Celebrations were subdued for Christmas

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

A fir tree decorated with colored lights and shiny balls was the only Christmas decoration at most Tustin homes during the 1930s.

Except for our anxiety over the number of days until Santa Claus arrived, bringing the toys we wanted, the days before Christmas were low key in Tustin when I was a child.

There were no festive decorations in the shopping area, no Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, no Santa traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood with his reindeer and sled, no Christmas tree lots, no colorful lights decorating houses and yards.

The first indicator that Christmas would soon arrive in Tustin was the First National Bank distributing its calendar for the coming year.

Then Christmas trees appeared in front of Cox’s Food Center as well as the smaller grocery stores. Household appliances popped up in the front window at the Tustin Hardware. Along with fancy sets of cologne and dusting powder on display at the Tustin Drug Store and boxes of chocolates with cherry centers, these confirmed Dec. 25 would arrive soon.

Because Tustin had no department or toy stores, kids would nag their parents to take them to Santa Ana where the shopping area along Fourth Street between Bush and Broadway would be festive with sparkling decorations hanging from the street lights and lavishly decorated store windows.

Saturday night was a special time to visit because all the stores were open and the Salvation Army Band played Christmas music on the corner of Fourth and Main.

Finding a parking place was part of the evening’s anticipation and excitement. Driving round and round, circling the blocks where the stores were concentrated, was a game demanding sharp eyes to watch for indications of a car preparing to leave a parking stall. Finally, a space would materialize. Dad would park the car and we’d jump out onto the sidewalk, then walk slowly, stopping to contemplate every detail of each store window.

Toy villages, often with animated figures or a live Santa Claus seated on a throne-like chair, transformed the windows of ordinary stores like Montgomery Ward, J. C. Penny and Famous into magical sights. Toy trains tooting as they raced along tracks bordering a tall, twinkling Christmas tree, dainty dolls with long blond curls, bright red pedal-driven fire trucks, bicycles, trikes, scooters, roller skates, teddy bears, china tea sets, wicker doll buggies, toy kitchens with stoves and miniature pots and pans – we wanted it all.

Most families during those years limited their decorations to a lighted Christmas tree in the living room window with the exception of homeowners on North Flower Street in Santa Ana. Their outdoor decorations were a novelty in Orange County and drew hundreds of onlookers each night during the holiday season.

Santa Claus in his sleigh perched on a rooftop, reindeers prancing over snowy grass, elves busily turning out toys in their North Pole workshop, Mrs. Santa Claus baking cookies in her kitchen – every Christmas tradition dear to the heart of a child was displayed.

As the years passed, the original painted plywood cutouts became more elaborate with music and animation added. Despite fathers becoming exasperated with the sluggish, bumper-to-bumper traffic as kids hung out the car windows trying to see everything at once, the tradition expanded and attracted more and more families until it was deemed too frivolous during World War II.

Have a wonderful Christmas!


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