Christ­mas in Strat­ford – 50 years ago

The Beacon Herald - - NEWS - BETTY JO BEL­TON

What was Christ­mas like 50 years ago in 1968? In­ter­na­tional news was of­ten grim that year. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were both as­sas­si­nated. Civil protests of the Viet­nam War were hap­pen­ing across the United States. The Prague spring had bloomed and been crushed un­der Soviet tanks. And yet hope­ful eyes looked to the skies that Christ­mas to see if there might be a glimpse of what one Perth County news­pa­per de­scribed in an edi­to­rial on Dec. 24, 1968, as a “new star, Apollo 8, on a risky six-day mis­sion planned to take three mod­ern sci­en­tists in an or­bit around the moon.”

The mis­sion was a suc­cess with the as­tro­nauts or­bit­ing the moon 10 times be­fore re­turn­ing to Earth on Dec. 27. They were the first hu­mans to see the dark side of the moon and the first to see Earth “ris­ing” over its hori­zon. Bill An­ders scram­bled to get pho­to­graphs of our home planet from the per­spec­tive of space. His fel­low crew­man, Frank Bor­man, later de­scribed it as “the most beau­ti­ful, heart-catch­ing sight of my life, one that sent a tor­rent of nos­tal­gia, of sheer home­sick­ness, surg­ing through me. It was the only thing in space that had any colour to it. Ev­ery­thing else was ei­ther black or white.” In spite of all of these big events hap­pen­ing, the many small prepa­ra­tions and lo­cal cel­e­bra­tions for the sea­son of peace went on and were doc­u­mented in Perth County news­pa­pers.

Five-year-old Fred­er­ick Yundt got his pic­ture in the Strat­ford Bea­con-Her­ald on Dec. 10, 1968, look­ing over his let­ter to Santa. While he asked for a fire truck and air­plane “that has things on it that shine when you press a but­ton on the bot­tom” for him­self, he also kindly re­mem­bered to ask for gifts for his lit­tle sis­ter, Janet, his dog Pokey and cat Frisky. The Bell fam­ily, also of Strat­ford, had elab­o­rate dec­o­ra­tions through­out their home, all made by hand by the fam­ily. Many were crafted us­ing found ma­te­ri­als such as pine cones and milk­weed pods. At Cen­tral High School, an en­tire hall was lined with stuffed dolls, gi­raffes, teddy bears, ele­phants, rab­bits and hobby horses. The Grade 12 girls’ health class made them all as part of their child study course. The toys were given to the Sal­va­tion Army and Strat­ford Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal for Christ­mas gifts.

Over in Mitchell, ads in the Ban­ner in­vited ev­ery­one to at­tend the Santa Claus pa­rade and “grow young with the kid­dies.” Af­ter the pa­rade, the big man him­self was avail­able for pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions and handed out 1,500 bags of treats, all with the ready as­sis­tance of the Lions Club and “a lot of will­ing helpers.” The next day, the Main St. United Church in Mitchell joined with the Cana­dian Girls in Train­ing to present “the story of the Nativity” in song at a can­dle­light ves­per ser­vice. Mary and Joseph were played by Maya Burl and John Humphries.

Up in Lis­towel, Santa left town af­ter the pa­rade there with a big bag of mail ad­dressed to him. The news­pa­per there re­ported that “af­ter hav­ing his elves care­fully record all the names and re­quests of the let­ters, the Jolly old gent had them de­liv­ered back to the Ban­ner, so that his lit­tle friends would know that they weren’t for­got­ten.” Dar­lene Kon­ings of Her­bert Street in Lis­towel asked for “Baby Crawl Along” with the rather prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tion that Santa also drop off ex­tra bat­ter­ies “as my Daddy doesn’t want to buy them all them the time.” One of the longer notes was also from Her­bert Street. It reads, “Dear Santa: My name is Ste­fan Jack­son and I am four years old. My sis­ter is called Lor­raine and is two years old. I have tried to be a good boy and have tried to make my sis­ter good too al­though it was hard work at times. I know you have lots of boys and girls to visit so I must not ask for too much. I would be grate­ful for any of the fol­low­ing – Billy Blastoff, G.I. Joe, Gas Sta­tion, Bowl­ing Ball set, Bat­man slip­pers and a reel for my fish­ing rod. Lor­raine would like a Pony TV seat, Iron and Iron­ing board, G.I. Joe, Pussy cat slip­pers and Spiro­tot. We shall leave re­fresh­ments for you and Rudolph and hope you have a very happy Christ­mas. Bye now and God Bless. Love from Ste­fan.” While Ste­fan (who may have had some help with his let­ter) didn’t spec­ify what re­fresh­ments he might leave out for Santa, other chil­dren promised milk and cook­ies, ginger ale and Jello, cheese and hot cho­co­late, a cho­co­late bar, cake, candy and, per­haps most help­ful of all, a cup of cof­fee, along with car­rots and su­gar for the rein­deer. The Strat­ford-Perth Archives is lo­cated at 4273 Line 34 (High­way 8), just west of Strat­ford. We are open for re­search from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mon­day to Fri­day. Please call 519-271-0531,ext 259 or email [email protected]­county.ca with any ques­tions.

STRAT­FORD-PERTH ARCHIVES

Fred­er­ick Yundt of Youngs St., Strat­ford looks over his let­ter to Santa in this photo orig­i­nally pub­lished in the Bea­con Her­ald on Dec. 10, 1968.

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