Christmas Memories of growing up in the 1940s and 50s

Christmas Memories by June Kent

Photo by: New Bern Now

I was born in 1940 in such different times from now.  Life seemed so simple but I realize now it was not so for many.  We did not have a lot of money but my mother was a genius at stretching a dollar and lucky for me, I inherited that trait!  In the early 50s, my Mom would put 25 cents here and there into one of those old metal quarter banks which looked like a cash register.  Anyone remember those?  She would accumulate $25 for me each Christmas so I could buy presents for the family.  She knew I loved buying presents, making cookies, decorating – anything having to do with Christmas.

My best friend Irma and I would make our traditional trip BY TRAIN (25 cents each way) to the next big town – Paterson, New Jersey.  This was such a big deal to us.  We did this for about 5 or 6 years.  We always ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant there.  It cost 80 cents for Chicken Chow Mein with egg roll and tea!  We left 20 cents for a tip each.  $1 for a wonderful lunch.  I was always so excited and wound-up that one year I lost my Chinese lunch in a nearby waste can.

I always bought the same things.  I allotted $4 person (Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother, Irma).  A new housedress for my mom ($2), special gifts for my siblings and you could get a lot of nice things for $4!  I also spent $1 on each parent for their stockings which I had bought for them.  Since I shopped in the 5 & 10 cent stores, you could actually fill a stocking with 10 cent items plus 5 cent candy bars.  I always put the new Superman Comic Book in my Dad’s.  I never bought my Dad’s gift on that trip.  For him I always went to our local men’s shop in town and bought a very nice shirt for $3!  The 5 & 10 shop shirts just weren’t good enough for me.  Once I bought him a red flannel shirt which he would not have been caught dead in but he did wear it anyway!

Irma and I would spend so much time wrapping our precious gifts and always with Hallmark paper.  We bought our cards for each other in a local Hallmark store – only the best for us.  They had parchment cards and what could be classier than that!

Because of problems with alcohol, our Christmases were often very traumatic but I wanted to keep it story-like for the family.  I was the oldest and felt responsible for taking on the Christmas Fairy role.  Decorating the tree was very important and I recently reminded my brother how he would throw the tinsel on the tree, infuriating me every time.  He doesn’t remember that.  I was very careful with the tinsel!  On our traditional shopping trip, I always bought a new box of ornaments for us and then you could buy 12 for under 50 cents.

When I had been younger, my Mom would take the three of us to Paterson to visit each Santa Claus in the 5 & 10 stores, Kresge’s, McCrory’s and Woodworth’s.  Each gift from Santa would be 25 cents and she treated us to lunch at Woolworth’s which was such a big treat for us!  How did she do it?  We lived in a small flat in the city in a lower middle class area and yet she did things for us that the other kids in the neighborhood never got to do.

I hope this brings back happy memories for you!

Written by: June Kent

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