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The Magic and Wonder of the First Weekend of December

December 10, 2014

 

The Magic and Wonder of the First Weekend of December:

 

From Christmas Dances to Decorations,

 

From the Land of Oz to Santa Claus Land

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

The first weekend of December brings back memories of many special times, including the celebrations of my parents’ wedding anniversary; they were married on December 4, 1942, while my dad was in the Army.  In 1997, on December 1, my dad passed away three days before the celebration of their 55th wedding anniversary.

 

On the first weekend of December, in the 1950s and the early 1960s, a Christmas dance at Perona’s Hall was part of kicking off the holiday season in our hometown of Blanford, Indiana.  Not only did the adults of our small, rural town attend, but also some of the children.  Perona’s Hall was above the grocery store–one of the two competitors of the grocery store of my maternal grandmother and my Uncle Pete.  Nevertheless, my parents and I enjoyed going to these dances.  One thing which I did not enjoy was the extremely high, narrow, and steep flight of stairs to the dance hall.  After ascending those many stairs, one entered the hall with an alcove on the right, where food and drinks were served.  I recall that the Royal Neighbors of America, an organization to which my mother belonged for many years, sponsored a number of these dances.  To the left of the entry was a small stage with an upright piano and its wooden stool.  Theatre seats and tall windows were around the other three sides  of the dance hall.  For these community dances, a five-piece band played big band tunes that still echo in my head.  I especially hear Deno Libei’s saxophone filling the dance hall with “Stardust” and can picture so clearly in my mind’s eye my parents, dancing so smoothly over the wooden floor of Perona’s Hall.  In this memory, I see my mother in a royal blue dress and my dad in a charcoal and gray suit with white shirt and narrow tie.  What a handsome couple they were!  My father was known as a very good dancer, and my mother well followed his lead around the dance floor.  Those December dances to begin the celebration of the holiday season were good times.

 

Too frequently, the re-broadcasting of the spectacularly magical movie The Wizard of Oz on television coincided with the December dance.  Although I did not want to miss watching this famous movie, when the Wicked Witch or the flying monkeys appeared on screen, I hid behind a portion of the wall that arched between our living room and dining room; then, I just peeked periodically at the frightening parts of the 1939 movie.  Once, I estimated that I had seen The Wizard of Oz at least fourteen times–but of course, more by now and still counting.

 

The first weekend of December was also the time when we decorated our house and trimmed the Christmas tree.  Eventually, live evergreens gave way to an artificial six-foot tree.

 

For many years, my dad decorated our large front porch with strands of lights.  Additionally, bedecking our front porch were a choir girl and choir boy dressed in white and red choir robes and made of plastic.  Between the two choir members was a plastic street lamppost, topped with a little snow.  Of course, these figurines were illuminated by a bulb within each piece.  When I was in college in Terre Haute and enjoyed shopping on Wabash Avenue, I purchased a plastic reindeer at the Smith-Alsop Store to add to the holiday display on our porch.  For a few years, my dad affixed a speaker outdoors so that Christmas music accompanied our outdoor Christmas display.

 

For a number of years before we created our own outdoor holiday decorations, my family and I drove to the home of the Harris family who lived about four miles north of Blanford, a little past the town of St. Bernice, in the flat and rich farmland of our Vermillion County.  This family who owned the Harris Food Store in Clinton, Indiana, had quite a mesmerizing Christmas display, with holiday music.  I most remember driving so very slowly by Santa in a sleigh, with all the reindeer.  Even though I have never been a fan of blue for Christmas decor, I marveled each year at the large, indoor tree lighted only with blue Christmas lights–the larger type, not the fairy lights or LED lights as used today.  Besides other outdoor figurines of the season around the property, a huge star shone brightly from atop the television aerial and over a manger scene.  Viewing this home’s holiday outdoor display a few times each year was a special treat.

 

When I was even younger, my parents, my older sister, and I went to Santa Clause, Indiana, during the first weekend of December.  For several years, we went to Santa Claus Land (renamed Holiday World in more recent decades) because my mother was a member of the Indiana Branch of the National League of Postmasters, who selected this festive location for their December meeting.  While she attended her meeting, Dad, Mary, and I did those more important things like visiting Santa and shopping at the unique store from where I still have a very small tea set on which is painted Santa and the words “Santa Claus Land.”  While my sister and I recognized the Santas at Roots’ Department Store in Terre Haute and other such Santas, we knew that the real Santa was at Santa Claus, Indiana.  Consequently, going to Santa Claus Land was extremely important.

 

On one of our trips to this small city in Southern Indiana, the snow was flying to set the holiday mood.  In the early 1950s, children’s rubber boots with one button at the top of each were quite popular; my sister had a white pair, and I had a red pair.  Also, children’s house slippers at that time were not the fuzzy and fluffy type, but made more like leather slippers with a wide and heavy-duty elastic band on either side.  In my haste and excitement to see the real Santa Claus, I forgot to change into my patent leather shoes.  I stuck my house-slippered, little feet right into my red boots.  Somewhere along a snow-covered road en route to Santa Claus, Indiana, I came to a terrible realization–no pretty patent leather shoes were on my feet.  In a burgeoning panic, I told my dad that he had to go back home for my dress shoes because I could not possibly see Santa while I was wearing my house slippers!  My dad tried to explain to me that he could not return home, that the roads were slippery, that we had to arrive in time for Mother’s meeting, and that Santa Claus would not mind my wearing boots within which were house slippers.  I was not swayed a bit by his logic.  This time was one of the extremely rare occasions when my wonderful dad did not grant my wish.  I cried real tears.  Nevertheless, that first weekend in December, I did wear my red house slippers, covered by my big red boots, to see the real Santa Claus.  Thankfully, all worked out well.  I do not think Santa had a clue about my footwear:  he still brought me the nice gifts I had shyly requested as I sat upon his knee.

 

Wishing you the gifts of joy and wonder of this magical holiday season,

Alice and Zoe

 

December 10, 2014, Wednesday

 

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7 Comments
  1. The magical gift of Santa Claus lives within me, as I’m sure it does in countless others. Your posts take me back through time to the joys of my childhood. As big a part of me as they were back then, they are still to this day. Thanks Alice for another mind venturing post and have a wonderful second week of December. dp

  2. Alice, thank you for taking me with you to that dance hall. I enjoyed listening to “Stardust” and watching your parents and other dancers. My grandfather played the saxophone in a band before he fought in World War II, and they would have played at such an event.

    When I read about your dislike of blue Christmas lights, I immediately thought of the song “Blue Christmas.” Those lights could symbolize spending Christmas away from those you love or mourning the loss of a loved one during the holiday season. Thank you for another great post.

  3. Fran Rayce permalink

    Alice,
    You have certainly captured the essence of Christmas in small town Indiana. I think there was a steady stream from all over the county to see what seemed like an incredibly extravagant display at the Harris farm. How we envied all those lights!

    And those boots; usually red, (I am incredulous that Mary had white!), so difficult to put on that we used plastic bread wrappers over our shoes when the boots began to be on the small side so that they would slide on more easily. I can imagine your dismay at not being clad in the proper footwear. Thank goodness for forgiving Santas!

    I can also easily imagine your parents dancing to the wonderful area musicians; I still remember seeing Jack’s folks dancing for the first time and staring in awe and wonderment. That generation had such skill as dancers, and of such grace, which didn’t seem to match their everyday lives.

    Thanks for bringing that all back. Jack and I have sometimes wondered what we would think of the Harris display now. Better not to think of that and let it be the glorious sight of my memory.

    Merry Christmas!
    Fran

  4. While dusting the hallway,
    what should I see,
    but a picture of me
    sitting on Santa’s knee!
    Yes, the very real Santa that your wrote about!

    I was dressed in a coat and a brimmed winter hat
    with a very shy smile–
    Can you imagine that?

    Santa’s beard glistened
    (even in black and white)
    and his warm, loving smile
    made the photo just right.

    Thank you, Alice, for recording these precious Christmas memories.
    With love and best wishes to you and Zoe for a Merry Christmas,
    Mary

    PS I’m sure I was wearing my black patent leather shoes.

  5. Paula Lumb permalink

    What lovely memories to cherish, and share, Alice. As always, thank you, and Happy Holidays!! Blessings and Peace. Paula

  6. I loved those dances and have many fond memories of the fun times. I also remember the magic of Santa Claus, Indiana, where I had exclaimed that the village Santa was the “real McCoy.”

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