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Recollections of Christmases past

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For me, and likely for many of you, the most vivid Christmas memories come from the time when we were between 6 and 9 years old, coincidentally about the same age as Ralphie, the main character in the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story,” which now plays on TV for 24 hours straight starting on Christmas Eve.

Ralphie described the holiday season as “lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas … around which the entire kid year revolved.”

Here are some Christmas memories I would like to think Ralphie and I had in common:

• Christmas parades always held at night.

• Christmas window displays in downtown Wilson stores, including Vann’s Electric, Belk-Tyler’s, Wilson Hardware and McClellan’s dime store.

• Riding around town and viewing Christmas decorations, highlighted by the water tank that was always decorated with thousands of colored lights. This was an era many years before the invention of the inflatable Christmas characters that are so prevalent today, although our outdoor decorations were still pretty good.

• As soon as our Christmas tree, always a live version, was up in the living room, that distinctive tree fragrance took hold and hung around until after New Year’s Day.

• Our tree decorations included bulbs, only the colored variety; bubble lights; all kinds of hanging ornaments; angel hair, which was actually spun fiberglass that I think is now banned because it was deemed to be unsafe; and icicles, which were thin strips of shredded foil that I think are also now banned for being a fire hazard.

• Christmas stockings carried more importance back then and were usually a big part of Christmas morning. Our stockings were usually stuffed with edible goodies like tangerines, Brazil nuts, hard candy and candy canes.

• Christmas music seemed to be playing constantly around town, on the radio, on television and being sung in school classrooms throughout the holiday season. Tunes included the traditional Christmas songs since no one had yet complained about them being offensive because of their religious connotations.

• When opening gifts with the family around the tree, my mother always said, “Save the bows so we can use them again,” an action that resulted in a savings of perhaps 15 to 20 cents over my entire childhood.

• Sending and receiving Christmas cards, the actual mailed version.

• Santa Claus. Even though I had mailed a handwritten letter early in the season to Santa at his North Pole address, I made sure things were in order by also paying him a visit just before Christmas at his location on the second-floor balcony of Belk’s downtown.

• In “A Christmas Story,” Santa left Ralphie a Red Ryder BB gun, which the youngster described as being “the greatest gift (he) had ever received, or would ever receive.”

Trendy, fad-type, “got to have”-type items like some kids receive today were not yet in vogue during my youth, yet the bicycle, electric train, swing set, doctor set (age 6), baseball glove and bat, View-Master, electric football game and some other good stuff served pretty well.

One year about a week before Christmas, I located a new bicycle hidden under burlap sacks in our next-door neighbor’s tool shed. I assumed the bike was there for Santa to pick up on his way over to my house. I found out later I was correct.

• This last item might be hard for some to believe, but try to imagine a Christmas season that included no Black Friday; no cell phones, smart phones or mobile devices of any kind (no kidding!); no computers; no internet; no online ordering or cyber Monday; no Walmart, Target, Best Buy or any other major chain stores; and no fast food restaurants.

In addition, when I was a youngster, most retail stores were not open at nights or on Sunday, and grocery stores were closed on Sundays regardless of the season.

Further, we had no Home Shopping Network, no Hallmark Channel, no Charlie Brown TV special, very few TV ads and no TV remote control units.


Still, despite all this I recall each early Christmas as being nothing but great times.

Since Christmas in any era is whatever you make it, go out this year and make some Christmas memories so you can look back on them many years from now and smile.

Keith Barnes is a reporter for the Johnstonian News. Email him at