On December 13, 2023

Looking Back: Christmas in the 1950s

By Mary Ellen Shaw

It’s almost Christmas and as I look back I realize how the holiday is very different in today’s world.

When I was a child in the ‘50s, downtown Rutland was bustling with shoppers who had numerous stores from which to select Christmas gifts. The windows were beautifully decorated for the season and most stores were open at night as the holiday drew near.

And what would Christmas be to a child without a visit to Santa? He could be found on the third floor of the Economy Store on Merchants Row. An exciting part of getting there was taking the elevator. You didn’t push a button but were taken up there by the elevator operator. You left with a candy cane and high hopes that what you told Santa you wanted would be under your tree on Christmas morning.

You could also have contact with Santa through a local radio station. Late in the afternoon on weekdays they read letters that children had written to Santa. I listened every afternoon at the appointed time hoping to hear mine. I was one happy girl when that happened. Our radio, by the way, was a floor model that was like a piece of furniture!

I don’t remember anyone having an artificial tree. It was the real thing or nothing! We always got our tree from a home on Route 7 north where Mr. Twitter’s is now located. Balsam was our tree of choice. Colored lights could be found on just everyone’s tree. All white lights weren’t popular like they are today. The lights were large in size and were on a string covered with cloth wire. They were hot to touch after they had been on awhile.

Every ornament on our tree was breakable so they were carefully stored at the end of the season and were handled with care the following year as they were placed on the tree. 

A new package of tinsel icicles was purchased every year and they glowed as the lights shone on them.

We had electric candles in the downstairs windows that were taped to the sill. In keeping with the season the light bulbs were green. The light by our front door also had a green bulb. There were boughs in our window box which is a tradition I still have. However, I have gone a step farther and have miniature white lights on the boughs. I am OK with breaking the tradition of colored lights!

It’s funny how little things can often be a favorite memory. My mother had three wax “holiday caroler” candles. They were dressed in choir robes that were red on the bottom with white tops. They were only about 3 inches tall. They were placed on a table for decoration and were never lighted. When my husband, Peter, and I moved into my family home I mistakenly put them in the attic with other holiday items that my mother had in a box. When I took them out the next Christmas the heat had melted them! Vermont Country Store came to my rescue when I found them in their catalog. Although they are not the originals, their tradition lives on! Now they are safely stored in a dining room cabinet and used for decoration only… just like 70 years ago.

As I unpack ornaments for our tree each year there is a special memory when I see the one that has a “W” taped to the bottom of it. Apparently my mother put the initial of my last name (Whalen) on the ornament when I took it to school for our classroom tree. She was probably instructed to do that so that each student would get back the correct ornament. When I put it on our tree every year I take a step back in time to the 1950s.

After my parents took the ornaments and lights off the Christmas tree each year my father would pile up a big mound of snow near our front door. The tree was put into it and stayed there until the snow melted. All good things must come to an end!

Have a wonderful Christmas making fond memories that you can enjoy looking back at some day.

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