Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Remembering Christmases past: No texts or tweets, but plenty of personal touches

I sometimes marvel at how much Christmas has changed during my lifetime and at this time of year reminisce about my childhood Christmases.

When I was young, the week before Christmas was like an announcement of what was on the way. We went into the woods to cut pine and holly boughs to decorate the house. They were placed over all the pictures throughout the house, in an arrangement on the dining room table and around the manger that always sat on the fireplace mantel.


My twin brother and I loved to stare at the manger, move the animals around and make the kings and shepherds move closer to the manger each night. We never forgot what Christmas was about — the baby Jesus and the promise his birth brought for our future.

I remember my mom baking piles of cookies, not the kind you buy in a roll and slice to bake, but homemade cookies rolled out with a wooden rolling pin. After mom slid the cookie cutter shapes onto trays and brushed them with egg whites we kids set to work decorating. Toothpicks helped us carefully move the decorations to place buttons and eyes on gingerbread men and snowmen, to mark blankets on camel backs and sparkly sugar beads on the crowns of kings. My sister always liked to decorate the angel with yellow sprinkles on the wings. I was drawn to the occasional horse my mom cut out with a large cookie cutter. I'd mark a saddle and bridle in sugary colors. I wonder if heaven will smell as good as those sugar cookies and gingerbread men baking.


On quiet nights we kids pored over the Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogs, circling our favorite items. By Christmas, the pages were dog-eared, tattered and worn. We each got one special gift so it was hard picking what we liked best.

I think about the popular toys we had back then and it makes me smile. Does anyone remember how popular Slinkys were? Even though the Slinky first appeared in 1945 as a hot Christmas novelty available only at Gimbel's Department Store, by the time I was a kid in the late '60s the "walking spring" was all the rage. I can still remember the jingle from the television commercial. "What walks down stairs — alone or in pairs — and makes a slinkity sound? A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing — Everyone knows it's Slinky"

Back then we made Christmas presents on toy pot holder looms. I bet my mother and grandmother groaned every time they opened a gift and found another woven potholder!

One year I wanted a roller skating monkey named Clancy. He wore a yellow hat and white gloves. One hand had a button in the middle and you could hold his hand and push the button to make him skate beside you. Years later my mom recalled arguing with my dad. She said, "I know it's expensive but it is the only thing that girl wants." And I did love him. Until my brother took him apart to see how he worked and he never ran again.

Some of the toys that stand out in my mind include my sister Susie's red plastic spinning wheel that wove yarn into headbands, my cousin's Easy Bake Oven that cooked tiny cake mixes with a little light bulb, Barbies and GI Joes.

When I was 14, all I wanted was my own mandolin. I'd been playing my dad's and had fallen in love with the metallic ting of its strings. On my little portable record player I played Rod Stewart's song Mandolin Wind over and over, and that year, my mom sewed a giant red stocking and put the mandolin inside.

Christmas Eve was a magical night, especially on the years we actually had snow. I truly believed if I listened hard enough I would hear the jingling of harnesses and bells as Santa arrived. Then, on Christmas morning the living room door would be closed tight so we couldn't see inside. Mom slipped into the living room to get our stockings and bring them to us. Our stockings were filled with a few wrapped toys, an orange in the toe and hard shell mixed nuts sprinkled throughout. After eating the orange for breakfast the door would be opened to a magical sight.

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My parents convinced us that Santa brought the tree, the train garden and all the decorations. Looking back, I think my older brothers must have stayed up all night setting up the train platform and decorating the tree. The huge platform stretched from one corner to the other along the entire 18-foot wall in the living room. One year there was a tree in each corner. Back then Christmas trees were real. The smell of fresh pine added to the magic, like Christmas in a bottle.


The Lionel train — passed down from our rich Uncle Gilbert — chugged around the entire garden, puffing smoke and smelling like only a real model train can smell. We spent hours over the next few days gazing at the tree and train garden playing "I see something…?" where one kid names something red and white or some other color and the rest of us tried to guess what it was. My grandkids play the same game but they now say, "I spy with my little eye …"

At our Christmas gatherings over the next few days family members played the games we got for Christmas, games like Monopoly, Checkers and Parcheesi or we got out a deck of cards and played Pinochle, War or Canasta. We didn't have Play Station, Xbox or Wii. We played real games.

I bet our kids can't even imagine Christmas without computers or cell phones. Instead of posting Christmas pictures on Facebook we were taking them with a box camera, then taking the film to the store to be developed. Instead of texting our friends, "Merry Christmas," we called them on the telephone or actually went to visit.

There were no tweets, texts or Instagram posts. We didn't gather around the wide screen television. We went to church Christmas Eve or sang Christmas carols together as a family while my dad played the guitar. If we did watch television, it was on a black and white television set with rabbit ears and three good channels. And it wasn't Christmas without us watching the Rudolph special on the tube.

Christmas toys and gadgets have changed, decorations and traditions have changed, but the spirit of goodness that comes with Christmas remains. I hope your Christmas is magical, just like when we were kids.

Lois Szymanski is a Carroll County resident and can be reached at