Christmas Then and Now

Everything is bigger and better when viewed through the eyes of children.

I was thumbing through a new Christmas catalog the other day and came across a rather unique gift item. It was a DNA test kit developed by a California company specifically designed to trace your cat’s ancestry. I’m not kidding. And it seems relatively simple to use.

First, gently place kitty on your bathroom counter. Next, carefully remove the sterile cotton swab from the test kit. Then, take a deep breath, stare into the mirror and ask yourself, “When did I finally lose my mind?”

Strange gift items often make those of us who are older think that the holidays are just not the same. We lament because they’ll never be as good as they used to be. But have they really changed?

Sure, a DNA test kit for cats might seem like an odd gift compared to the types of things we received on Christmas morning during the ’50s. But I got to thinking. Do you realize what item was on every young guy’s Christmas wish list who lived in Fort Worth back then? A sled. That’s right, a sled. Might seem like an unusual request, being that we have 11 and a half months of summer in these parts. But I finally got one in 1957, and, just as you might expect, it stayed in the closet longer than Anderson Cooper.

Now Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. But like my contemporaries, I tend to aggrandize my childhood memories of the holiday season. But I’m going to be objective and try to determine if Christmas was really better when I was younger.

OK, here are some of the specifics I can still remember from my early years:
School would always let out about a week before Christmas, and that familiar rush of excitement would begin. During the next few days, we would pile into Mom’s car and go Christmas shopping at one of the local department stores — Cox’s, Stripling’s or The Fair. Of course, we’d always manage to swing by the S&H Green Stamps redemption center. Seems like we could always use another Sunbeam iron or a chrome-plated, pop-up toaster.

But where I always begged her to take me was downtown to Leonard’s Department Store. As best I can recall, Leonard’s had this miniature train, somehow suspended from the ceiling, that would carry us kids around the perimeter of the toy department. It was the coolest thing I could imagine, but truth be known, it would be a pretty lame ride by today’s standards.

Then, it was off to Montgomery Ward on 7th Street to visit with Santa. I remember him as being something special. He epitomized the St. Nick in the famous Clement Clarke Moore poem, Twas the Night Before Christmas. Yep. His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry. It was years later that I finally realized that all that facial redness was probably due to one of Santa’s extended lunch breaks.
Actually, I should have become suspicious of Santa much earlier. All I wanted for Christmas that year was for Nancy Woolsey to be my girlfriend. Santa told me he would make that happen. When we returned to school, Nancy and her family had moved away. To this day, I still haven’t heard from her.

So were the holidays better back then? Probably not. Christmas just seemed better because we saw it through a child’s eyes.

However, real changes may be on the horizon for the holiday. Special interest groups are demanding that Santa lose some weight and quit smoking that pipe. True story. Then it won’t be long before disgruntled elves will start bemoaning low wages and threaten to unionize. And you just know that PETA will weigh in over the substandard living conditions of the reindeer. Plus, due to the current political climate, officials will probably threaten to shut down the entire North Pole operation unless Santa shows a little more transparency and comes clean on where he’s getting that hundred billion dollars a year to make toys.

Santa might never figure this problem out. I can relate. I never figured out what S&H meant.