Above photo shows an early 60's Ridgewood tree - a little smaller than usual at the end of E Ridgewood Ave. Photo is property of and used with the courtesy of the Ridgewood Public Library.
Christmastime growing up in Ridgewood NJ - it holds so many memories for many of us. Whether you celebrated Hanukkah or Christmas, when we attended Glen School or any elementary school in town - it was a very exciting time of year!
There were of course, many signs that the holidays were on the way. Thanksgiving always marked the start of it all. In my early years, we would always spend Thanksgiving with my grandparents (my mom's parents) in Fairview, NJ. To me it seemed they had the largest dining room table in NJ! There are 17 cousins on this side of our family and you were lucky to get a seat at the huge table for dinner as a kid - I'm proud to say I accomplished this by the age of 5 or 6! This was a thrill because there were cousins older than me still consigned to the kitchen for dinner!
My grandmother had impeccable taste - finger bowls, the finest silver, salt dishes and my grandfather seemingly made the largest turkey in NJ. There was football, the movie "March of the Wooden Soldiers", home movies after dessert. The dad's would claim they were going for a walk but it meant a nightcap up the street! The countdown to Christmas would begin! It was a great time - no Black Fridays - just simply enjoying the holidays with family and friends. My cousin Carolyn and I would be together the entire day and sneak back into the dining room to steal some more turkey before it was used for sandwiches - I swear the turkey had to be 35 pounds!
Other familiar signs that Christmas was near included the large Santa Claus at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus. As we took trips up and down Route 17 you'd see the Santa come to life - first the boot, then the sack of toys, then the waving arm - it was easily one my favorite decorations as a child!
Above is the actual postcard of this famous decoration - the chimney remained all season long and normally had the words "Garden State Plaza" on each side but it came to life at Christmas and delighted 1,000's.
Seeing Santa Claus "himself" was a big deal for me - we seemed to have good Santa's in Bergen County back then! Ugh, I took it so seriously - rehearsing in my head what I was going to tell him - I was never scared but always nervous! Lionel trains, baseball stuff and a football ranked high on my list of requests! Then of course my cousin Carolyn told me the truth one day - I was so bummed!
Above, me visiting Santa Claus probably at the Garden State Plaza or Bergen Mall.
In Ridgewood, the approach of the holiday season could be seen in other ways. The big tree at the end of E Ridgewood Ave by the tracks, Arthur's House of Beauty and the street lamp decorations.
Above is a great photo - Christmas 1969 - approaching the tree on E Ridgewood Ave. Photo is property of and used courtesy of Beth Hagler Colombini.
Here is a fantastic photo of a Ridgewood gem! They had so many decorations and lights for this place that they kept many of the pieces stored on the huge ledge you see in the photo. Truly a Ridgewood classic! Photo property of and used with the courtesy of the Ridgewood Public Library.
Here's a 1950's look down E Ridgewood Ave with street lamp decorations and shoppers. Photo property of and used with the courtesy of the Ridgewood Public Library.
Above photo is Graydon Pool in the winter. Ice skating at Graydon was a big deal - a place to meet up with friends regardless of whether you could skate or not. Photo is property of Anthony Bruno Jr.
At school during December, there was always talk about whether we'd get a big snow that year - the early 60's never seemed to disappoint us.
Above photo shows Glen School at Christmastime 2008 after a snowfall!
My classmates and I would also talk about the best route to take to and from school to avoid getting hit with snowballs by the 6th graders! Regarding snowballs Chic Voorhees remembers:
"Don't forget the winter snowball fights with the 6 graders on the hill. I remember I nailed one of the 6th graders in the face from down the hill, and he chased me down and washed my face out with snow!"
My sisters took great pleasure in building up my anticipation of Santa Claus and had me believing that it was Santa making the noise outside or who caused the moving shadows under my door - it was very exciting! These memories would lead to Caryn and I making memories with our own kids - one year I stuck a small piece of torn red felt on the fireplace and my son Ricky upon finding it, thought it was incredible!
There was the annual trek up to the attic with my dad to gather the outdoor house decorations. I'd help dad check out the bulbs and hold the ladder for him while he hung them on the house!
Above is a 1960's photo of the front of our house on Auburn Ave. My red wagon is in the lower right corner! We had some nice trees around our house - just the right amount - but today they're all gone!
In class we'd make decorations, talk about the coming Christmas vacation and of course there was the Glen School Christmas show in the gym with the choir and the orchestra. Songs would include: "Up On the Housetop" and "Let There Be Peace On Earth" (which is Beth Daly's all-time favortie song!) The words to this classic song are posted below! A separate detailed story about our 1966 Glen School Christmas Show will immediately follow this one!
Beth Daly recalls: "I was in choir and I remember learning to sing the song 'Let There be Peace On Earth' - it is still a favorite of mine and I still remember all the words!"
The lyrics to "Let There Be Peace On Earth":
Let there be peace on earth; And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth; The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father; Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother; In perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me; Let this be the moment now.
With ev'ry step I take; Let this be my solemn vow;
To take each moment, and live each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth; And let it begin with me.
My sisters always took me shopping for my parents presents and I remember the time I took to be sure I picked out the right ones! I'd bring all my money - mostly coins - and spend a lot of time trying to pick the right gifts! I remember buying toy soldiers for my dad at Gimbel's and kitchen things at the "Gadget Bar" in Bamberger's for my mom!
In our house, we decorated the tree Christmas Eve when friends and family would stop in. Almost always, my dad can be seen in our home movies turning his pockets inside out as if to say "Christmas? I'm broke!" or passing out pointsettas to all the ladies!
More often than not when I was little we traveled around visiting on Christmas Day - open the presents then out the door to visit both grandparents and an uncle's house. My sister Ginny remembers: "It was fun when mom & dad started hosting Christmas. We didn't have to go anywhere, everyone came to us! Men in the kitchen and women in the den!"
My sister Sharon recalls: "Waiting to see who on the block would put their lights up first. The magic of walking into Mount Carmel for Christmas mass........the creche created a special feeling! My firends and I walked around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols. There was the Christmas concert at Glen School, the Christmas concert at RHS, the windows at Sealfons and MacHugh's. Mom would buy her special chocolates and ribbon candy and hide them til Christmas."
Ginny also remembers: "Mom would always sing along with the (christmas) music. She had a really beautiful voice!".
I also recall the time when my sister Sharon took me into the city to see the tree at Rockefeller Center - what a thrill! We also checked the windows at Lord & Taylor and all the famous stores.
My parents would always throw a big party for neighbors, friends and family. The music, dancing and chatter seemed to go on all night! My dad was at his best when we entertained guests - he loved it!
That's me in the above photo around age 3 Christmas 1958! When I was a little older, I received a printing set for Christmas and on Christmas Day I spilled all the black ink on our living room carpet - wow! My mom was amazingly good about it! We got new carpeting later in the new year!
Above are my sisters (l to r) Ginny and Sharon. Ginny is posing with one of my most favorite toys ever - my fire truck pedal car! (See photo below!) My dad would make the egg nog, my mom would be wrapping last minute gifts and Christmas music would be on all day!
That's me summer 1959 in my fire truck pedal car I received the previous Christmas - loved it!!
If you lived on Roslyn Road, Norgate, East Gate or Westbrook Roads there was the tree lighting and the arrival of Santa Claus to the neighborhood. Margret Silver's dad Earl Silvers - affectionately known as "Sam" - was an executive with the Grand Union supermaket chain and would annually arrange to use the Blue Stamps float to come to the neighborhood where a neighborhood dad would play Santa. Some remember Vinnie Nunno as one of those dads.
Of this memorable ritual Beth Daly remembers:
"Mr. Silvers worked for Grand Union. They had this flat bed that we could borrow for this Christmas thing. The deal was that parents would drop presents off in the Dorsey's garage - their kids were like 18, 20, 22, something like that - (each present) clearly marked with each child's name. This would, of course, be kept secret from the children. Then usually on a Sunday early evening the flatbed would roll down Roslyn with Santa ho-ho-hoing - I do not remember who this was probably a Dad, maybe even mine, who knows! We would be drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies. Parents would be drinking something warm, probably alcoholic and Santa would call out the names and we would each get a gift. It was a really exciting kick-off for the Christmas season for the kids. We would anticipate this day all year long. It was fun for the kids and fun for the adults!"
Here's a great find! Above is one of the original invitations to the Salem Ridge Christmas celebrations! You have to read the invitation below - its a classic! My sincerest thanks to Else Ege for donating this great item! This was when the celebration was held at the McDaniel's house - everyone would gather at their big tree on 854 Norgate Drive. The house has since (gulp!) been torn down and a new one built in its place but the memories live on!
Above is one of the original invitations - please click on the image to make it larger - its a classic!
Margaret Silvers remembers:
"......... all the parents would give Santa a labeled present ahead of time. The float would come to the McDaniels house on Norgate. They had a big Christmas tree in the front yard. There would be hot chocolate........It was really quite an event. I think it extended around the Roslyn Road, Westbrook, Norgate, Eastgate rectangle."
"I think Mr. Nunno played Santa Claus on the float at the Roslyn Road Christmas party. I never really knew who Santa was. In fact, I thought for a couple of years that it really was Santa - it was early, not his "big" night. He had time and how else could he know our names when we weren't at home - we were at the McDaniels, in the street, singing carols!
".............there was nothing like walking up onto the float on the long walk-way to Santa - a proud walk. I was on stage!
"But one year, Santa arrived in a Volkswagen bug - whoa! What was that all about? Such a big guy in a small car. It seemed strange, and even though everyone was happy, I felt badly for Santa. It seemed embarrassing for him. I thought.....something is different now.
"Over the years, we moved to the Ege's (house), and by then I was more looking forward to skiing than toy gifts. It was still fun. The best hot chocolate in the world - no lumps! And we were always bundled up. Tons of smiles."
Santa would make his way through the neighborhood bidding all to follow him where they would end up usually at the McDaniel's house. They had a large tree in their front yard which would then be lighted (man where was I during all this?!)
Families participating included the Silvers, the Knights, the Dalys, the McDaniels, the Hencklers, the Stanley-Brown, the Eges, the Bennetts and many more!!
Jeanne Stanley-Brown recalls: ".....the Grand Union float would come to the neighborhood with Santa impersonated by a neighborhood dad. Gifts would be passed out - (Santa) calling the children by name. David (her son) patiently waiting for his name to be called, concern coming over his face until finally being giving his present to his utter delight!"
Above is the Silver's home much like it looked in the 1960's! The Roslyn Road families and families from the surrounding neighborhoods would move the Christmas celebration to the Silver's and Ege's houses as the kids got older. Photo was taken by Margaret Silvers November 7, 2009!
To this day Beth Daly annually hosts a similar celebration in her Ridgewood neighborhood. On the 1st or 2nd Sunday preceding Christmas, Santa arrives in Beth's neighborhood where he makes his way around ending up at Beth's house. Beth provides the hot chocolate, coffee, juice, donuts, bagels and other treats to give with the children's presents. The neighbors then have a cocktail party that night at someone's house. Its great fun and the street right now has about 40 kids! Its the best thing about happy memories - we always pass them on and make new ones!
On Gateway Road and E Glen Avenue, Cara Worthington recalls the Gateway Association would also host a tree lighting and sing Christmas carols on Stanish Rd. She also has wonderful memories of ice skating on the Yingling's pond.
Ann Rimmer remembers that she used to be bummed that they didn't celebrate Christmas as well as Hanukkah. As she tells it: "I was kind of bummed we didn't celebrate Christmas. I do remember when I was in high school, my parents were traveling and I got a little 'Hanukkah tree' for the house. My dad came home...........had to get rid of it immediately! Now I can have a tree every year!"
As for Katie Knight, memories of hers include "........going to West Side Presbyterian Church for Christmas service, lights on trees and houses in the neighborhood, big family meal on Grandmother's china, being together with family and friends...snow!"
On our street - Auburn Ave - we always looked forward to sleigh-riding and tobogganing - there were some really great hills in the area where we would go at night when we got a little older. We always made extravagant igloos, forts and snowmen and had great snowball battles. I did try my hand at ice skating at Graydon Pool - failed miserably! Skiing was more for me - though I started skiing in my teens. I used to think "What's all that commotion on Roslyn Road!!!"
Above is Ricky Flannery sledding after a big late 50's snowstorm on Auburn Avenue!
The Holidays in Ridgewood hold fond memories for many of us but also sad ones for others. My heart goes out to special people like Jan Potdevin, Carl Vrabel and the Lavery and Kramer families especially at such a special time of year as this. I consider myself lucky to have the memories I do. It's the appreciation of these times that help us create new memories and traditions with our own families.
If anyone has any Christmas, Hanukkah or winter photos from when you were a kid - PLEASE email 'em so I can include here!
Thanks to all who contributed various memories and corrected facts to this story.