By Jacqueline G. Goodwin, Ed.D.
Do you remember the Christmas holiday season? Do you remember the holiday season starting with the family Thanksgiving dinner with aunts, uncles and cousins? Did you attend the traditional William Penn versus John Harris football game? Do you remember the holiday parade with floats, balloon characters bands, and of course, Santa? Did you make the annual pilgrimage downtown to see Pomeroy’s Department Store holiday windows with animated displays, the painted winter scenes outside Fellers’ clothing store, Santa in Bowman’s Department Store basement, as well as numerous sidewalk Santas ringing their bells? Did you peruse trains and models at Vince’s Hobby Shop on Locust Street or toy soldiers and sporting equipment at Shenk & Tittle? Did you go to Joe the Motorist’s Friend to look at guns and fishing equipment, and to get a Santa pin?
If so, you grew up in Harrisburg, or at least nearby. We wanted to know about these childhood holiday experiences, so we got the word out and asked readers for their recollections. So navigate through the memories provided by some of our readers and allow yourself to be transported back in time to the days of Christmas past.
After my Mother and I went to Zimmerman’s, the Broad Street Market and the Food Fair at Kline Village for baking supplies, we set about started making Christmas treats for family and friends. We put the finished cookies in Christmas tins so they would not become stale. Sometimes I would sneak into the pantry and steal a couple of cookies to eat.
I remember December as being an agonizingly slow month. I just couldn’t wait for Christmas to arrive. My relatives would send my family Christmas cards and packages from out of town. Mail was delivered twice a day and the Christmas cards we received were immediately opened and taped to the archway of the door into our living room. We weren’t allowed to open any gifts until Christmas morning. However, that did not prevent my sister and I from shaking them to try to discover what was inside. And when the big day arrived, we found that Santa had placed them around our real live Christmas tree. After opening our gifts we went to church and then came home to enjoy a delicious meal with all of the holiday trimmings.
My brothers and sisters and I shopped for Christmas gifts at Lee’s 5¢ 10¢ 25¢ Store in the uptown shopping district. I seemed to always buy costume jewelry for my Mother and candy for my Father.
Holiday traditions in our family started when I was quite young, and we’ve continued them since I’ve had my own family. My parents allowed us to open one gift on Christmas Eve. I always hoped for a book to read so that I could help pass the time until Christmas morning because I was too excited to sleep. When we woke up, my mother put her traditional breakfast casserole in the oven to heat while we opened gifts. We always took turns opening gifts, one at a time. It was both to extend the special time but also so everyone could see what the others had gotten as gifts. My father never wanted my mother to have to cook a big meal on Christmas Day, so he always took us to the Hotel Hershey to eat in the Circular Dining Room. It was a special treat for all of us. When we got home, we’d usually play with our toys, read our books, or visit with neighbors.
As a mother I’ve implemented many of the same traditions. My girls are also allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve and then they put some ‘reindeer food’ in the yard and on our driveway to show the reindeer and Santa Claus where to land. In the morning, we get up early and open gifts, then have a breakfast of eggs and bacon and chocolate chip pancakes. After we’ve eaten, we sit around with our new gifts for a while and then get ready to go to the Hotel Hershey for our Christmas meal. This is my favorite Christmas tradition that has been in our family for 40 plus years. After we’re done stuffing ourselves, we return home and get into our comfy clothes and head over to my mom’s house or my sister’s. There, we exchange gifts with my mom and my sister’s family and eat food even though we’re not very hungry. We’re usually still stuffed from our meal at the Hotel Hershey. After we exchange gifts with our extended family, we visit for a while then I take our girls over to their father’s house, just two miles away. Although we’ve been divorced for a few years, we both make sure to work out our schedules so that we’re able to always see the girls on holidays. It’s not always easy, but we can agree that the important thing is spending time with our girls. After my girls come home from their dad’s, we spend the rest of the night snuggling with our pugs, Abraham and Lincoln, before heading to bed. As our girls have gotten older, we’ve tried to focus more on experiences and time spent together than material gifts. The next day the girls will write thank you notes to the friends and relatives that have given them gifts. They sometimes complain about it, but I know how much people appreciate getting them, and I think it’s an important part of receiving a gift.
My dad introduced the pyramid-shaped box wrapped in the Sunday comics about 30 years ago. My siblings and I would get $100 for guessing the gift inside, minus $10 for every question we asked. No one won — it was a 78-RPM record by Irish tenor John McCormack – but the tradition continues, slightly altered. I put something animal-themed in the box, and everyone — now including sibling families — tries to guess the animal. The Christmas after Dad died, the mystery gift was a hat of his with a fish on it. My oldest brother won – an appropriate remembrance of the mischievous dad who turned a pyramid-shaped box into a holiday tradition.
M. Diane McCormick
Back in the 60s when I was little my family and I got dressed up to go downtown to Christmas shop and see the holiday displays in the windows of Pomeroy’s, Bowman’s and the other stores in Harrisburg after the Christmas displays went up after Thanksgiving. We dressed up like we were going to church.
Valerie L. Hubbard