Thursday, December 18, 2008

Glass Wax Christmas - Harrowgate

My early memories of Christmas put it starting about two weeks before the holiday in the late 1950's.

The Department stores: Lit Brothers, Gimbels, Stawbridge and Clothier and the top end carriage trade store John Wanamaker all started things the day after Thanksgiving. Going to downtown Philadelphia was an outing for us kids and we came downtown using the elevated train, the Frankford El. The trip was more window shopping than buying.

The close to home activities would begin in earnest about two weeks before the holiday. No doubt Christmas budgeted items came out of the weekly paychecks closest to December 25th.

Recycled items such as a flat plastic sheet, nativity scene, for the upstairs bedroom window came out of the cedar chest along with foil covered paper-mache bells for two living room windows and a plastic Santa's head with an internal light went on the outside of the front door. Single candle sticks were in each window on the front of the row house and with a single blue bulb each.

The lighting of the window lights was a sacred nightly ritual.

One innovation or marketing gimmick I remember was the use of stencils on the windows with a glass cleaning product called Glass Wax. The product was to be spread on windows, let to dry, and then wiped clean with a dry cloth weeks later after Christmas. In this holiday use, you would sponge the opaque pink liquid onto Christmas type stencils of angels, Santa Claus, a snowman and a reindeer etc. It was all very primitive in terms of marketing but magic in terms of a hands-on participating childhood.

I don’t know when others bought real live Christmas trees but we bought ours as close to Christmas eve as a day or two and it sat in the yard until Christmas eve when the older kids got to stay up late and decorate it with blue glass balls and a single string of blue lights. The only thing not blue was a gold glass beaded garland that wrapped the tree from head to foot. That and metal, not plastic, silver icicle strands.

In any case the house smelled of a pine tree that had been cut only days before and traveled from upstate.

We did not have or want those new "Sputnik Trees", all artificial aluminum branches and serenaded with a rotating multi-colored light. That was the kind of tree that older people without children went in for.

Of course I had my doubts how Santa would get to every house in the world – I was already thinking globally. I accepted the facts as my parents relayed them. Santa may come in person but more than likely we would get a surrogate, a Santa’s helper and making deliveries out of an old Nash automobile (they had big interiors). That was how it all worked according to my parents in order to insure my ever growing questions about this whole scenario.

My most vivid memory was waking up at about five a.m., it still being dark, and looking down the stairs at the blue ornamented tree that was not there when I went to bed. The tree stood in the dark with a strange glow of street lights coming through open blinds and muted with a glow of light off a recent snow fall.

I remember the excitement of opening presents. Turkey dinner was not a big deal.

The big deal was the imagination and anticipation and the thoughts of magical myth that gripped a young child’s mind of five.

Wanamaker (Macy's) Christmas Show


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