Back in the 1940's Christmas exterior residential house decorations
in Newark were minimal. There were no outside lights. Some houses
had wreaths on the doors and others had lighted candles in the windows.
That was about it. If one wanted to see Christmas lighting you would
have to drive through the wealthy neighborhoods like Wyoming Avenue
in South Orange.
The string of lights on the Christmas tree were wired in series.
That meant if one burned out the whole string went out. We would
go crazy substituting a new bulb in each socket until the string
lit. Remember those type of lights? Some people would use all blue
lamps on their tree. As a kid I thought that looked eerie. We would
also put angel hair on the tree as a decoration. This was spun glass
(similar to today's fiberglass) and it would give the appearance
of snow. Does anyone remember angel hair? If you touched it you
never forgot it. The little glass fibers had a nasty habit of getting
into your skin with the pain of poison ivy. God only knows what
it did to our respiratory system.
The Christmas trees were horrible. They were balsam trees all
field cut from the forests of New England. They were brought into
Newark by train. Most were sold locally by individuals. Today's
Christmas tree (Balsam, Frazier, Douglas Fir and Scotch Pine) are
grown in nurseries. They are just about perfect where the old balsam
trees were always imperfect. They were grown in the forest with
inadequate sunlight and at least one side lacked branches. We compensated
for this by adding branches to the bare side. These trees cost around
$2.00 and up. That would be approximately $20.00 in today's money.
Home Depot today is selling Balsam trees for $20.00 but they do
not require plastic surgery.
Santa Claus was in abundance. The best one was in Bambergers.
But there were many more to be found in the Down Town area. Remember
Santa Claus in front of the stores ringing a bell. He would have
a container (chimney, bucket or pail) for donations. Most of these
men were down on their luck and were working for the Volunteers
of America (I think that was the name of the organization) located
on James Street. As kids we were told they were Santa's helpers.
My father was a professional Santa Claus for many years. He was
Santa for the Galloping Hill Country Club in Union, P. A. L. and
many other organizations. I still have most of his costume.
They would be in front of Bambergers and other stores playing
their musical instruments. They weren't the greatest musicians but
they did add charisma to the season. The Salvation Army is one of
the best charities. Around 25 years a tenement on Brookdale Avenue
(a couple of doors in from South Orange Avenue, on the right hand
side of the street) caught fire. Several families were homeless
and I can remember within an hour a representative was on the scene
offering lodging to anyone who needed it.
The most impressive Nativity was in front of Seton Hall University.
They had live animals (donkey, ox, sheep and a goat). The statues
were just about life size. They also had the star of Bethlehem on
the roof of President's Hall. This was discontinued in the 1960's.
Does anyone remember it? Sacred Heart Church had an excellent nativity.
As a tradition we would borrow straw from it for our own nativity
at home. There was also a Catholic Church by the Columbus Projects
that had a National renown nativity. My wife and I visited it once.
I think the name of the church was Saint Lucy's. It was an Italian
parish that survived the urban renewal. Does anyone remember?
Hannon's on Centre Street in South Orange. They had a tremendous
Christmas display on their property. The reindeer and sleigh were
in mid air between their house and the garage. They would also give
candy to the kids ( Hannon's Floor Covering in Newark ). Does anyone
There was also another nice man (on Mount Vernon Place near Stuyvesant
Avenue) who was Santa and he would give candy to the kids.