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.
So, 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.
I 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 charge 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.
I 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 if 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