course, he’s grown up, we have his special cheesecake & whatever dinner he chooses, & we do the same for his dad. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to arrange all that when he was younger, but it was worth it many times over. My husband’s birthday is 6 weeks after Christmas, so it’s a rush, too, in a way. I’m glad mine is in summer, even though, like you, I dislike the summer heat.(In Scotland, it rarely goes below 40 or over 70; it rains a lot but I love rain; so I really liked the climate).

    So, now you have some reminiscences of past holidays, in & out of Duquesne, & the 2nd most wonderful Christmas gift ever – our son (the best one was Jesus). All of it started with that nativity scene, those lights, the small remembrances each of us has of letters to Santa, places we miss that have been gone for half a century, people we knew, education (in & out of the classroom) that we received. Wherever we live, let’s resolve to give the gift of pleasant holiday memories to our families – & especially to those who don’t have families.

    • Jim says:

      Amy, Thanks for all of your recollections. Its amazing how much that little city of Duquesne has impacted each of our lives. Each one of us carry a wee bit of ol’ Duquesne in our hearts! Happy Holidays! – Jim (The Duquesne Hunky)

  2. Just read this……I am one of the kids who wrote to Santa! Keep up the great work! This is a great blog!

  3. Victoria Castleberry says:

    I wonder – is the Nativity scene still displayed and Christmas carols still played from the City Hall tower? Haven’t lived in the Duquesne area since the late 70’s. Any time I do go back, it breaks my heart to see the Duquesne of my memories in such a pitiful state. Enjoy reading your blogs.
    Vicky Lysek Castleberry, Houston, TX

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