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A Fifties Family Christmas

- 14 December 2008, 07:12

previously published in Reminisce EXTRA Magazine
by Denise Cassino

Robin and Denise (right)

Robin and Denise (right)

In the fifties during December, my little sister and I often sat cross-legged inside the tent formed by the long drapes that covered our picture window, our flannel nightgowns billowing outward from the heat registers upon which we nestled.  As Christmas approached, we gazed up into the blackened night sky dreaming about Santa.  The tiny red lights of small aircraft slowly flickered across the starry sky, and I would whisper to Robin our mother’s words  -  “Those are Santa’s helpers watching to see if we’ve been good.”

We waited breathlessly for Christmas.  Mom worked during the days, so we spent our Christmas breaks sledding together, irritating our older brother, John, and playing Christmas music by the Chipmunks on the old console stereo.  As we listened to the radio, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” often filled the air, and Johnny Mathis was a staple.

The family usually decorated the tree without Dad who worked the 3-11 shift, so Mom fashioned a ritual.  To the strains of Christmas music, and despite a few disputes and brotherly punches, we had a jolly, happy time  around the tree actually stringing popcorn and cranberries while the old black and white flickered with images of an old Christmas movie like “Miracle on 34th Street.”  Mom was meticulous about the method for draping the silver tinsel over the outstretched branches, careful to create the illusion of shiny icicles.

Mom arranged a sheet beneath the tree, and a few gifts would appear in advance of Santa’s arrival, causing much speculation and package rattling.  Because the tree went up several weeks before of Christmas, we spent idle evenings lying beneath the tree staring up at the glittering, glowing colored lights, laughing at our distorted images in the mirrored ornaments.

One Christmas Eve, after arranging Santa’s cookies and milk, our mother tucked us into bed, grabbing the bottoms of our flannel nightgowns and shaking us into them like potatoes in a sack so she could tuck the nightgowns under our feet for warmth.  Then, she kissed us goodnight and left the room.  A few minutes later, I swear we heard sleigh bells tinkling outside!

Despite our efforts to stay awake so we could witness Santa’s arrival, the next thing we knew, it was 4 am and John had awakened Mom and Dad.  Our door opened and Mom whispered, “Santa has been here.  Put on your robes and slippers.”  We gathered in the hall, tingling with excitement, while Dad entered the living room alone.  Suddenly the Christmas tree was alight, and we spied dozens of shiny gifts with glimmering ribbons piled beneath the tree!  A fancy, blue dress with lace and trim, just my size, hung on the bookcase. Small Army jeeps and vehicles encircled the tree!  Beautiful dolls with smiling faces beckoned us!  The magical aura created by the colored lights turned the room aglow, and we stood in absolute awe.   Santa lived!

“Well, let’s open some gifts!” Dad would say.  Soon, we had advanced upon the bounty and loose ribbons and torn wrapping paper abounded.  Robin and I usually received matching dolls. This particular year, we got tall dancing dolls with long dark hair.  They wore black velvet pants and white satin shirts, and we called them “the Bendy dolls” because every joint moved.  That year, Mom got a negligee and perfume from Dad, and she floated around the room like a pink cloud wafting “Taboo.”  We played until our eyelids drooped, and then we all wandered back to bed for a Christmas morning snooze.

Christmas Day was always filled with the tantalizing aroma of roast turkey and stuffing, a sumptuous repast shared with our Aunt Mary and Uncle Myles, and sometimes our dear friends, the Bach family.  We made a big event of the day, setting the table with the best China, crystal and cloth napkins.  We all donned our new clothes for the occasion – I remember one dress with a red velvet top and a white organza skirt adorned with a flocked, velvet pattern that I wore proudly over a huge petticoat. The evening hours drifted slowly by while our torpid torsos bulged. We often watched a Christmas Special on television – maybe Perry Como – and ate pumpkin pie topped with real whipped cream while I buried my nose in one of my new Nancy Drew books.   Much too soon, it was all over for another year.  The tree came down, the toys were put away and winter set in.  I remember a few years later I became skeptical of the reality of Santa and asked my mom if he was real.  She said, “He is if you believe in him.”

Though it never seemed like it, in retrospect, I know that money was often scarce. I am certain that there were many years our parents struggled mightily to provide us with a memorable Christmas experience, but somehow, they always came through with an abundance of gifts and joy.  I suspect that the looks on our faces on those magical mornings made it all worth the sacrifice.  Now on December nights when I look up at the stars glittering against a black velvet sky and see those little red lights, I remember those wonderful moments that the real “Santa’s helpers” made possible, and I feel blessed.

Denise Cassino is a baby-boomer from suburban Chicago.  After earning a B.A. in English at Northern Illinois University, she moved to Denver, Colorado.  Always a lover of the written word, she began writing four years ago.  Her work has been published in such ezines as AboutTeens, Tapestry, Hackwriters, Ten Thousand Monkeys, Apollo’s Lyre and in print magazines:  Reminisce EXTRA, Garden and Hearth, Cottage Magazine, National Association of Women Writers, and in print anthologies: Passion, The Colour Gallery, and Taj Mahal Review.  Her dream is to have her first novel published. Denise is Senior Editor of Long Story Short, Director of Production and Curriculum Coordintor for Long Story Short School of Writing. Denise loves to travel, has back-packed through Europe, visited Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean along with 40 of the United States.  Happily married after 26 years, Denise practices commercial real estate and resides in the mountains west of Denver. For more of Denise’s writing, see her website: Denise Cassino – Turning a Phrase. or Contact Denise.
See Denise’s webpage in the LSS Writers’ Lodge.


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