Christmas in Stratford – 50 years ago
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.
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.