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Christmases past: Seniors remember holiday traditions of yesteryear

December 22, 2011
By RENEE PRUSI - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Herb Anderson vividly remembers one Christmas in his youth for a particular reason.

"I was disappointed. Santa brought my brother an orange," Anderson said. "And I only got an apple. ... And my brother wouldn't trade."

Anderson and some other folks at the Marquette Senior Center shared some memories of Christmas past with The Mining Journal, just days before the holiday's arrival.

Article Photos

From popcorn strings to paper chains, Christmas decorations from the past are part of the change in the holiday many seniors recall. The Peter White Public Library at the corner Front and Ridge streets is seen. (Marquette County History Museum photo)

"I remember stringing popcorn for the tree," Stella Mankowski said. "It would be one piece for the string and then one piece in my mouth."

"We used cranberries on our strings, too," Virginia LaJoice recalled.

"You were fancy," Mankowski retorted.

"I remember we always got an orange, an apple and a Lifesavers book, with all the flavored rolls," Donna Boyer said. "Green was my favorite."

"We really appreciated Christmas growing up," said Pamela Murray. "We made a lot of our presents. And on Christmas Eve, we visited with the aunts and uncles. Not so many people do that now."

Anderson said that today's young people might not understand his disappointment in not receiving an orange for Christmas.

"We only got oranges once or twice a year," he said. "So it was special."

Even the oranges themselves were different from what you might see today.

"They were Christmas oranges," Boyer said. "They were quite large."

"It's a good thing clementines weren't in style back then," Mankowski said with a smile. "That would be a gyp."

Sybil Giorgianni recalled a special school project for Christmas.

"We would make chains from colored paper," she said. "We'd make loops from the different colors of construction paper, then take them home and put them on the tree."

LaJoice said another school project was a heart-tugger.

"We made our hand prints in clay, then you would write something sentimental on the back of them," she said. "It was something you could hang on your tree."

Boyer still has a school Christmas project from her son.

"He went to school in the 1960s and what they did was took a soup can and wound yarn around it," she said. "They put glitter on it, too. I still use the one my son made for me."

While nowadays, some put their Christmas trees up in November, that wasn't the case for many families in the 1950s, Giorgianni said.

"Santa brought the tree on Christmas morning," she said. "When we got up on Christmas morning, there it was. My dad put a sheet up between the living room and the dining room. He'd line us up according to age and then drop the sheet and there was everything, all lit up. It was beautiful."

Giorgianni's dad could have been one of Santa's elves.

"My dad made most of our toys," she said. "One year, he made a mine for my brother. It had pulleys that worked and everything. When we were kids, we always wondered why the door to the basement was locked. It was because my dad was working down there every night.

"I still have the playpen he made for my doll."

The children in her family and in many other families had another tradition.

"On the Eve of St. Nicholas, we'd line our shoes up by the door," she said. "The next morning, we'd find either candy in them if we'd been good or coal in them if we'd been naughty."

Last week at the center, a meal brought back memories for many seniors, LaJoice said.

"They made pork pie. The aroma brought me way back," she said. "So I had to go home and make one myself."

"That was a tradition," Boyer said. "We'd go to midnight mass, then come home for pork pie."

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.



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