I'm Dreaming of a Cheap Christmas

I’m fondly recalling the cheap Christmases of my youth. At large gatherings of family, or at school, or at the local recreation center you had a lot of kids and limited funds. Very inexpensive giveaways were the rule. I can’t blame the powers-that-be – after all, we were getting entertained and Stuff for Free, even if it was really cheap. We’d get one of those stiff, ludicrously open-meshed “stockings” (that weren’t very stocking-shaped):


The gifts inside seemed to be mostly manufactured overseas, with cheap trademark- and copyright- violating images of Mickey Mouse and the like that didn’t look quite right. Contents included:

– Small Coloring Books on odd paper

– Crayons (for coloring the books) that appeared to be made out of almost pure wax with very little coloring matter. These left a sort-of-colored streak on the paper, with lots of little crumbly bits of wax on either side. Crayolas they weren’t.

– Water-based tattoos of generic things (Christmas trees, wreaths) or the afore-mentioned ripped off copyrighted characters

– “Flip books” that were supposed to be little animated scenes, only the images were too different from each other, so it was more as if someone cut out images from a comic strip and stapled them together.

– cheap, thin, spindly candy canes that were invariably broken inside their plastic wrapping.

– Simple Magic Tricks, like dollar bill holders, or disappearing ball containers

– simple paper and plastic toys that tended to break easily, like yo-yos, paper coil “yo yos”, tiny water squirt guns that held a thmbleful of water, “Chinese finger holders,” etc.
In those pre-DVD and pre-VCR days, the height of extravagance was a sound movie projector showing 1940s-era cartoons or Three Stooges shorts, or else somebody’s TC turned to the local independent station and its kids shows.

Anybody else?

We never had anything like that at a rec center. Our Christmases were all home/family based. When I was a kid (60s & 70s) it was Christmas Eve at my paternal grandparents’ home, Christmas morning at home, Christmas Day evening at my maternal grandparents’ home.

Something similar that I do recall is, that each year our little neighborhood Catholic Church would put on a Christmas program. It was similar to a school program. Each Catechism (Sunday school) class would sing a couple of songs. At the end of the program, all of the kids would come out and sing Jingle Bells. Santa would come out (our priest would don the Santa suit!) and hand out small brown bags to all of the kids. The bags contained salted in the shell peanuts, the famous hard Christmas candy (kind of spicy flavor - cloves?) and a large apple. For some reason, we thought it was one of the greatest things ever! The older kids (the boys, of course) had to try and ruin it by saying that Santa was really Fr Thomas. So the next year we sang Jingle Bells, Santa came out and right behind him was Fr Thomas! He said with a big grin, “what do you boys have to say now?” What a great memory. Seems like yesterday - not 50 years ago!

One family member or another always seem to buy us a stocking like that or something similar. My mom being Thrifty never missed a chance to take us to some event where we inevitably would receive another such gift. This is making me feel nostalgic and I’m definitely thinking about ordering one for myself this year. ������
I’m definitely missing when Christmas was a simpler thing!

I got the following over various Christmases:

Lincoln Logs
Tinker Toys
A Lionel train
Fort Apache
Awindup monkey with cymbals
A robot that had flashing eyes, which moved by means of a “remote” control that was connected by means of a speedometer-type cable and had a crank on it to make the cable turn.
All manner of toy guns, which every kid that age had, and nobody worried about it.
Books: lots of books to inspire the imagination

My Daddy definitely kept Christmas well. With 8 of us he had to be cheap. But, somehow he managed to make us feel like we were spoiled. For some reason I can’t remember many actual gifts, except the one year I got a beagle puppy. Best gift evah! Of course there was candy and fruits. I remember him bringing us pomegranates one year, we were amazed. And the year of the coconuts will go down in history as the funniest. We ended up outside with hammers and saws trying to crack them. Fun stuff.

Not for Christmas, but I remember one year going to something like this at (what I remember being) a very large church for Halloween. I clearly remember watching Looney Toons movies on a reel projector and getting a goody bag with little trinkets like you describe.

Bags of plastic Army Men or Cowboys and Indians, in various poses of shooting, stalking, etc. Loved those things.