Reliving memories of Christmases past

Echoes of our past
William Wangemann for The Review

Christmas is less than a week away and what would Christmas be without Santa Claus. It seems that every year about this time when I sit down to write the column just before Christmas I end up writing about Santa Claus and letters to Santa Claus.

But, how else would the jolly old elf know what to bring if the children didn’t write a letter and tell him?

In some cases these letters contain requests of 10, 20 and even 30 items the child may want. Just recently a local publication printed page after page of letters to Santa from area children. On their Christmas wish list were some items such as digital cameras, expensive electronic games, lap top computers and a whole host of high tech toys.

Glancing over these letters I began to wonder what children in bygone years had asked Santa to bring them for Christmas.

I went all the way back to the Sheboygan Press of December 20, 1916, which published several pages of letters from children to Santa Claus. Now it’s true that there were no electronic games or lap tops in those days but there was still a vast array of toys of all kinds.

It does seem that these children of 99 years ago had a much lower expectation as to what Santa was going to bring them for Christmas. In almost every single letter the writer would end the letter by saying “also please bring me nuts and candy and don’t forget the tree.” It was common practice in those days for Santa Claus to bring the Christmas Tree and set it up when he delivered the presents on Christmas Eve. He would then trim the tree and place the requested gifts under it that is if the children had been good.

Children had been warned by their parents that if they had not been good Santa Claus knew about it and would leave them nothing but a lump of coal and a stick in their Christmas stocking. The stick, of course, would be used to discipline the errant children. So it was common practice when the children wrote their letters to assure Santa that they had been a good boy or girl all year long. One little boy even added the afterthought “well, at least I tried to be good all year long.”

Another little boy asked Santa if he could have his father home for Christmas. The father was a member of the National Guard which had been sent to the Mexican border to quell border disturbances between Mexican bandits and the USA. Much like today, members of our armed services were in faraway places servicing our country.

Just what kind of gifts did the children ask for?

Girls invariably asked for a baby doll, a small set of dishes or hair ribbons and handkerchiefs.

Boys asked for such things as Tinker Toys, Erector sets or maybe a football.

In almost every case children of that long ago time hardly ever asked for more than maybe 2 or 3 items and at the end of their letters they frequently asked Santa to remember Grandma and Grandpa and poor children who may not get anything.

One little boy reminded Santa “don’t forget my baby brother; he wasn’t here last year you know.”

Several children reminded Santa that they had moved and would he please take note of their new address.

Such things as books, pencils, paper, clothing and particularly warm mittens were often asked for. A little girl also reminded Santa that her favorite doll had disappeared and she had been told by her mother that Santa Claus stopped in one evening and picked up the doll so that his elves could restore it. Lo and behold the doll reappeared on Christmas morning under the tree with a new wig and a new dress, most certainly homemade.

Sometimes a much used coaster wagon would disappear just before Christmas and then re appear Christmas morning sporting new paint and new wheels.

It seems that children were always aware of what was going on around them in the world which can be evidenced by letters written to Santa. In 1932 during the height of the gut wrenching depression one particularly heart-rending sender started by saying “Dear Santa, I know these times are hard to I’m not going to ask for much, please bring me a pencil and a tablet and please remember all the poor children who may get nothing for Christmas.”

One small boy asked for nothing more than a piece of rope for his sled. I can’t imagine a child of today asking only for a piece of rope for Christmas.

It is very apparent from these letters that children of those days realized how barren Christmas would be for some children. Then there were other letters that were almost hard to explain.

One little girl asked for a real airplane and a purple cow and, of course nuts and candy. There was no explanation as to why she asked for a purple cow!

During the war years of the 1940s the letters to Santa changed drastically, as children asked Santa not to forget their father or maybe a brother or uncle who were in the military and stationed in some faraway place.

One small girl said that her uncle was in a place very far away named Hawaii, so please not to forget him.

Boys began to ask for such things as a wind up tank, and airplane or maybe a toy rifle. After giving Santa a short list a small girl cautioned him not to forget all the soldiers.

Metal toys completely disappeared from store shelves. Many toy makers began to use wood, paper Mache and card board.

In the atomic age of the 1950s the New York Times published a letter from a nine-year-old boy asking for two atomic bombs, two pistols and a very sharp knife. An 8 year old girl asked for an “atomic bomb set” and cautioned Santa to “be sure it really works.”

I doubt that Santa filled either of these requests! I wonder what she had in mind. I hope she didn’t grow up to be a politician!

WTMJ radio from Milwaukee had a program on every year sponsored by Schuester’s Department Store featuring Billy the Brownie reading letters sent to Santa.

Every year I would send in a letter to Billy the Brownie. Each day at noon the program came on the air and I would eagerly listen for my letter, and each year I would be disappointed, Billy never picked my letter.

One of the high points of the Christmas season was the opening on Thanksgiving Day of the marvelous H.C. Prange animated windows, which are recreated at the Sheboygan County Historical Society’s Museum in Sheboygan. Many of the recreated window use the original animated animals that were once used in the Prange windows.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all and if you will now excuse me I have to get a letter off to Santa.

Today’s tidbit. Did you know that all of Santa’s reindeer are females? Male reindeer lose their antlers in winter. Seeing that Santa’s reindeer are always depicted with antlers they must all be females!

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for a future column please feel free to contact me at 920-458-2974 or e-mail, or Bill Wangemann, 1223 S. 23rd St., Sheboygan 53081-5011.

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