I do not remember visiting Santa Claus in my hometown. Our annual Christmas memories were generally made at Rike’s Department Store in Dayton. Rike’s had the best window display in Ohio as far as I was concerned. When I was very small there were just scenes, kids playing in the snow, people caroling, reindeer amongst fake forest branches. As I got older, however, the folks at Rike’s upped the ante. The figures began to be animated. Now the singers actually moved, the kids actually pretended to throw snowballs or jump up and down on a sled.
Rike’s at Christmas was magical besides the glorious multi-window displays the entire store was transformed into a winter wonderland. The best thing was going to visit Santa in Toyland, which is what the 7th floor became during the Christmas season. Since both of my siblings were so much older than me I was the recipient of some rather expensive toys, considering they both had jobs by the time I was ten or 12. I remember getting to go to Toyland one Christmas and pick out whatever I wanted.
What I wanted was a doll that came in her own wicker suitcase and had all kinds of clothes. A bridal gown and veil and shoes, traveling clothes, including a coat, and all kinds of other accessories. I believe the doll cost the huge amount of $40.00 which would have been scandalous at the time. I remember loving her dearly.
When I got older Christmas activities were primarily organized around church, school and friends. I sang in the junior choir at Zion Baptist Church and we always did a Christmas concert and other activities. My father, who was the Superintendent of the Sunday School, and I had to decorate, including buying the Christmas tree and decorating it for the Sunday School area, which was in the basement. At school we had concerts as well and generally parties in our classrooms that involved some form of gift exchange. I can remember getting a very sophisticated gift from one of my male classmates–it was either Arlin or Thomas, I cannot remember which, when I was in the 6th grade, some perfume in a fancy gold dispenser. I thought it was dreadfully glamorous.
Besides the organized things there were, of course, house parties and as we got to be teenagers there were other activities like sledding. We would go up to the top of Third Street where my friend Sylvia lived and there was a good hill. There was not much traffic in the evening on Third Street so we could sled on the street.
The best part was that the sledding would be double decker. Girls would lie down on the sled and the boys would provide the muscle and push the sled, as it started to go the boy would then flop on top of the girl and the sled would carry them both down the hill. That way you got double pleasure, sledding and semi-erotic partnering on the sled. All good clean fun of course. Who could find fault with such a wholesome activity?
The sledding was usually followed by adjourning to someone’s house for hot chocolate and cookies. When my own children became teenagers I was amazed at their reports of the presence of alcohol at their parties, starting in around the 8th grade. We must have been real squares, nobody drank that I knew of and they certainly never offered me anything to drink.
Some of the white kids would ice skate in the winter around Christmas at Shawnee Park. I do not think any of the black kids in my era ever did. I thought of ice skating as something done by people in New England, it never occurred to me to think about strapping blades on my feet and sliding across ice. We did some sliding across ice, but with shoes on and the ice in question was usually more like a puddle or small pond.
Christmas in Xenia was picturesque and homey and fun. In most cases it still is!