Christmas Past – Part I

Long past?
No. Your past.


Pax Mr Dickens it wasn’t a child-like figure with long white hair, a branch of holly in it’s hand and a blindingly light streaming from the crown of its head that brought up a memory of a Christmastide that is, to contradict the Ghost, long past.  It was a NYTimes advertisement for the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular from a December 1961 Arts and Leisure section post in a FB group to which I belong.

My father had died in the August of that year and Christmas promised to be a joyless event in our household.  I’m sure we went to my brother’s on Christmas Day but I can’t imagine that the day was much fun for any of us.  My father was a major and loving presence in our lives and the ache of loss was still raw.  It was going to be a difficult and melancholy holiday season.

A few days before the holiday my cousin Diane in New Jersey called with an invitation to visit them in the days between Christmas and the New Year.  With it came the promise of my first visit to New York  City.   The season had become a bit brighter at the thought of spending time with Diane, Jack and the girls plus a few treats they had lined up for us.

So Boxing Day my mother and I boarded an overnight bus at the Greyhound station at Bay and Dundas and made the 12 hour trip to New York City.   They lived in Nutley a pleasant town only an hour from Manhattan; and the treats involved making that trip to town twice.

This ad from the New York Time in December 1961 sent me down memory lane.

The first trip was an early morning one to catch the first show of the day at Radio City Music Hall.  As a sidebar someone noticed that back in 1961 admission for the show was 99¢ if you went before noon – I’m not sure if that was for children or just a general price.  (A quick check of 2017 prices range between $225.00 to $70.00). For that 99¢ we got The Nativity, or at least a damned good facsimile with camels, horses, sheep, a donkey, flying angels and the baby Jesus; a flower ballet – no doubt to Tchaikovsky music; a “musical dramatization of Dicken’s ‘Christmas Carol’ “; a “Poinsettia Fantasy”(???); several variety artists; and, of course the Rockettes.  All that plus Walt Disney’s Babes in Toyland – all for 99¢!!!  I had been looking forward to the film as the Victor Herbert musical was one of my favourites but it was that stage show and the theatre that fascinated me most.   The size and splendor of that deco auditorium, the grand staircases, the elevator stage with the spectacular effects, and those Rockettes high-stepping through their routines.  Though the movie had its toy soldiers marching off to battle it had nothing on the time honoured toy soldier routine that has been the highlight of every show since 1933.  The Russell Markert choreography and the costumes have changed little since then.

The precision work is incredible but the highlight is always that domino fall:

And here’s a little insight into how that fall is done:

After Radio City Music Hall we went to Schrafft’s at 51st in the Rockefeller Center.  Schrafft’s restaurants were ubiquitous back then – slightly upscale, good solid American food, beloved by matrons from Scarsdale and tourists, like us, from New Jersey.

Schrafft’s on 51st in the Rockefeller Center in 1948 – it had changed little when we went for a holiday lunch in December 1961.

Now my mother was, god rest her soul, the sort of person who believed that meat should be well-cooked.  She was the sort that could take a five pound roast and reduce it till it was three and a nice even gray colour all the way through.  You then slathered lots of mustard or, if you were really adventuresome, horseradish on it to give it flavour.  Her horror when the waitress – in her black dress, white starched apron and peter pan collar – presented my hamburger platter and the patty was a slight pink in the centre can only be imagined.  This person was attempting to kill her pride and joy (me!) with “uncooked” meat.  The dudgeon was high and the order to return the offending burger and have it cooked properly was issued in that “Mrs Hobbs” voice that made grown men cringe.  I don’t recall but I’m sure Diane and I were the only ones cringing in embarrassment.  The waitress probably spit on it when she returned it to the kitchen.  Knowing Isa the way I did I’m sure the indignation was communicated to Jack at the dinner table that night.

There was to be another trip into the Big City on New Year’s Day – a trip that I had been anticipating since I first listen to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio.  I was to go to the old Met on Broadway at 39th.  I wasn’t going to just hear Milton Cross tell me about the great gold curtain parting – I was going to see it for real.

On this day in 1919: Lincoln’s Inn in London, England, UK admits its first female bar student.

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

5 thoughts on “Christmas Past – Part I”

  1. Wow. What a great experience and it brought back my memories of my childhood. The live animals on stage for hte Nativity were the best part for me! Well, and of course the Rockettes. I saw the Radio City Christmas show again when I was in my 30s and it just wasn’t the same for me. I had become too jaded. I’d probably enjoy it again now!

  2. What a wonderful post! There was a local news item here not long ago about a young Edmonton dancer who had just been hired as a Rockette. It was a life-long dream of hers since she was a little girl.

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