Celebrate: Our readers remember – We asked readers to send in stories of their favorite holiday memories, and they delivered

David and Kathy with Santa at The Carl Company in Schenectady during the 1960s.
David and Kathy with Santa at The Carl Company in Schenectady during the 1960s.

We asked readers to send in stories of their favorite holiday memories, and they delivered. Some reflected on their favorite gifts, others on the ways they once celebrated the season. Here’s what they had to say:

A visit from Santa
The Christmas I turned 4, I wanted one gift from Santa Claus: a Tiny Tears Doll. She had short, brown curly hair, was just the right size for my little arms, and when she was given a bottle she cried real tears.

Every time I saw her in the store, I begged my mother to help me write her on my Christmas list so that Santa would bring her to me.

On Christmas Eve, after everyone was in bed and asleep, I woke to a noise in our living room.

Quietly getting out of bed, I opened my door and looked past the dining room into our living room. Spying some movement, I tiptoed down the hall hugging the wall. Passing my parents’ room, I slid along a wall and peeped into the living room.

Dressed in red, with white trim and a wonderful red hat, was Santa. He placed a doll-size box under the tree and then looked up at me, winking.

Putting his finger against his lips to tell me that this was a secret, he suddenly disappeared.

Index – Celebrate: There’s still so much to Celebrate

In the morning, as my brother and I went to sit under the tree and wait for my parents, I kept the biggest secret of my life. And when we opened our presents, I knew that Tiny Tears was in the first box I chose to open.

To this day, I believe that Christmas holds magic for those who believe.

— Cheryl MacNeil, Scotia

Christmastime of yesteryear
Thinking of Christmases of yesteryear brings back memories with a joyful tear. I grew up in the Bellevue section of Schenectady during the ’50s and early ’60s. We lived in the downstairs flat of a traditional “Schenectady house” that my parents owned.

Back in those days, most everyone had a real Christmas tree from which the branches filled the air with a lovely balsam scent. Decorations for our tree included a colored paper chain that my sister, Karen, and I made. One year, we strung popcorn for garland to put on the tree. Speaking of popcorn, my mother would make popcorn balls as a special treat and also homemade fudge for us, and would give some to others as well. The final touch on the tree was to hang tinsel on it.

An artificial red wreath with red candlelight was hung on the door. A strap with jingle bells on it was also hung on the door so that they would jingle every time the door was opened or closed. A set of five candle lights was placed in the center window, and a small nativity scene was set up.

Our house was an older house with no fireplace, however, my parents had purchased a cardboard fireplace they would set up each year on which for us to hang our stockings. We loved that fireplace.

Every year the former Euclid Elementary School in Bellevue where we went to school would have a Christmas concert for the parents, at which each grade would sing a Christmas carol on the stage. The kindergarten class would always sing “Away in a Manger.” I remember that was my mother’s favorite part — seeing and hearing the little ones.

Another memorable activity was to go downtown to shop. With snow falling down and jingle bells of the Salvation Army gently ringing in the background as we walked, we enjoyed seeing all the decorations in the stores, especially the Carl Company window with a beautiful holiday scene with characters that moved.

With all the decorations up, the excitement would build. Then one night each year as Christmas drew nearer, the phone would ring, and my father said the person wanted to talk to me and my sister. The voice on the phone said “Ho, ho, ho” and wanted to know if I had been good, and asked what I wanted for Christmas. Then he had the same conversation with my sister. We told my parents it was the REAL Santa Claus on the phone! When we got older, we figured out that “Santa Claus” was really our uncle Trent.

When Christmas Eve came, we went to my grandparents’ house (also in Bellevue), where we would see all my aunts and uncles and cousins — we had a big Italian family. From there, we would go to each of our relatives’ homes. Besides my grandparents, there were four families in Schenectady (three in Bellevue and one across town) and two others in the Colonie area. We would all go to each house to see their tree and have Italian and other goodies to eat and drink. My one aunt had bubble candle lights on her tree; I was always fascinated to see them.

Also, my father would bring his guitar, and we would all sing traditional Christmas carols. Later rock ’n’ roll became popular, and so my father then added “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock” to his repertoire, to our delight. When we were a little older, my sister and I sang in the church choir at Midnight Mass in between visiting the relatives.

It was so much fun, but a long night. By the time we visited each home, we didn’t get home until around 2 in the morning. Of course, we had to go straight to bed or Santa Claus might not come.

In the morning we would see the gifts Santa left for us under the tree and in our stockings. Later we would have a special dinner. One year, we got ice skates from Santa so we could go ice skating at Hillhurst Park. We also went sleigh riding there. Winter fun!

Index – Celebrate: There’s still so much to Celebrate

Things have changed through the years. Many people have artificial Christmas trees now and use garland instead of tinsel. I have an artificial, prelit tree myself that revolves. I also have a ceramic tree that I made in the 1980s with a music box in it that plays “Silent Night” when you wind it up. In addition, I have a few other decorations from the past.
In later years it wasn’t feasible to go from house to house, but we missed those good times. So for a few years, we cousins planned a family get-together around a week before Christmas. We held these in a VFW hall and fire halls, and once in a reserved room in a restaurant.

Everyone came, including the one aunt and two uncles we had left. By then we all had children of our own, and some had grandchildren.

This get-together meant so much to the aunt and uncles, and made for a great memory for all the little children.

Sadly, the aunts and uncles have all passed away. We cousins that are left now have become the older generation with children and grandchildren, and even one has great-grandchildren. The families have spread out geographically as to where we all reside, plus it is more complicated to coordinate schedules.

We still remain close in our hearts, but it is difficult to all get together very often. However, we will always remember fondly our family Christmases of yesteryear and cherish the memories forever.

— Camille Crandall, Delanson

A surprise gift
I liked puttering around the house and fixing things. I installed curtain rods, mini blinds, cracked cement on our porch, etc., all while my husband worked at the Schenectady Fire Department.

We had a 70th birthday gathering with friends and family. It was close to Christmas; they presented me with a work tool apron from Home Depot to carry all my tools.

What a good laugh we all had!

— Olivia Sheldon, Schenectady

Special Santa visits
Christmas in the l960s and l970s, as I remember, started with a visit to old St. Nick in the basement of The Carl Company on State St. in Schenectady.

Index – Celebrate: There’s still so much to Celebrate

He was a jolly ol’ Santa that my two children, David and Kathy, visited every Christmas. They are now in their 50s and 60s, but the memories of seeing him in his big Christmas chair, a smiling Santa wearing a red woolly jacket and puffy red pants, and the anticipation of talking to Santa, whom you never met, are not forgotten.

The Christmas season did not begin until you told Santa what you hoped would arrive on his sled for Christmas.

My children felt a great deal of anticipation entering this big department store, The Carl Company, walking down the stairs to the store basement and greeting a man they had never met before, Santa. For a little guy of 4 and a young girl of 7, this took courage.

I still have the Santa pin he attached to every child’s winter jacket who had the courage to sit on his knee.

He was not an ordinary Santa, as his eyes wrinkled with a twinkle and he had a broad warm smile you would never forget, welcoming children of all ages onto his knee.

When thinking back to the Santa years in the basement of The Carl Company, the anticipation and excitement you felt as you watched your children climb up onto his knee were what Christmas was all about.

The excitement you felt was the thrill of having your children meet Santa for the first time as he lifted each child up to sit on his knee for the first time.

If you measure the meaning of courage, this was it. How can you forget that?

My son was 4 and so stunned, he had his toy list in his hand but couldn’t speak. Santa leaned down, looked in his face and the magic of Christmas began.

The memories of the Santa years at The Carl Company come back every time I unpack the metal Santa pin.

Santa’s smiling face, wearing a bright woolly red hat, a fluffy big white beard, a bag of toys on his shoulder, covers the shiny round painted pin, made of metal.

How many people in Schenectady remember the Santa pin and the tradition of having their children greet jolly old St. Nick in the basement of The Carl Company? Seeing Santa officially began the Christmas season every year, it is a feeling of love and kindness that you cannot forget.

On a side note, I also remember the elevator with a man standing by smiling as you entered.

The elevator was on the main floor next to the office, where Mrs. Carl sat behind her desk.

It is the personal touch of Christmas that I miss most of all, the “elevator man” and “Mr. Claus.”
— Grace Boyajian Brown, Clifton Park

Index – Celebrate: There’s still so much to Celebrate

Categories: Celebrate 2021, Life and Arts


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