Growing Up on 42nd Street – Christmas Memories

Christmas was different.

After lunch my Mom told my brother, Joey, and me that since we would be up late tonight, Christmas Eve, we needed to take a nap. We went to the first bedroom, the one with a door to the rest of the apartment including the front room. Of course, we couldn’t sleep so we faked it. My Mom went into the front room.

Joey got out of bed and told me to follow him. We went out the kitchen door and down the outside hall to the front room door. He peeked through the keyhole for a minute or so, then invited me to look. There was Mom putting little toys and things into our stockings. Goodbye Santa Claus!

At that time there was no tree set up. At some point (when we were back “napping”) Pop came home with the tree fresh from the 9th Avenue merchants. He carried it down the hall to the front room and set it up on the desk. There wasn’t a lot of floor space. Then he decorated it using lots of tinsel; he loved tinsel.

Actually Christmas started a few weeks earlier with the making of the cookies.

Pop started early on a Sunday morning with the creaming of the butter and sugar by hand. They didn’t make mixers large enough, so we used the largest soup pot we had. There were to be lots of cookies. After the remaining ingredients were added and blended to the correct consistency the dough was rolled out on the kitchen table, which fortunately was enamel. It was suitably floured and we started with the cookie cutters. The cutters were not Christmas trees and Santas – that would be too predictable. Instead they were card suites – hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs. We cut them out, put them on multiple cookies sheets and continued the process all day. They were put into stainless steel boxes (shoe box sized and made for transporting Fanny Farmer candy. Pop made hundreds of them for Fanny Farmer, one of his metal smith customers.) The boxes were placed high atop the refrigerator where no one could reach them except Pop. He was known to eat a few now and then. They were made for Christmas Eve.

Let’s get back to Christmas Eve.

The front room was still off limits so we stayed in the kitchen. At 6:00 pm we had dinner like always. Joey and I were not interested in food but we ate it anyway. We were waiting for the arrival of my Aunt, Uncle and cousin, Andrew. When they showed up it was time for the great presentation. The door was opened and there before us was the tallest, most beautiful, decorated and lighted tree. There were no gifts under the tree; no room. The presents were in three neat piles on the sofa. Pop did not believe in wrapping gifts – no time and no mess. Pop pointed out whose pile was whose and we went at them.
Our favorite gift each year was an enormous 5 foot red mesh Christmas Stocking. It was full of coloring books, crayons, paint-with-water books, puzzles, small toys and occasionally something special like a pop gun. We were escorted off to the kitchen to open our magic-filled stockings.

The front room was for adults, neighbors and friends. They enjoyed various libations and feasted on ” Christmas Cookies”!