Christmas Memories

Presented on this page are some of the wonderful Christmas memories sent to my wife and me by website visitors. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as we have.

From Ralph W. Robinson II:

(After visiting your site)...my thoughts immediately turned to the Christmas lights in my home in suburban Philadelphia. Every year as I grew up from birth through high school, the same lights decorated the large room off the living room. It contained many windows, and was where our huge floor to ceiling tree stood every year. Under the tree were many standard gauge Lionel trains running, and they ran through the entire room as well.

Each year, from the very early 1930's to the early 1950's, along with the cone type lights on the tree, we had light strings around each of about 12 windows as well.  But the bulbs in these, red and green, were all bell shaped, although not much larger than the cone, and were made I am certain, in Japan.  I do also recall the Mazda lights and GE lights
on the tree strings. The window lights always had blinkers in the sockets, and of course alternated on and off.

The funny thing is, I don't remember many ever burning out, and they were always on at least a month, every night, year after year. After the 50's, they were stored away in my mother's & father's attic, and were still there when she died at 101, about five years ago. 

My Dad was an electrical engineer with the Pa. Bell Telephone company his entire life, and kept our trains and lights in first class shape. If you are familiar with Lionel Standard Gauge trains, they are quite large. As I grew up from
a little boy, my Dad kept expanding the layout under the tree each year, and it evolved into a layout where trains went up elevated ramps circling a mountain, and came roaring down banked curves at bottom, even though the current shut off before their downward path, just like a roller coaster would. Often, my Dad had three separate trains running on the
same tracks, at the same time!

Our neighbor, was an architect who designed amusements at Willow Grove & Woodside Parks in Philadelphia., and Palisades Park in New York. Through him, my Dad learned how to make plaster-of-Paris plaques and villages, which were set in each year among the pattern of the track layout.  Christmas strings were embedded in the base castings, leading to the little houses which were lit with the C-6 cones.

I would guess the lights were all from the late 1920's, certainly no later new, than the very early 1930's.

I will attach an early picture I came across recently, although it was more elaborate in years that followed. The window lights were apparently not on at the time...they encircled each window of many like those you see...all bell shaped light bulbs.

I think I should add as a credit to my Dad's devotion and love, that Santa put all that up on Christmas eve, after my two brothers and I had gone to bed. There it was, early every Christmas morning!  I don't know how Santa managed it, year after year!

Best regards, Ralph W Robinson, II


Click to enlarge Ralph's
1939 Christmas picture.
 

 

From Jim Vieceli, a Lighting Product Specialist with Sylvania:

We still get questions every Christmas season regarding the SYLVANIA Fluorescent Christmas lights from the 40's. I found your information invaluable.  I am amazed at the emotion this product can still generate. I have included a typical email we receive for your interest.

Dear Sylvania,

I have an amazing true story I want to share with you. On Easter Sunday, 1945, my husband's mother and father, Henrietta and Robert McAfee, were married. The following Christmas (1946) they eagerly bought their first string of Christmas lights, a string of round pastel shaded Sylvania bulbs.  Every Christmas the newlyweds Henrietta and Robert proudly hung the lights on the tree.

Over the years there were young ones to share the joy of the Christmas tree trimming...one by one, there were six children, to be exact: Robbie, Mike, Pat, Sharon, Nancy and Martha.  And each one of these six remembers the excitement of the annual hanging of the "first" Christmas tree lights their mom and dad had bought together.  Would they light up again this year, after all these years, the children wondered, as they drug the lights out of the box?  And the lights always worked. It is true, by 1955, one or two lights had burned out. But this "first" string of lights was always the most special on the tree, even if one or two lights were gone.

Then in 1960 the most important family light burned out. The family's father, Robert, died of a heart attack, leaving six children and a then unemployed widow to raise the children. Imagine the hush the next Christmas as the string of lights came out of the box. The family hovered breathlessly, waiting to see if they could rekindle their father's warm spirit and their mother's happiness by lighting the family tree with these special lights. And year after year, the lights worked. And worked.  And worked.  Year after year, decade after decade, they worked, with one or two fewer lights here and there, until in 1980, 35 years later, only one light was left on the string. 

This light, of course, took the place of honor at the top of the family Christmas tree every year after that.  By then, the six children had flown the coop...they were off raising their own families and trimming their own trees.  But when they called from afar or just across town to see if mom had gotten the tree up yet, the first question was always, "Did the light work?"  And it did. 

I entered the family as Mike's wife in 1989, and every Christmas since I too have waited breathlessly as he asked the crucial question.  Just today he called his mom from a cell phone as we left the airport: "Did you get the tree up?" Upon hearing the answer, he paused, as he always does, and I knew what he'd ask next: "Did the light work?" And the answer, as always, was "Yes." 

Thank you, Sylvania, for a priceless gift to a family who grew up without their father but could always remember the happiness they shared with him through the product you built with such care. 1945-2002.  Who would have thought a single light bulb could have been the most important family tradition at Christmas for over 55 years? 

                                                                                                                                                          Sally
 

 

From Kyle Sund, a Christmas lighting collector:

In 1994, my partner Jeff and I made a hobby out of exploring abandoned houses out in the country. We used to find all kinds of cool stuff. One time, I found a complete 1960's Aurora slot car set in a house with a roof so rotten you could see through it. Two weeks later, it was torn down.

One of our finds was a box of old Christmas tree decorations from the 40's. It went into storage and was forgotten about.

Jeff and I moved in together a couple days before Christmas. On the 23rd, he brought home a nice little live tree. We needed a stand and decorations, remembered the stuff we'd found and went to see what was there and if it was usable and enough for a small tree. It was all in nice shape and enough to do the tree, including 3 sets of these "series" lights. I hadn't seen them before and was kind of excited by the odd shape of the pointy lamps. We decorated the tree with these forgotten lights and ornaments, and it looked very vintage, and very cool.

My friend, Mike, who must be about 50 now, came over to see our new place (a small house). He was taking off his coat, but then stopped and went for the tree, dragging his coat behind him with one arm still in! There, he pointed at one of the lights and said "We had these as a kid! Oh my God, where did you get these?" I told him.


He proceeded, after he got his coat off, to tell me about how every year at Christmas, he and his Dad pulled the lights out, tightened the lamps, checked to see if they'd light (with series lights, a loose or burnt out lamp breaks the circuit, and none will light up), then put them on the tree. A sure bet was that one would go out, and you'd have to spend 5 minutes checking all 8 lamps to find the bad or loose one. Mike remembered how mock-infuriated his father would get with these lights. It was his big family memory of Christmas.

The next day, Mike came over again and he presented me with a very old little boys sock. I'll never forget it- it was light blue. He said, "Here, I want you to have these. You're the only one who will appreciate them." and held out the sock.
In the sock were 6 of these little, pointy C-6 lights he'd saved from his childhood- from their last string of series lights. Eventually, his parents had replaced them all with C-7 (nightlight bulb sized) lights that were much less troublesome.
He was glassy-eyed, so I refused and told him I couldn't take them. He absolutely insisted. We tested them all and they all still worked. The next day, I put little Sharpie marker "M"s on the bases, so I would remember where they came from. I thought they might be rare and wanted to log a record of anything I might acquire.

Jeff and I were big antiquers, so from that point on I kept my eyes open. I started spotting loose sets here and there and buying them, then I started finding them in the original boxes. One of the boxes I found later that year, Mike commented that it looked familiar (I used to show him everything I found).

My friend Scott managed a Kinkos, so we reproduced 3 more of these boxes. Into these I put some of the series light sets I'd found (they're not hard to find, especially without their original box).

A week after Thanksgiving, I went to Mike's house (where to my dismay, I saw he'd already put up his tree, complete with many of his family?s old decorations). I handed him this big, wrapped box and said, "Here's your Christmas present, but you have to open it now." He did. Inside were the 3 boxes of lights. In the bottom one, I also included the sock with the 6 "M" lights. When he got to this, he looked at me and began to cry. For like 10 minutes. That made me cry. Then, he got up and said, "Help me." and began pulling ornaments off the tree. We took everything off, added the colorful old lights to the tree, and redecorated it. I bet we sat for a half hour just looking at it.

I never quit looking and buying. Since then, Mike's gotten more series lights from me, including some cool old bubble lights. He uses them every year.

To me, each and every one of those little lights might be someone's dear memory of Christmas, and although they might not be MY memories, and I don't know who originally owned them, I preserve them. When I see a set from the 1920's or 1930's with one or two 1950's lamps mixed in, carefully tucked in their well cared for box, I just know someone else used and loved them year to year. When you dig out the same decorations year after year for decades, it's like seeing old friends, like you just had them in your hands yesterday. I give the lights a home. It's just what I do.

That was a defining moment in my life. My collection has brought me countless hours of joy. I spent the years before Jeff died doing this with him. The best quality time we ever spent, just out antiquing. All because a little boy saved something in a sock, because it reminded him of his fondest childhood memory.

 


The 1994 Tree
(Click to enlarge)
 

 

From Don Lachie, a Christmas light collector:

I was always thrilled as a kid when the lead tinsel would fall on the tracks of the train running under our tree. At the time I could not figure out why it normally could lie across the train tracks untouched but look out when the train went over it!!! After a while I realized that if none dropped onto the tracks by chance that you could place a strand across the track deliberately then start the train, then know exactly the spot to look for the action. I was in awe of the sparking and snapping as well as the strange smell of the ozone produced in the process. I always felt that it was perfectly safe as that flimsy strand was no match for the heavy copper wire connecting the tracks and that transformer seemed to be a super heavy solid black steel box that could not be phased by a tiny bit of tinsel. This was more fun than just running the train! The many steel wheels of the locomotive and cars made for multiple flashes. I was found out when I got too over zealous one time and my parents noticed the tree was looking bare near the bottom and an abundance of short silver strands were only located under the tracks. The many black marks on the track and the smell were not possible to hide.
 

We also always put the lead icicles on one at a time and took them off the same way then carefully laid them between magazine pages to store for the next Christmas. I thought that this was because they were real silver and were the most expensive holiday item in the house, little did I know that they were lead as they did tarnish badly with each passing year so I thought that they most likely were real silver, the only silver that we had in the house when I was growing up.    Many of our relatives also saved them too so it did not seem odd until I found out that other people always had new shiny icicles each Christmas them I began to wonder.
 

Along with this I remember the one larger string of C-7 lights and a couple sets of C-6 with those strange pointed bulbs and the fact that they all went dark when a problem arose.   I think the tree had the exact same ornaments each year with exception to a box or two added in later years. They are still packed away in my parent's attic yet as I got new ones with a reduced decorated tree from Sears that was always used in later years.
 

At the time I was tired of the sameness but now realize that they were like cherished faithful friends that were always there year after year. The various styles of Shiny Brite boxes with their plain cardboard and single-color printing.    Indents and unusual shapes of glass from Germany, Poland and other European countries. All with the thin edged slip-on lid and the universal cardboard divider inside.  Back then I did not realize the treasures that these simple boxes held but now  I know the stories and history of their production and sale. Then I wondered why would anyone buy those plain glass ones with only a thin painted ring or two around them yet alone keep putting them on the tree each year. Now I know better that these were the examples of keeping Christmas alive in a world torn apart by a war that so impacted all that you could not even buy normal goods no matter how much money one had. We had many that were only one or two of a kind that were given to us by people opting to replace their old ornaments with new ones, often of shiny unbreakable plastic or satin balls to be more modern. I feel good that these old decorations were not disposed of but were allowed to continue to celebrate the joy of Christmas and remain a part of someone's family yet. We gently hung each one on the tree and always packed them away the same manner. I know for sure that most of these are older than I am, and every one has a fascinating story behind it, even the plainest simple glass ball that carries the many marks of being lovingly displayed over many holiday seasons.

 

From Lee Lowry, a Christmas lighting collector:

One year the folks set up the tree and were tired after putting on the lights and ornaments. So they decided to let us children put on the icicles, which were still made of lead foil in those days and left the room to get supper on the table. This proved to be a mistake, as rather than carefully hanging each strand on the branches, we thought it would
 be much more fun to throw it at the tree. Well, it was fun until the folks heard the gales of insane laughter coming from the living room.
 
 Naturally they had to investigate to see what was so funny. The tree, of course, looked like a mess because of the haphazard way the foil had landed on the branches. So we caught the dickens. It was always so hard to have fun at our house. As I recall we younger ones were banned from the room, and my older sister had to help the folks take off all the icicles and hang them correctly.
 
 We never did that again, but I still remember how much fun it was to lob clumps of the heavy old lead icicles at the tree. We would also lump the icicles into balls and put them in our mouths to chew on. Lead, for heaven's sake!  I still haven't figured out how we all made it to adulthood.

 

From Michael, a Christmas lights collector in the UK:

Way back in 1966, at the age of eight, I went with my Dad into the town center of Leicester, here in the United Kingdom. We parked our car up right in the centre of the city, as you could in those days, and walked a few hundred metres to the Woolworth's store. We were going to buy our first artificial tree.

Until this moment, we had always had a fresh and beautiful real tree, but as my Mum and Dad had my baby brother to think about, they decided to buy a tinsel covered tree (known in the United States as an aluminum tree). I remember walking down to the store holding my Dad?s hand, wondering what this tree was going to be like.

 When we got into the store, the tree didn't look like much- basically just wire and tinsel in a tree shape. I have to say I was not impressed! The tree cost my dad 2 shillings and sixpence, and in the decimal money we have in the UK today, this would cost about 12 pence!  ( I could have purchased eight of these trees for ?1 or eight for $1.50 American)! We carried the strange little tree back to the car and took her home. Little was I to know that this was to be the beginning of a very long love affair?

 My Mum and Dad gave the three of us some wonderful Christmases, ones to be proud of and to remember fondly, and the little tree played a huge role in that. Every year from then on, we put the little tree up, and every year we added more decorations and things to it. Sadly, my Mum and Dad parted ways in 1975.

 I lived with my Dad until I decided to venture off into the world on my own. As the years passed, there came a time when my Dad was clearing out the house and had decided to throw the tree away. Purely by chance, I called by that day, and when I discovered his intentions, I just could not let the old girl go to the rubbish tip! I took her home where she was put up on display for the next few years.

 Once again, I followed the family tradition by adding a few new decorations to the old favourites to try and make her look her best. Sadly, after a few more Christmases, she was beginning to look very tired.

 By this time I had met my wife, and we were moving in together. The little tree had lost most of her tinsel bits, the odd branch and most of her former shape, but she had decidedly had not lost all those memories of the wonderful Christmases of the past that I had shared with my family! I put the tree back into her original box (which, by the way, still had the original price tag), and I stored her up in the attic where she would be safe and sound.

 Since that time our own family has been born, and over the years my wife and I have had several trees. Every Christmas, I love and enjoy the Season, with the decorations, trees and of course the lights, but I also cannot help but remember the Christmases long past.  I think about them and how we celebrated with that little tree. Every so often, I climb up to the attic, just to make sure she is still there, safe and away from harm. I will always love and treasure her, and she will stay in the attic for as long as she needs!
 

 

Here's another memory from Lee Lowry, a Christmas lighting collector:
 
Back in the 1950's when Douglas firs were the "standard" for Christmas trees (hardly anyone in our area had artificial or long needle trees then--the artificial were small and unattractive and the long needled ones simply not yet available) misshapen scraggly trees were far more common than nice ones. They were, after all, the trees the lumber companies harvested in their thinning process, both in the Northwest and in Michigan, so they probably weren't the best to begin with. We had trees from both areas. If the folks got out early and bought the tree while the selection was good, we usually had an attractive one. But if the harvest was poor, the preceding year very dry, or they waited until all the good trees had been snapped up by others, we would end up with some pretty sorry looking specimens.

There was one year my mother got the tree very late and while tall (we always had 8-footers) it had some appalling gaps in it. Everyone's disappointment was evident as soon as we got the poor thing set up in the stand. Usually the trees had a 'good side' and a 'bad side' and we'd turn it so the best side faced into the living room. This tree was uniformly bad on all sides, and noticeably lacking about 2/3 of the way up. What to do? There was no possibility of getting a better one that late in the season. So that was the year we put on nearly everything we had in the decorations boxes, and in the end, the sad scrawny tree with all the holes in it looked surprisingly good because there were enough decorations on it the holes were no longer very noticeable. We all felt so much better about how the "ugly duckling" turned into a "swan" after it had enough "jewelry" spread over it. We usually used all the lights, but not all the ornaments. That year we used everything we had except for a few ancient ornaments that had lost their paint.

You know, it's funny, but I remember that unfortunate tree and the decorating of it better than all the years we had 'normal' trees.
 

 

Bob Riddel, a website visitor, has several childhood memories of Christmas and lights. Bob writes: 

A Christmas Remembrance-
I spent the first 16 years of life attending First Presbyterian Church of Duluth MN, a wonderful old sandstone building built in the 1890's.  I even found the old gas fixtures in one of the attics on a clandestine snooping expedition.  I wasn't always the best little child and ducked out once to go exploring; sermons can get boring to a child. I went downstairs and checked out the tree in the Edson Room, which had a 16' ceiling.  It was decorated with the Krystal Star lights.  The sockets were wired in parallel using cloth covered rubber wire and there was the most huge transformer nestled in the lower branches.  It had big heat fins on it and wicked looking brass screw terminals to which were connected the wires for the lights.  Man, those things looked like something right out of a Frankenstein movie.  Touch those, no way!  I remember how beautiful those stars were and only being a short little 4 year old, it looked like the top of the tree went as high as heaven or just slightly under it.  Someone had thoughtfully left them on so I could look for quite a while, a definite fire safety NO NO.  Only got into a little trouble for that one but I can still remember how perfect the colors appeared.  Those were the days when we could use real trees.  At my age, memories are getting to be more fun? 

Here?s another of Bob memories:
Probably my first word was Mama but it could have been light (as in Christmas light).  I was an only, precocious child of older parents so I had a few advantages over the multiple sibling set and knew how to use them.  One holiday time, our tree was in the dining room in front of the east window with mostly C-7 sets but there were a few C-6.  The NOMA end adapter of one C-7 set had broken and my Dad (an auto electrician) had soldered a NOMA male plug with female outlet on to the end so we still could plug additional sets in.  He had thoughtfully friction-taped the prongs to keep things safe.  You ought to have seen what a lead icicle can do in the bottom of a socket but that is another story. (I chewed one once and only once, it hit a filling and I learned about the principles of batteries!)   Anyway, I saw what had been done and wondered what would happen if I plugged that taped end in the other outlet in the room so ...  after unwrapping the tape, I plugged it into the extension cord from that outlet and discovered what happens when electricity meets in the middle.  There wasn't much of a pop and flash but the 30 amp fuse that handled almost all of the house blew out quite nicely.  Dear, patient Mother discovered the problem, unplugged the extra connection, put in a new fuse and I got to sit in the corner and think about it.   At 5 years old, sitting is definitely punishment.  I still remember the result of that experiment and never did it again although I did do other things.  Isn't life grand, especially during the holidays? 

And here, Bob share with us a story of his early school days and Christmas:

My Vindication
When I was in first grade, I would sometimes take some C-6 bulbs with me to keep in my desk.  Our desks were the wooden, screwed to the floor with iron scrolley work on the sides so teacher could tell whose desk was really messy.  I keep the bulbs in a safe, not to be seen by teacher, spot.  One day, one got loose and went through the scroll work, hit the floor and popped with a heart stopping noise.  I was mortified because it was my blue Japanese lantern.  My teacher came to my desk with a broom, dustpan and a look that said, "Sweep it up now!?  I was so embarrassed as I swept up the pieces because the other children looked at me like I was the most unusual person on the planet, no words were spoken but the looks said it all.  So much for first grade.

Next year it was Miss Jenks for 2nd grade.  She always wore white blouses with ruffles around the sleeves and wore her hair in a definite '30's style and this was 1954. She was quiet but you didn't mess with her.  After Thanksgiving, she brought in her little artificial tree that had a C-6 set woven into it.  One day, she plugged it in and it didn't light.  Miss Jenks was perplexed, she said "Oh dear," which I translated into "I want help with this one."  I told her I knew what to do.  She did have spares, (I kept mine at home since the first grade experience), and I took one and did the usual bulb exchange.  Of course, the one that was bad was an old Mazda marked lamp that I admired.  She praised me for my efforts and the stain of first grade was removed.  Isn't amazing what will stay with a kid after all these years?

 


NEXT

TABLE OF CONTENTS       HISTORY       THE TIMELINE       MANUFACTURER'S HISTORIES       THE PATENT PAGES       

THE PRE-ELECTRIC ERA      VINTAGE ADVERTISING         THE LIGHT SET GALLERIES         RELATED LINKS         

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

 

Note: OldChristmasTreeLights? and FamilyChristmasOnline? are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications? (www.btcomm.com).
The original subject matter content and illustrations on the OldChristmasTreeLights.com? product description pages are Copyright (c) 2001, 2008 by Bill and George Nelson.
All updated HTML code, editorial comments, and reformatted illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 2010, 2011, 2013, 1014 by Paul D. Race.
Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
Old Christmas Tree Lights(tm) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


For more information, please contact us.


Click to see sturdy Lionel(r) trains that are perfect for your Christmas tree.



Click to return to the Old Christmas Tree Lights Table of Contents Page
Jump to the OldChristmasTreeLights Discussion Forum
Visit our affiliated sites:
- Christmas Memories and Collectibles -
Visit the FamilyChristmasOnline site. Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Visit Papa Ted Althof's extensive history and collection of putz houses, the largest and most complete such resource on the Internet.. Click to return to the Old Christmas Tree Lights Table of Contents Page Craft and collectibles blog with local news of Croton NY.
Click to visit Fred's Noel-Kat store.
- Family Activities and Crafts -
Click to see reviews of our favorite family-friendly Christmas movies. Free, Family-Friendly Christmas Stories Decorate your tree the old-fashioned way with these kid-friendly projects. Free plans and instructions for starting a hobby building vintage-style cardboard Christmas houses. Click to find free, family-friendly Christmas poems and - in some cases - their stories. Traditional Home-Made Ornaments
- Music -
Carols of many countries, including music, lyrics, and the story behind the songs Wax recordings from the early 1900s, mostly collected by George Nelson.  Download them all for a 'period' album.
Best-loved railroad songs and the stories behind them.
Heartland-inspired music, history, and acoustic instrument tips. Own a guitar, banjo, or mandolin?  Want to play an instrument?  Tips to save you money and time, and keep your instrument playable. Own a guitar, banjo, or mandolin?  Want to play an instrument?  Tips to save you money and time, and keep your instrument playable.
- Trains and Hobbies -
Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page
Return to Family Garden Trains Home page
Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads
Big Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
Visit Lionel Trains. Free building projects for your vintage railroad or Christmas village. Click to see Thomas Kinkaded-inspired Holiday Trains and Villages. Big Christmas Train Primer: Choosing and using model trains with holiday themes Visit Howard Lamey's glitterhouse gallery, with free project plans, graphics, and instructions. Click to see HO scale trains with your favorite team's colors.



Click to trains that commemorate your team!