This article first published December 12, 1985:
I suppose it is good for the economy for people to buy lots of expensive "things" in hopes to please someone who already has everything. That sees to be what people are doing this Christmas.
The stores are full of beautiful, cute, impractical items. There is food of all descriptions packed in all kinds of attractive baskets, tins, boxes and bags. Jewelry, both genuine and fake, is glittery and attractive and the decorations are beyond imagination.
Photo courtesy of Patterson Library
A summertime view of Tony Cara’s Olympian which was converted into a colorful candy land at Christmastime. Behind the soda fountain are John Gollnitz and Andy Comas. [Molly Catalano’s Antique Store] is now located in the building which was the home of Tony’s goodies for many years.
Christmas is exciting, but for some unknown reason the ghosts of Christmases past keep reappearing and we remember much simpler holidays that were just as happy as present day celebrations.
Just for fun, let's walk down Main Street in Westfield about 55 years ago at holiday time. We might see a large container of oysters on the sidewalk in front of Charlie Hanks' Grocery store and meat market. Oysters were a special Christmas Eve treat and quite affordable. Before the days of electric refrigeration, oysters were available only in the months which included the letter "r." The turkey, duck, goose or chicken might even be hanging outside the store.
The oranges were much bigger at holiday time and every good child found one in his stocking on Christmas morning along with some big, big walnuts. Bananas hung in a large bunch in the store window and were removed from the stem with a dangerous-looking curved knife.
Daley's Variety Store offered everything imaginable - wallpaper, window shades, pots and pans and especially little toys made of tin, or doll-sized dishes - all kinds of things a child could purchase for a few cents. C.A. Anderson ran the five and ten cent store when nickels and dimes really had some purchasing power. Christmas wrappings were mostly tissue paper, sometimes colored red or green and possibly glittery cord.
Cranberries from the grocery were used both as sauce to go with the turkey and to string for Christmas tree decorations. Do you remember making what seemed like miles of chains from colored construction paper and flour and water paste?
By today's standards the trees were pretty dull as electric lights had not yet become the main part of the decorations and, at least at our house, candles on the tree were considered far too dangerous. When the first electric lights were used, it was thrilling to have one string. Of course, when one bulb burned out the whole string went and it took forever to locate the bad one. The tree was a fresh one and smelled of the piney woods and we thought it breathtakingly beautiful.
Candy canes were either used as tree decorations or found in Christmas stockings. In Westfield, Tony Caras of the Olympian furnished them for Santa Claus, I am sure. I think I can remember when the red and white striped beauties hung from a wire stretched across the store - candy canes of all sizes, most of them red and white and peppermint in flavor. Jewel-toned hard candies in bulk and in glass jars were an important part of Christmas and bags of them were given to children at church and school parties and programs.
One of my fondest Christmas memories is of the day when I was invited to the back room in Tony's Candy kitchen to watch him make ribbon candy. The room was as clean and sterile as an operating room and Tony, as always, was immaculate in his white shirt and apron. With a minimum of equipment and maximum efficiency, he pulled the colorful confection into beautiful, satin ribbon and then gave it a permanent wave. To the children watching, it was pure magic.
The Christmas dolls of my childhood did not come with adoption papers. They came from one of the stores on Main Street, not from a cabbage patch. They were pretty babies and little girls loved them. Little boys were just as thrilled with a wind-up train as present day kids will be with one of the complicated contraptions which converts from a vehicle to a robot.
That's how we remember Christmases of long ago - sweet and lovely.