Christmas in the post-war United States

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Christmas in the United States during the post-War years (1946–1964) reflected a period of peace, productivity, and prosperity. Americans staged sumptuous Christmases and enjoyed a variety of holiday foods unknown to previous generations. Several films, foods, toys, and television programs of the era have become American Christmas traditions.

Once reliant upon Germany for its ornaments, toys, and even its Christmas customs, America became self-sufficient in the post-War years with Christmas ornaments and toys being manufactured in the United States that were considerably less expensive than their German counterparts. American Christmas customs and traditions such as visits to department store Santas and letter writing to Santa at the North Pole remained intact during America's post-War years, but the era generated contributions that have endured to become traditions. NORAD's tracking of Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve, for example, was initiated in 1955 and has become an annual tradition. The stop motion animated film, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer remains an annual telecast on American television—almost fifty years after its debut, and Dr. Seuss's The Grinch Who Stole Christmas of 1957 has become a literary Christmas classic.

Several Christmas firsts mark the post-War era that include the first White House Christmas card, the first Christmas postage stamp, the first opera composed for television (Amahl and the Night Visitors), the first Christmas Day basketball game, and the first Elvis Presley Christmas album. The era saw the production and manufacture of toys that have become classics such as Candy Land, Mr. Potato Head, and Barbie.

Christmas trees[edit]

Types[edit]

During the post-War years, Americans could select their Christmas trees from a variety of offerings. Natural trees had become the preferred choice in America when Christmas tree farms began supplying them to large metropolitan areas in the 1920s.[1] Artificial trees of bristles, aluminum trees, and flocked trees became alternatives to real trees during the post-War period.

An unsheared Christmas tree in New York State circa 1951 displays the natural form of the tree's branches.

Natural[edit]

In 1900, only one in five American families had a [Christmas tree]. While America never lacked for real trees, the time and expense of retrieving them from the wild was significant. Early in the twentieth century, however, Christmas tree farms began supplying large metropolitan areas with real trees. In the 1920s, real trees became commonplace, supplanting artificial trees in American homes.[1]

Artificial[edit]

Artificial trees made of goose feathers were in use in American homes since the 1880s. In the 1930s, however, The Addis Brush Company, an American toilet bowl brush manufacturer, began making artificial trees of green-dyed bristles and then supplied the British (who suffered a dearth of wild trees) with thousands of artificial trees in the post-War years. Americans took little interest in the Addis artificial trees and remained loyal to real trees.[1]

Aluminum[edit]

Aluminum trees had a futuristic, Space Age look that was compatible with the streamlined designs of post-War home furnishings.

In 1950, the Addis Brush Company patented an aluminum Christmas tree, the Silver Pine, that came with a floodlight and a rotating color wheel.[1] Modern Coatings, Inc. of Chicago manufactured aluminum trees in 1958, and The Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin manufactured more than a million aluminum trees between 1959 and 1969. The trees, including the company's flagship product the "Evergleam", retailed for $25.[2] The aluminum tree spectacle could be enhanced with a rotating Christmas tree stand.[3] The futuristic, Space Age look of the trees made them especially suited to the streamlined home decor of the period.[4] Sales of aluminum trees declined after being treated satirically in the 1965 animated Christmas television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas.[5]

Flocked[edit]

In the 1960s, flocked Christmas trees in purple, gold, pink, and even black became popular. The trees' branches were coated in a chemically-created, flame retardant substance resembling snow. Sophisticated style mavens suggested developing a new Christmas tree theme every year and buying color coordinated ornaments. Natural trees would return to favor in the 1970s when country arts and crafts became popular.[1]

Decorations[edit]

The post-War period saw changes in the production of Christmas tree ornaments. Shiny Brite and other ornament companies began mass-producing inexpensive glass ornaments. Bubble lights were introduced during the period, and inexpensive, lit-from-within tree toppers were another option for the tree.[6]

Toppers and stands[edit]

In the post-War years, translucent, molded plastic, electrified, lit-from-within tree toppers in the shape of angels and stars became popular. Although Santa Claus and other Christmas icons were introduced as electrified toppers, the star and the angel of the Victorian era remained the preferred motif. Glass spire ornaments were also popular as toppers.[1]

The first decorated water reservoir tree stands appeared on the American market in the 1940s.[1] Tin Christmas tree stands decorated with lithographed holiday icons manufactured by National Outfit Manufacturers Association were produced in the 1950s and have become collectibles of the era.[7]

Lights[edit]

NOMA bubbling Christmas lights were launched in 1946 and became hugely popular.

Bubble lights, a type of incandescent novelty light, were invented by Carl Otis in 1935, who then sold the patents to the NOMA (National Outfit Manufacturer's Association) Electric Corporation. NOMA launched the novelty lights on the Christmas market in 1946 when war shortages ended. Bubble lights became hugely popular.[1] Their main feature was a sealed glass tube with a colored bubbling liquid inside.[8]

Other companies followed with their own bubble light versions and other lighting novelties. In 1946, Sylvania introduced fluorescent pastel lights. In 1955, NOMA manufactured flashing lights. In 1958, GE launched Lighted Ice Bulbs, blue bulbs covered with 'ice' crystals. Fairy Lights were imported from Europe in 1950 and eventually morphed into the inexpensive mini-lights popular in the last decades of the 20th century.[1]

Ornaments[edit]

German glass ornaments were introduced to America by Frank Woolworth in the 1880s but such ornaments were produced under labor-intensive conditions and were expensive, with few Americans being able to afford more than one or two ornaments per year. On the eve of World War II, however, American companies began manufacturing inexpensive, mass-produced ornaments that made it possible for almost any American to have an extensive collection of Christmas ornaments for little cost within moments. With a few modifications, Corning Glass's light bulb machine could spit out 2,000 blank glass ornaments a minute that were then bought by ornament companies to be decorated, packaged and sold by the dozen.[1]

Shiny Brite[edit]
An assortment of Shiny Brite ornaments display silk screened images of seasonal motifs such as snowy scenes and poinsettias.

Max Eckhardt's Shiny Brite company manufactured colorful glass ornaments in a variety of sizes and shapes through the era. Packed in boxes by the dozen or half dozen, glimpses of the ornaments could be caught through the cellophane windows of the boxes' covers. The reds and greens of the past were supplemented with turquoise, chartreuse, orange, purple, and other vibrant colors. Glittery bands of mica decorated some balls while others were silk screened with seasonal motifs such as snowy scenes, sleigh rides, carolers, and poinsettias. Some balls featured silvery indents on their surfaces that reflected the surrounding light. In the early 1950s, clear glass balls appeared decorated with bands of color or glittering sparkles. Molded plastic Santa Clauses, angels, snowmen, and other holiday icons were inexpensive, mass-produced, and readily available.[1]

Outdoor lighting[edit]

Denver City Hall Christlas lights, 1955

McAdenville, North Carolina claims the distinction of being the first community to use outdoor Christmas lights.[9] The Library of Congress notes that "the tradition of decorating evergreen trees with Christmas lights dates back to 1956 when the McAdenville Men's Club conceived of the idea of decorating a few trees around the McAdenville Community Center."[10]

While the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has had "lights" since 1931, the Rockefeller Tree did not have real electric lights until 1956.[11] Philadelphia's Christmas Light Show and Disney's Christmas Tree also began in 1956.[12][13] Though GE sponsored community lighting competitions during the 1920s, it was not until the mid-1950s that outdoor Christmas lighting was adopted by most Americans. Strings of lights gradually began adorning mantles and doorways inside houses, and trimming the rafters, roof lines, and porch railings outside.[1]

National Christmas Tree[edit]

From his home in Missouri, President Truman signaled the lighting of the National Christmas Tree via remote control every Christmas from 1948 to 1951.

The tradition of having a National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C. began in 1923 when a 48-foot Balsam Fir from Vermont was placed in the Ellipse outside the White House. On Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge lit the 2,500 red, white and green electric bulbs on the tree.[14]

In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had the tree moved from the Ellipse to the White House grounds, where it remained until 1954 when it was returned to the Ellipse. In 1946, the lighting ceremony became a televised event, though not with widespread telecast. From 1948 to 1951, President Harry S. Truman signalled the lighting of the tree by remote control from his Independence, Missouri home, but in 1952, he stayed at the White House for the lighting ceremony. In 1953, the ceremony was widely telecast and President Dwight David Eisenhower's address was radio broadcast through the Voice of America in thirty-four languages.[15]

In 1954, businessmen in the Washington, D.C. area became involved and greatly expanded the program with the Christmas Pageant of Peace. The Pageant centered around the lighting of the Christmas tree, and included various elements such as a life-sized reproduction of the nativity scene. Every year from 1954 to 1972, a tree was cut and brought to the White House from a different US state and installed at the Ellipse. The ceremony of the tree lighting was then followed by Christmas presentations through the holiday season.[16]

Santa Claus[edit]

Rituals surrounding Santa Claus such as department store visits to the "jolly old elf",[17] and letter writing to his North Pole workshop remained intact during the post-War era. New to the mix was Santa's Workshop (one of the first theme parks in the US), and NORAD's tracking of Santa's sleigh via radar on Christmas Eve. In Cleveland, Ohio, a costumed character called Mr. Jingeling entertained shoppers annually at Halle's Department Store during the season.

Santa's Workshop[edit]

Santa's Workshop at North Pole, New York was one of the first theme parks built in the US (1949).

In 1949, one of the first theme parks in the United States, Santa's Workshop, was constructed near Whiteface Mountain in New York State. The park was designed by Arto Monaco, of Upper Jay, New York, and built by the site's owner Harold Fortune, of Lake Placid, New York. The idea for the park originated in a story that Lake Placid businessman Julian Reiss told his daughter about a baby bear who visits Santa Claus's workshop at the North Pole. The park features tame deer, storybook characters, and similar attractions. Single day attendance at the park peaked at 14,000 on September 2, 1951. On December 16, 1953, the U.S. Postal Service awarded North Pole, New York status as a "Rural Postal Station". In the same year, the park's Santa Claus and his reindeer participated in the Pageant of Peace in Washington, D.C. as well as Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. The Nativity Pageant was introduced at the park in 1954.[18]

NORAD tracking of Santa's journey[edit]

1955 Sears ad with the misprinted telephone number that led to the NORAD Tracks Santa Program

In 1955, an advertisement encouraging children to call Santa Claus over a special telephone number was printed in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Due to an error, the phone number that was printed was that of the Continental Air Defense (CONAD). Colonel Harry Shoup was on duty on Christmas Eve 1955 and took many calls from children inquiring about Santa. He told his operators to give a current location for Santa Claus to any child who called in. Three years later, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was formed and the NORAD Tracks Santa service continued.[19]

Mr. Jingeling[edit]

Earl W. Keyes

Mr. Jingeling, the Keeper of the Keys to Santa's Workshop, was created in 1956 as a radio spokesman to promote the toys sold at Halle's Department Store in Cleveland, Ohio.[20] Mr. Jingeling was immediately popular and became an annual fixture at Halle's where he prowled the seventh floor toy department entertaining shoppers. The costumed character was first played by Max Ellis, a Cleveland Play House actor, and then by Earl W. Keyes, a television producer and director, who remained with the role for many years. In addition to his department store duties, Mr. Jingeling appeared on a local children's television program telling stories, singing songs, and reminding viewers to visit Halle's.[21]

Toys[edit]

Christmas Eve in Batavia, Illinois (1957)

The post-War Christmas toy extravaganza had its seed in Clement Clarke Moore's A Visit from St. Nicholas. There, Saint Nicholas is depicted not as the thin, somewhat forbidding, charity dispensing character of European lore but as a dimpled, "jolly old elf" whose stomach shakes like "a bowlful of jelly" when he laughs, and who enters a dwelling through the chimney with a pack of toys on his back.[6]

In the nineteenth century, Germany was the toy making capitol of the world, but high importation costs made German toys relatively expensive in America. Toy costs were lowered when German toymakers began mass-producing toys under the direction of Frank Woolworth and shipping their products to Woolworth's warehouses for packaging and distribution.[6]

Slinky was introduced to the Christmas market in November 1945 and remains in production today. The coil-shaped toy topples down stairs end-over-end.

With the loss of German toys on the American market during World War I, toy manufacturing in the United States began in earnest. The Great Depression was a temporary setback but WWII proved a catalyst. In the aftermath of the war, American couples were eager to settle down, have kids, and lavish the sumptuous Christmases they never had on their offspring.[1]

The post-War years saw the creation of toys that are still in production today and include Candy Land, Cootie, the hula hoop, Barbie, and Etch A Sketch.[6]

Television cultivated the American Christmas toy extravaganza. Manufacturers sidestepped the parent in selling a toy and went directly to the child. Mr. Potato Head was the first toy advertised on television and retail sales topped $4 million in the toy's first year.[6] Play-Doh's sales skyrocketed after being advertised on influential children's television programs such as Ding Dong School and Captain Kangaroo.[22]

Christmas cards[edit]

The first White House Christmas card was sent during the administration of Dwight David Eisenhower in 1953. President Eisenhower was an amateur artist and personally consulted with the head of Hallmark Cards on the project. Over the course of two terms, the Eisenhower White House issued 38 different cards and prints with many of them bearing the President's own artwork. The tradition was continued during the Kennedy years with Jacqueline Kennedy's artwork featured on a 1963 card issued to raise funds for a national performing arts center.[1]

Early in the post-War years, cards exhibited traditional sentiments and art that reassured war weary Americans. As the 1960s neared, however, sophisticated, adult-oriented cards called "Slim Jims" began appearing on the market. The cards displayed Santas driving fin-tailed convertibles and beatniks delivering greetings in hepcat lingo. The highly stylized cards remained popular well into the 1960s, poking fun at fads and world events. Family photo cards and newsletters (meticulously handwritten or typed by busy moms) became commonplace during the 1960s as well.[1]

Hallmark brought African American culture to greeting cards in the 1960s as well as contemporary cultural images such as elves sporting Beatle haircuts and psychedelic Christmas trees in Warholesque colors. "Happy Christmas" replaced "Merry Christmas" here and there after clergymen decided the traditional greeting was associated with inebriation. In 1961, 50 billion Christmas cards were mailed by Americans, and, in 1962, America's first Christmas postage stamp was issued—causing a mild firestorm by those who felt the stamp violated separation of church and state.[1]

Foods[edit]

Mamie Eisenhower's Million-Dollar Fudge Recipe was a favorite holiday treat of the Eisenhower White House years.[1] and first appeared in Who Says We Can't Cook?, a spiral-bound collection of recipes published in 1955 by the Women's National Press Club of Washington, D.C. Mamie's husband Ike named the recipe.[23]

Green Bean Casserole, a concoction of cream of mushroom soup, green beans, and French's Fried Onions, was created by Campbell's Soup Company in 1955 to promote the company's cream soups.

1955 saw the culinary debut of Green Bean Casserole, a dish that remains a holiday favorite in America.[1] Its ingredients include green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and, as a topping, French's Fried Onions. The casserole was created by Campbell Soup Company in order to promote its cream soups. French's reports that 50% of all French's Fried Onions consumption occurs over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.[1]

Cookie cutting and decorating reached its cultural zenith during the boomer years with Christmas cookie cutouts of reindeer, trees, stars, and bells providing sustenance for kids and dads. Moms packed their favorite home baked cookies into Tupperware containers and carried them to cookie swap parties with friends and neighbors. Red plastic cutters replaced tin cutters during the war years when metal was scarce and can be found today at garage sales and flea markets.[1]

A snack hit of the 1955 holiday season was Chex Party Mix, a combination of Wheat Chex, Rice Chex, and Corn Chex, nuts, pretzels and a dressing of melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, and onion and garlic powders. The treat remains a popular holiday snack.[1]

Teenagers[edit]

Gifts[edit]

The Regency TR-1 transistor radio was put on sale in November 1954.

Gifts for teens in the post-War years included face powder, radios, telephones, and cars. In the early 1950s, Angel Face powder was advertised as "the perfect girl-to-girl" Christmas gift.[24] The first transistor radios hit the market just before Christmas 1954 and were a luxury item at US$49.95 ($322 in 2000 values). A leather case and earphone cost an additional $11.45 ($73). By the end of the decade however, prices dropped so quickly that an 8-transistor radio could be had for less than $10.[1]

Another gift in demand was the streamlined, oval-shaped Princess telephone introduced in the early 1960s. The phone came in a variety of colors, including pink, turquoise, and cream. When one of Mattel's Barbie doll outfits included a Princess phone as an accessory, a fashion trend was born. By 1963, many Baby Boomers had reached driver's license age and, for the first time, middle-class families splurged on cars for their offspring.[1]

Films and music[edit]

Twentieth Century Fox's 1956 Christmas offering was The Girl Can't Help It, a musical film originally intended as a vehicle for sex symbol Jayne Mansfield, with the subplot being a satire of teenagers and rock ‘n’ roll music. The unintended result was the "most potent" celebration of rock music ever captured on film.[25]

In December 1961, Disney Studios released Babes in Toyland, a film version of Victor Herbert's 1903 operetta starring teen heartthrobs Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands. Though new songs with jazzy tempi were incorporated into the film and one critic was delighted with the film's colorful numbers,[26] Babes in Toyland was neither a success nor a complete box office flop.[27] Its gigantic toy soldiers became members of the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Christmas Parades.

"Jingle Bell Rock" is believed to be the first rock and roll Christmas song

Two rockabilly/rock and roll style songs of the late 1950s became hugely popular. "Jingle Bell Rock", written by Joe Beal and Jim Boothe, was recorded by Bobby Helms in 1957. The song is regarded as the first rock and roll Christmas song, and has hit the Billboard charts a record six times since its original release. It is second in popularity only to "White Christmas," with 120 million copies sold. "Jingle Bell Rock" hit #6 in its first year, despite having been released only two days before Christmas.[28]

"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", written by Johnny Marks and recorded by Brenda Lee in 1958 for Decca Records, was another rockabilly/rock and roll flavored Christmas tune. While it was neglected in its first two seasons, the song hit #16 on the Billboard pop chart during the Christmas season of 1960. Eight million copies were sold over thirty years.[29]

Music[edit]

Presley released his first Christmas album in 1957, the same year as Jailhouse Rock

Elvis' Christmas Album was released in October 1957, the first of only two Christmas albums Elvis recorded. The album featured eight Christmas songs, and four gospel songs. "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" and "Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me)" were both commissioned expressly for the album. Elvis' reading of Ernest Tubb's 1949 hit, "Blue Christmas" made the tune a holiday staple, but his version of "White Christmas" brought calls from the song's composer Irving Berlin to have the song, and the entire album, banned from radio airplay. Berlin thought Elvis's rendition a "profane parody of his cherished yuletide standard".[30] Most US radio stations ignored Berlin's request, though at least one DJ was fired for playing a tune from the album.[31] As of 2007, Elvis' Christmas Album is the top-selling holiday release of all time with 9 million in sales, according to the RIAA.[32]

Harry Brannon, the first American crooner to sing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" over New York City radio in 1948

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was composed in 1948 by Johnny Marks after a 1939 poem by Robert L. May who created Rudolph as part of his employment with Montgomery Ward. The song tells the story of a reindeer whose shiny red nose guides Santa's sleigh through the fog on Christmas Eve. Gene Autry's 1949 recording remained at #1 for a week and brought the song widespread fame. Only "White Christmas" has sold more copies.[33]

Autry had another hit in 1950 with "Frosty the Snowman", written by Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson as a direct attempt to create a success in the vein of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer". The song tells the story of a magical snowman who has playful adventures with children. In 1963, "Frosty" hit its highest position ever at #13 in a version by The Ronettes.[34]

Spike Jones's rendition of "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" hit #1 on the pop charts in 1951. The tune was composed in December 1944 by elementary school music teacher Don Gardner when he noticed most of his students were missing their front "baby" teeth. Inspired, he dashed off the song in thirty minutes. In Spike Jones' original hit recording, a grownup pretends to be a lisping kid who cannot whistle. Nat King Cole also covered the tune.[35]

"The Little Drummer Boy", based on an ancient Czech folksong, was written by Katherine K. Davis in 1957.[36] The song tells the apocryphal story of a poor young boy who, unable to afford a gift for the infant Jesus, plays his drum with Mary's approval. The baby smiles at the boy in gratitude. The 1958 version by the Harry Simeone Chorale is the standard, and hit the unparalleled record of placing in the Top 40 for five straight Christmases in a row. Simeone recorded the song in a Greenwich Village cathedral to give it a hushed respect. Its highest position on the both the US and UK charts was #13.[37]

Eartha Kitt (1952) recorded "Santa Baby" in 1953

"Silver Bells" was composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, introduced by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the film, The Lemon Drop Kid and recorded by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards in 1952. The song was inspired by Salvation Army bellringers and is one of the very few songs about Christmas in the city. The song was originally called "Tinkle Bell", but Livingston's wife reminded him that "tinkle" had another association. "It was something you did in the bathroom," Evans recalled years after the song's composition, "but that's a woman's word and I'd never thought of it."[38] "Silver Bells" ranks #13 on ASCAP's list of most-played holiday songs.[39]

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" was written and composed by Tommie Connor in 1952 and originally recorded by thirteen-year-old Jimmy Boyd. The song reached #1 on the Billboard charts in 1952, and on the Cash Box Magazine chart at the beginning of the following year. Boyd's record was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church in Boston on the grounds it mixed sex with Christmas. Boyd was widely photographed meeting with the Archdiocese to explain the song.[40]

"Santa Baby" was written by Joan Javits and Philip Springer in 1953. The song is a tongue-in-cheek look at a Christmas list of a woman who wants the most extravagant gifts for the holiday. "Santa Baby" was originally sung and recorded by Eartha Kitt and became a huge hit at #4 in 1953.[41]

Jackson 5 Christmas Album was the only holiday album released by Motown family quintet The Jackson 5. Released in October 1970, the album showcased the brothers' harmonies and vocals. Lead singer Michael Jackson is prominently featured on the album tracks. Included on the Christmas Album is the Jackson 5's hit single version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town". Rendered with a pop-soul feel, the Jackson 5's versions of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" remain frequent radio requests during the holiday season. The album spent all four weeks at the number one position on Billboard magazine's special Christmas Albums chart that the magazine published in December 1970, making it the best-selling holiday album of that year. It has sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide.[2] In 2003, Universal Motown re-released the album with "Little Christmas Tree" (from A Motown Christmas). In 2009, this configuration was released as Ultimate Christmas Collection with Christmas messages, remixes, and a Christmas medley, and again as Merry Christmas Jackson's. http://www.allmusic.com/album/r9998 [edit]

Literature[edit]

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss), American writer and cartoonist, at work on a drawing of the Grinch for How the Grinch Stole Christmas

In 1957, Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was published by Random House. The tale's rhyming verse accompanies illustrations by the author, and follows a disagreeable character called the Grinch and his attempts to thwart the arrival of Christmas by stealing the gifts, trims, and other trappings of the holiday from the happy Whos of Whoville. In spite of his attempts, Christmas arrives all the same. The Grinch realizes then that Christmas is something more than its trappings. The book criticizes the commercialization of Christmas and satirizes those who exploit the holiday.[42] The tale was adapted into a 1966 short animated film for television with a screenplay by Seuss and narration by Boris Karloff. Later adaptations include a Broadway musical and a feature film in 2000 starring Jim Carrey.

At 100 years of age in 1960, Grandma Moses illustrated Clement Clark Moore's Christmas poem, A Visit from Saint Nicholas as The Night Before Christmas for Random House. The book was published after her death in 1961.[43]

Film[edit]

Original theatrical poster

The years immediately following WWII saw the release of two of the most popular Christmas films in US history: It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Moviefone listed the two movies as number two and three respectively in their "25 Best Christmas Movies of All Time".[44] The Times of London, in a similar ranking, had the two in tenth and eight respectively, while placing fourth 1942's Holiday Inn, the movie that launched Bing Crosby's White Christmas.[45] Particularly Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart has been called "a testament to the family values of small-town America just after WWII."[46]

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) regularly appears on lists of the worst films ever made. Paul Jacobson, the film's producer and a former unit manager for the television program, Howdy Doody, described his film as a "Yuletide science fiction fantasy", and with the best of intentions, hoped to bring something to movie theaters at a time of the year when there was a paucity of children's entertainment other than the annual Disney feature. In Jacobson's film, Martians kidnap Santa Claus in a plan to bring fun to their listless, TV-obsessed children. Once on Mars, Santa mass-produces toys using a computerized machine, foils a sourpuss saboteur, and generates fun for all. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has been novelized, adapted to musical stagings, and has taken its place as a holiday cult classic.[47] Child actress Pia Zadora played one of the Martian children and years later commented, "It was very well done, considering it was shot twenty years ago - gimme a break - and really is very entertaining. It's become a Christmas classic, really."[48]

Television[edit]

Kurt Yaghjian as Amahl offers his crutch to the Magi as a gift to the Christ Child in the final moments of the 1963 video presentation of the opera.

Christmas television is predominantly secular and focuses on the ethical message of generosity through gift giving and Santa Claus, or the psychological message of home, nostalgia and childhood, or both. The theological message of the holiday—the Incarnation—is rarely encountered in Christmas television. Such a message would be inaccessible to many Americans.[49]

In 1949, Gian Carlo Menotti was commissioned by NBC's Opera Theatre to write an opera for television. After a year and a half of delay, he set to work, completing Amahl and the Night Visitors five days before its scheduled airing on Christmas Eve 1951 at 9:30 to 10:30 p.m.. Menotti's work was inspired by Hieronymous Bosch's painting, The Adoration of the Magi.[50] The composer himself appeared on-screen to introduce the opera and give the background of the events leading up to its composition. He also brought director Kirk Browning and conductor Thomas Schippers on-camera to thank them.[51]

An estimated five million viewers tuned in—to this day, the largest audience for a televised opera in America. Skeptic Olin Downes declared in a New York Times front page review that "television, operatically speaking, has come of age" and Newsweek called the telecast, "the best production of opera yet seen on TV."[52]

The opera's appeal lay not only in its story about a crippled shepherd boy healed on the first Christmas Eve but in its wedding of opera and the limitations of television. The broad effects of theater were eschewed and instead an intimacy appropriate to the television studio and home viewing was cultivated. The production starred Chet Allen as Amahl and Rosemary Kuhlmann as his mother. Kuhlmann reprised her role annually for many years.[52]

Television set circa 1953

In 1953, Amahl was colorcast.[53] The opera claims the distinctions of being the first opera written for television, the first presentation of the teleseries Hallmark Hall of Fame, and the first Christmas television special to become an annual tradition. The opera was telecast on NBC from 1951 to 1966 with many of the original cast and crew participating.[52]

On December 18, 1962, NBC aired the first animated Christmas special created specifically for television, Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol.[54] Based on Dickens' novelette, A Christmas Carol, the animated special featured a score by Broadway duo Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.[54]

On December 6, 1964, Rudolph the Red–Nosed Reindeer, a stop motion animation television special by Rankin/Bass, was telecast on NBC. The film was based on a 1948 song by Johnny Marks, and a 1939 poem by Robert L. May. The program has aired every year since 1964, making it the longest-running Christmas television special.[55]

Christmas clubs[edit]

Advertisement for a bank Christmas club that doubled as a tree ornament, ca. 1950

Christmas clubs were savings programs first offered by banks in 1909. The concept was simple: bank customers deposited a set amount of money each week into a special savings account, and received the money at a later date for Christmas shopping.[56]

One radio program episode used Christmas clubs as a background. The December 23, 1949 episode of Life of Riley saw the show's protagonist Chester Riley attempting to withdraw his US$2 Christmas club money but discovering his account has accumulated a variety of fees including one for the passbook, another for early withdrawal, and yet another for the bank's mailed reminders. The luckless Riley owes the bank 25 cents.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Waggoner, Susan. It's a Wonderful Christmas: The Best of the Holidays 1940-1965. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2004. ISBN 1-58479-327-9.
  2. ^ Fortin, Cassandra A. (2008-10-26). "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (1958)". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2009-01-26. [dead link]
  3. ^ Lukas, Paul (2004-12-01). "Trees Made of Tinsel". Money Magazine via CNNMoney.com. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  4. ^ "Aluminum Christmas Trees". Cool Things. Kansas State Historical Society. n.d. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  5. ^ Andrews, Candice Gaukel. Great Wisconsin Winter Weekends. Big Earth Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-931599-71-8.
  6. ^ a b c d e Waggoner, Susan. Under the Tree: the Toys and Treats That Made Christmas Special, 1930-1970. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2007.
  7. ^ Fendelman, Helaine (n.d.). "Christmas Tree Stand: What Is It? What Is It Worth?". Q&A: Antiques Appraisal. Country Living. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  8. ^ Nelson, George. "The History of Bubble Lights". OldChristmasTreeLights.com. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  9. ^ Rankin, Steve (2008). "Christmas Town, USA: McAdenville, North Carolina". Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  10. ^ "North Carolina: Christmas Town U.S.A.". Local Legacies: Celebrating Community Roots. Library of Congress: Folklife Center. 2000. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
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