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Christmas On the Hill in the 1940's

by Carl Vest

The Christmas season is here.  Meridian is jammed with traffic.  The South Hill Mall is crammed with shoppers.  There’s gridlock everywhere.  Sometimes we long for the good old days!  So what was the Holiday season like on South Hill in the good old days?  Let’s go back some five or six decades and consider how it was.

Around the World War II period, South Hill was essentially a community of small farms.  These smallholdings varied in size, but generally were of modest scope.  The Firgrove community was about the center of the Hill, so folks living there probably represented most of the local culture at about mid-century.  Don and Mary Glaser, for example, were just starting a family in Firgrove.  Don was a native.

Unless you lived on a main arterial, such as Meridian, there was no central water system.  Most, but not all farms had a well.  Electricity was not available to everyone.  The Glaser’s and others off the arterials did not have power.  There was no telephone in the Glaser’s home.  Families kept animals, usually chickens, pigs and cows.  They were considered a food source.  Home heating was obtained by burning wood in a fireplace or a wood stove.  Only a very few had oil heat.  Toilets at many homes were small outside buildings, known as privies.

Where did they get their Christmas tree?  Usually trees were cut on their own farm or from a neighbor’s.  Decorations for the home and the tree were usually homemade.  Ornaments were shaped from paper and strung across windows and around the tree.  Since few had electricity there were no brightly lighted displays such as we see today.

Where did they do their Christmas shopping?  Special gifts for children were ordered from mail order catalogs. Each child usually got one special commercial gift, something they especially wanted.   Sears & Roebuck was the big catalog merchant in those days.  The catalogs were then recycled as toilet paper in the privies.   Local shopping was usually done at Willows Corner.  An occasional trip to Puyallup or Tacoma might be made, but not very often.  South Hill Mall, or strip malls along Meridian, did not exist in those days.
Homemade clothes were common gifts for children.  Mary remembers making a variety of clothes for her family.  Don was good at woodworking and over the years made many Christmas toys such as small dump trucks, steam shovels, and “tommy guns” for boys and baby carriages for girls.  Some of these are still in the hands of children and grandchildren and are lovingly cherished.

The Christmas meal was usually turkey.  Homemade fudge was always included.  A box of assorted nuts was traditional.  Very few Christmas cards were exchanged.  It was a time of family visits, especially to grandparents.  Firgrove School usually sponsored a Christmas play in which most children participated.  Other than that, you made your own fun.  There was little in the way of organized community festivities. 

The good old days — perhaps simpler and more meaningful!

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.