A Journey to Christmases Past

Well, Christmas 2018 in the Jim Volk Household came to a halt about an hour ago. My grandsons pooped out about 30 minutes before they left, and their mom and dad ended up carrying them to the car. My youngest daughter and her husband busily helped to unearth our home from the mountain of  giftwrap that cluttered the family room, while my wife feverishly began splitting up the remaining ham and sides for each family to take home to enjoy the next day. Without a doubt, it was a wonderful, beautiful Christmas Day.

Christmas-EveningSo, as I was finally able to relax after a delightful day, I began to think about Christmases past, and how they differed from today’s event. I listened to my daughters talk about how they had such an easy time this year shopping for the perfect gift. Both talked about the simple process of online shopping and how less stressful it was compared to battling crowds of shoppers at the malls, or at big box stores like Target or Walmart. They marveled at how they were able to review a store’s entire assortment of merchandise from the comfort of their living room sofa. Ahh…. Technology has made life so easy for them. Since I too did much of my shopping online or via QVC’s TV broadcast, I couldn’t disagree. It was easy. However, as they talked about the merits of online shopping, I thought about similar conveniences that were available to everyone when we were young.

robesI don’t think anything could ever replace the joy and excitement I felt when shopping with my mother or father at Christmastime. The stores in Duquesne and McKeesport were brimming with a bounty of Christmas gifts and trimmed in their Christmas finery. Nothing could ever compare to the feeling of the cold wintry air and the warmth that you felt when entering the stores. I don’t recall anyone being grumpy. Salespeople would be smiling and helpful , the need for fighting the crowds was never an issue and people always seemed to have a happy look on their face. It was a magical experience.

After my mother died when I was 12, my dad put me in chargedoll of shopping for the aunts, uncles and cousins that we exchanged gifts with each Christmas. Since I was too young to drive, and school work didn’t allow me a great deal of extra time, I took advantage of the precursor of today’s online shopping, CATALOGUES! Since my dad worked for JCPenney, he received a discount for items purchased in stores, but also for items purchased through the Penney Catalogues. I was able to achieve the same level of shopping simplicity as today’s online shopper, all from the comfort of our living room sofa.

Each year, JCPenney, Sears, Montgomery Ward, Aldens, Spiegel, and Key Distributing produced a Christmas Catalogue. Sears called theirs “Sears Wishbook” while Penney’s was simply “JCPenney Christmas Catalogue. Our local department stores, Gimbels, Joseph Hornes, and Kaufmanns also produced a Christmas catalogue, however I rarely purchased items from them due to their prices and the fact that we didn’t receive a discount! I was a glutton for collecting these catalogues and would have a full collection each year.

searsI remember taking hours and meticulously combing through each and every page. I took the job of shopping for the perfect gift very seriously. Each year, after deciding on what I thought was the ideal gift for my aunts, uncles or cousins, I would sit with my dad at the kitchen table and present my ideas to him. I don’t recall a single time when he objected to any selection I had made. Once past that part of the process, I would then be charged with the responsibility of calling in our orders to the Catalogue Desk at JCPenneys in the Eastland Shopping Center in East McKeesport. I would anxiously wait for receive a confirmation that the merchandise was available, and ultimately, when it would be shipped to the Eastland store to be picked-up. This annual process took place for 9 years until I turned 21 and decided to move to California…oh the joys of youth.

I was curious about the availability of these old catalogues. Most of the major companies ceased catalog operations by the end of the 1990’s. Some attempted to test online shopping, but the successes initially were few. I decided to check out eBay to see ifmens anyone was selling the old Christmas catalogues. I was thrilled to see that there were many vintage catalogs were available, but the ones that interested me were too pricey in my opinion. Some were selling for up to $100! Then, like a beacon in the night, I came across a website that featured full color Christmas catalogues from Sears, Penneys, and others. Catalogues from 1937’s 102-page Sears Christmas Catalogue through JCPenney’s 632 page Christmas Catalogue are able to be viewed in their entirety.

So, here’s your chance to recover from the Christmas craziness by checking out some of these catalogues from Christmases past. See what toys were popular in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and so on. Listen to some classic Christmas songs like White Christmas or Silent Night, make yourself a cup of hot chocolate while you look through the catalogues, and just enjoy the journey back in time. Let’s keep the spirit of Christmas alive like the traditions of old until January 6th.

Many thanks to Jason from WishbookWeb.com who gave me permission to use images from his site, as well as direct access to the catalogues. To reach the site and begin exploring the spirits of Christmas past, click the link below and ENJOY!!


Merry Christmas My Friends

Jim Volk – The Duquesne Hunky



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17 Responses to A Journey to Christmases Past

  1. Dave Adam says:

    When I was akid I wanted a steel crane truck made by Structo I think. My Dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I told him I wanted a Michigan crane, but I pronounced it with the accent on the second syllable (Mi SHIG an). He said “A what?” So I repeated it. He still didn’t understand so he said “Show me.”. I pulled out the Key Distributing catalog and pointed it out. “Oh” he said. “You mean a MICH i gan crane!” “Yeah, that one!”. I don’t know why, but I never got it. Ended up buying myself one at an antique mall several years ago. I have one now!

    • Jim says:

      Dave, I love your story! Another reader emailed me to tell me she was so thrilled to see a picture in one of the Sears catalogs of a baby doll she once had but lost as a little girl.

  2. I have not been able to get back to the Burgh because of an ill husband…..
    I miss the Pittsburgh shops! Maybe next year will be better!😃

  3. pghjoseph says:

    Fantastic post! I hope your Christmas was a fantastic one. I remember seeing the JCPenney catalogs whenever I was younger.

  4. Debra Faust-Clancy says:

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for the link to Wishbookweb dot com. I just glanced through 1955 Speigel’s and got some great memories from the products on offer and a couple good laughs from it too. (Men’s pajamas and men’s outdoor jackets). I think I may have to look through a few more! Such great nostalgia. These are like time capsules. My family did not use catalogs at Christmas or any other time… Glad you were able to find these and take the time to share them with us, your Duquesne buddies. All best wishes to you and your family for 2019.

  5. Judy Needham Boyle says:

    I discovered your website a few years ago and have enjoyed reading it so much! Sorry I haven’t taken the time to comment before this. It’s such fun recalling all these great memories of a much gentler life, especially all the Christmas traditions. My brothers and sisters always talk about Duquesne and Holy Name School when we get together. Thanks for all your posts! Happy New Year!

  6. Eileen Phillips says:

    Jim, really enjoy your memories to share, and all the comments. I grew up in Duquesne Annex and My Husband grew up in Duquesne. We both remember McKeesport at Christmas, and all the Slovak and Hungarian foods and traditions.
    Hope to hear more from you all in the New Year.

  7. Linda Perhacs says:

    The Famous, Jaison’s, Cox’s, Immel’s, and Katzman’s were the go-to stores in McKeesport. I really miss those days! Snow covered streets with DeBollt busses plowing through, brings back happy memories.

  8. G Dale Greenawald says:

    Jim My family has roots in “da Burgh” going back to the 1830’s or 40’s. I grew up there in the 1950’s and have fond memories of the X mas window displays in the windows at Horne’s, Gimbels, and Kaufmanns. My uncle, a German trained woodworker worked for a company that built many of the animated displays .I too remember the cold night air as we walked from department store to department store along Smithfield St. Those were always special nights . While on-line shopping has it’s advantages of convenience and price comparison it won’t hold a candle to the old department store windows in terms of memory creation!

  9. Mary Ann Brletic Skinner says:

    Jim, I am from McKeesport and I thoroughly enjoy your posts. I am Croatian on my dad’s side and Serbian on my mother’s. I love the memories of the old McKeesport shopping and restaurants. Also the recipes you added. Please keep them up. Sretan Bozic and Sretan Nova Godina!

  10. Leslie says:

    Oh how wonderful….brings back so many memories and also a few tears. Miss those days 🙂😢❤

  11. A.E.Churba says:

    Hi Jim,

    I just wanted to say thank you for writing your blog. I have so enjoyed reading them and reminiscing. My family and I are originally from the Pittsburgh area (Mum is from McKeesport and Dad is from Munhall). I lived near McKeesport until I was 13 (I’m in my 50’s now) and I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and learned many of the dishes the Slovac’s made. I try to keep the traditions alive and I’m lucky enough to still have my parents with me. Any how, many of the things you write about are so wonderful and bring back so many memories. Thank you too, for sharing the website for the old catalogs! What a treasure you found! I have a small gift/antique shop that has items from days gone bye and I am thrilled with the prospects the catalogs can provide!

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

    Sincerely, Alesha E. Churba Cherub Capers Creations Pocatello, Idaho ________________________________

  12. Harold West says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Jim

  13. Dennis Kuzma says:

    Thank You for another great addition to the Duquesne Hunky. I always enjoy both reading & rereading them.

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