Five-year-olds have the best Christmases. Four previous Yuletide celebrations have prepared them for basic family traditions, and they are still some three years away from questioning the existence of Santa Claus, as Virginia did more than a century ago.
Five-year-olds are all about cookies and toys, even as the business of the wider world unfolds far beyond their attention or comprehension. I have often wondered what was transpiring as my five-year-old self wished for a doll baby and a new coloring book. Thus, I again turned to the UDC archives, this time in a search for information about Christmas activities of which I and my family members would not have been aware when we were five.
For example, my father celebrated his fifth birthday in 1925 as the third of six children in his still-growing family. The Boston Store, billing itself as Urbana’s Economy Center, was open for last-minute shoppers until noon on Christmas Eve. That evening, sports enthusiasts so inclined could enjoy eight rounds of boxing at the Urbana Athletic Club. And on Christmas Day, the Clifford offered entertainment, including a silent film starring Adolphe Menjou and a live vaudeville stage show.
My mother did not turn five until the day after Christmas, but in 1928 townsfolk and those from the county were invited for caroling at the big community Christmas tree in Urbana, “that had been lacking in former years.” Hagerstown almanacs for 1929 were available at The Book Store, and for 35 cents movie goers could take in a “100% talking picture” at the Clifford. Phillip Eugene Kauffman wrote to Santa: “I have moved since you were here last year…I now live on Mrs. Smith’s farm near Westville. I am four years old.”
The year of 1953 had been abuzz with the truce in Korea, the death of Stalin, and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. However, as my three sisters and I celebrated my fifth Christmas, Cussins and Fearn was selling TV consolettes for $179.95 and tabletop models for $119.95. The staff at the Gloria offered babysitting services for the children of Christmas shoppers: 5 cents an hour and 14 cents admission. Champaign County boys serving in the military spent Christmas north of the 38th parallel in Korea, with NATO defense forces in Germany, and in Austria with the 350th Infantry Regiment.
A year later, my five-year-old sister Carolyn heard my first-grade classmates and me in seasonal singing at Concord’s Christmas program. American Legion Post 148 arranged for Santa to greet children following the Christmas Eve matinee at the Gem Theater in St. Paris. With a nod to the future, RCA announced an electric light amplifier being developed that would eventually enable viewers to see TV pictures on a flat screen in a picture frame hanging on the wall – and the Graham school board placed a 120-day option on 62 acres near St. Paris for a new consolidated high school building.
Connie’s fifth Christmas occurred in 1956, just a few months before the arrival of the fifth and final Scott daughter. The Christian Messengers organized their annual community outreach, delivering 140 Christmas baskets to less fortunate families. Contents included a chicken, canned green beans, peaches, pumpkin, and applesauce in addition to a sack of potatoes, bread, noodles, and powdered milk. Junior, daily visitor to the Kroger store on Miami Street just across the parking lot from his house, received the shiny, new tricycle he told Santa he wanted – from the grocery store’s staff and customers.
As Barb’s fifth December approached, Russell TV Service ran a pre-Christmas sale, offering 45 RPM records for 85 cents each, tax included. Urbana merchants distributed free tickets for the Christmas Eve Holiday Show at the Gloria, an annual community event lasting from 9:30 AM until 8:00 PM. When the Rotary Club held their candlelight Christmas party at Ewing’s Cafeteria, proprietor Carl Pooler returned the $44.90 meal money to the Rotarians for a civic project of their choosing.
Reports in the UDC indicated lots of community spirit in 1962, Beverly’s fifth Christmas. The TWIGS of the Hospital Guild served a holiday meal to 120 Mercy Memorial employees. In lieu of the usual departmental gift exchanges, Grimes employees donated $1251 to furnish a room at the Champaign County Nursing Home under construction. And Bev’s letter to Santa appeared in the UDC: she promised Old St. Nick some cookies, a sandwich, a cup of coffee, and a glass of milk!
More than a decade later, Tim’s fifth Christmas rolled around, somewhat muted by 1973’s energy crisis with its gasoline shortages, possible impeachment of Richard Nixon looming, terrorism in the Middle East. Locally, however, the Jaycees distributed gifts for needy children through Toys for Tots. The Diana Shop held a Stag Night for male customers only to buy gifts of clothing for their ladies, and The Sound Shop was selling 8-track tapes, two for $5.00. Third-graders at Triad designed, decorated, and delivered miniature Christmas trees to patients at Mercy Memorial Hospital.
It is now Christmas Eve of my 71st year, and I am quite aware of the unsettling political crisis currently dividing the American electorate. I choose, however, to focus on the fifth Christmas of my darling great-niece, allowing myself to be transported by the magic of her Christmas song and dance in a cherub’s costume – halo and wings askew in angelic charm. Join me, won’t you? Let’s be five again…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.