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A Christmas tradition: the Montgomery Ward catalog

5 Highly Unusual US Christmas Traditions These five American traditions baffle Christmas celebrators in other parts of the world.

I was 9 years old in 1958. It was different then: 9-year-old girls still had little girl thoughts, little girl interests, and little girl wishes. It was a simpler time, as they say. But I digress; that’s fodder for another reflection.

Even in 1958, I knew there was a rhythm of things. Especially to Christmas. Let me explain. Three months before Christmas, school started. My October birthday soon followed. Then, as night follows day, came Halloween. Oh, the crisis of a costume to trick-or-treat in! The next milestone was Thanksgiving, noted for turkey, football and a half-week off from school — all important to a 9 year old.

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Then, and only then, the real sign that Christmas was coming: the arrival in the mail of the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog.

Oh, how we waited for that brown-wrapped paperback menu of all things possible. My brothers and sister were mildly interested. Somehow they magically knew what they wanted for Christmas. How did they know? I surely didn’t. We’d get three gifts each, we knew. And we knew they wouldn’t be extravagant. A new bike was almost too much to wish for, yet somehow they were often delivered.

But for me, that catalog — dog-eared, food-stained, pen-marked — was what Christmas was all about. Forget the underwear, socks, pajamas and small appliances that filled the first 50 pages. Show me the toys! Oh, they were there. Pages and pages and pages of toys. I owned a few of them already and proudly crossed them out, but they were few. The rest were the stuff of possibilities and dreams.

I’d lay on the living room floor paging through the catalog while the Mickey Mouse Club played on our 19-inch television. Later, I’d “shop” again before bed. Why didn’t anyone share my unflagging dedication to Christmas gift wishing? It was a mystery, but somehow it was OK. The choices were mine, the possibilities endless, the “yeses,” nos,” and “maybes” everywhere on my list. Yes, I slept with it, I’m not ashamed to say.

But ironically in that cornucopia of possibilities, I narrowed the choices to five (so that Santa — yes, I still believed — could choose, of course): a plastic princess phone that rang, a set of dishes for my Ginny dolls, a blackboard with chalk and eraser, the second five-volume set of Nancy Drew mysteries, and (gasp!) a scooter.

That was a banner year for me. My stocking was filled with two tangerines, Life Savers in a box shaped like a house, Chocolate coins in gold paper, new crayons and coloring books. And I got all five of my wishes in 1958. And my dad got his: The Colts won the NFL championship in the Greatest Game Ever Played. Being 9 was so simple.

Now much older, but not much wiser, life is not so simple today. Still Christmas never fails to thrill me with the endless possibilities of the modern world: electronic, sophisticated and expensive. And I am thrilled at the predictability of it all. But secretly, I wish I had that red felt stocking filled with goodies and that Montgomery Ward catalog today.

Margaret Collier is a retired human resources professional. Her email address is mlcinoh@aol.com.

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