Times have Changed but the Holiday is Still Fun
When I was a child in Jamestown, there was no sign that Christmas was coming until the morning after Thanksgiving. Then, suddenly, overnight, Christmas was EVERYWHERE. Carols filled the radio airwaves. Santa Claus sat in his workshop on television and read letters from little tykes who wanted fire engines or talking dolls. Shoppers were polite and happy.
The sidewalks of Jamestown were so crowded with people — people nearly staggering under the burden of their Christmas packages — that we had to dodge around them. I remember having to wait outside some of the stores until somebody left because the inside was packed to the maximum with customers. A man actually stood at the doors and allowed us inside, one or two at a time.
Even though it was cold and snow was falling and the wind froze our noses and we were bundled up in layer upon layer of clothes and coats and scarves and mittens and boots, the town felt cozy and warm. Everyone was friendly, greetings were cheerful, carols played from speakers, colored lights made the whole place glitter with the joy of the holiday season.
I wish my grandchildren could experience those wonderful days. I’ve heard that same sentiment from many others.
Folks Remember Happy Times
Christmas has certainly changed since many Chautauqua County folks were young. And while there are legitimate complaints that the holiday has become little more than a financial windfall for retailers, there remain many great memories of family traditions and happy holiday events.
The Jamestown Gazette asked a random sampling of area residents to tell us what they recall most affectionately about the Christmas season.
Sally Saff of Falconer remembers “Christmas shopping didn’t start until after Thanksgiving. You would go downtown and it was like a holiday bustle of activity. Every store was decorated and Bigelows had a big Christmas display in its window.”
William Waite of West Ellicott said he remembers “the smell of the Christmas tree. It was a live tree. We had a family tradition of sitting around the tree in the evening on Christmas Eve. We had a big wooden bowl of mixed nuts we had to crack to eat. and each of us had a big thick-skinned orange. We didn’t have candy. We just enjoyed being together in the light of the Christmas tree.
Alicia Cruise of Falconer remembers her father as the center of her childhood Christmases.
“We were a poor family and there were seven of us, counting our parents,” Alicia said. “But my father made the holiday fun and exciting. He would come home early from work and not tell us he was home. He would get up on the roof with sleigh bells and jingle the bells, then he’d pretend he was just coming home from work and tell us all about these sightings of Santa Claus.”
On Christmas morning, the children “got a couple of gifts each,” she said. But that was enough. “Nowadays, kids are smothered with gifts. But it doesn’t take money to have a happy Christmas.”
Because of her father’s deep love and caring for his family, Alicia said, “Those were good Christmases. Today, it’s nothing but stress.”
Alicia said she has carried on her father’s way of celebrating Christmas with her own daughter and grandchildren.
Amy Aldrich of Fredonia said, “I always loved walking into Eckloff’s Bakery and smelling the fresh baked cookies. And there was always the huge Christmas Tree at City Hall. It was beautiful.”
Anna Fales, now of Falconer, grew up in Dunkirk.
“I remember the blizzards and trying to get to family gatherings,” she said.
At Christmas, the Fales family “was always together” despite bad weather. “We played cards, and the kids were running around. It was awesome.”
Jeff Bloomquist of Jamestown said, “Christmas is my time of year. I remember one Christmas when my grandma was in the hospital with a gall bladder problem. I was worried she wouldn’t get home in time for Christmas Day. But she got home OK and I got what I wanted that Christmas — that the whole family would be together. And I got the gift I wanted. A Howdy-Doody figure made out of coat hangers and stuffing”
Lori Becker of Falconer remembers “the Christmas music playing downtown, and all the lights and decorations on every store. And I remember the Fenton Museum had an upside down Christmas tree.”
The upside down tree was part of a display of trees that the Fenton still puts on every year.
Michelle Pacheco and Stephanie Osman were busy ringing bells for the Salvation Army outside Brigiotta’s Farmland Produce and Garden Center on Fairmount Ave.
“When I was little,” Pacheco said, “I liked seeing the big Christmas tree at City Hall. It was so nice.”
Osman agreed. “It was like the huge tree at Rockefeller Center.”
Both woman said their most memorable Christmas gift was a Cabbage Patch doll. But in Osman’s case, because they were so expensive and hard to find, “My grandma made me one.”
Nicole Smith of Ashville said her favorite memory of Christmas is “my parents’ extravagant Santa Claus activities. My dad went so far as to leave reindeer tracks and Santa’s boot tracks in the snow. We put out carrots for the reindeer and my parents bit them” to make it seem like the deer had enjoyed them. “We thought it was all real.”
Years ago, a famous newspaper article proclaimed that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!” That statement is as true today as it was then. Like Santa, all the joy that Christmas brings is very, very real. We at the Jamestown Gazette wish all of our readers and all of our good neighbors a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.