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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

Holiday Memories

The way we were

Published: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 12:02

One of my favorite songs is from the movie, The Way We Were with music orchestrated by the incomparable Marvin Hamlisch. It is a poignant song that hearkens back to what a lot of us consider the “good ol’ days.”

Here is just a small verse from that classic, which was the No. 1 song for 1974:

Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time rewritten every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again

Tell me, would we? Could we?

As I listened to the words, it made me think about how the holidays used to be in our country. Currently, most stores are festooned with Christmas decorations, and radio stations across the nation started playing holiday songs at the beginning of November. Back in the “good ol’ days,” in November only Thanksgiving decorations were displayed; decorated Christmas trees and other items did not appear until all of us put down that last drumstick and piece of pumpkin pie.

While I’m on the subject, here are some other long-lost memories:

Christmas cards had handwritten messages inside, and all were signed. No printed names inside the card from the sender.

Carolers came to our door at night. They sang a couple of Christmas songs and left without asking for a donation.

Santa arrived on Thanksgiving Day in a parade and opened shop the next day at the various stores and malls.

There were few fake Christmas trees back then, and Scotch pine was the most popular.

All stores were closed on Thanksgiving Day, giving employees an opportunity to spend the special day with family and friends. Incidentally, there are some major stores that have bucked the trend to be open and have decided that being with family on this holiday is more important. Dillard’s, HomeGoods, IKEA, Costco, Jos. A. Bank, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Sam’s Club, T.J.Maxx, Marshalls, and Lowe’s have all restarted that tradition. Hopefully, next year more stores will become family-oriented, and this will become a trend.

The movie Miracle on 34th Street was in black and white. Now we have the colorized version and even an updated version with different actors. The original from 1947 is still the best!

And what are the holidays without viewing It’s a Wonderful Life, or Christmas Vacation, or the incomparable Home Alone?

Children these days have no idea what it means to find a lump of coal in their stocking. Back when we were growing up in the Dark Ages, most homes in the community had coal-burning furnaces. So to signal that a child perhaps was a bit naughty, Santa would leave some coal in the stocking that was hanging from the mantel.

Christmas trees are now well manicured at nurseries before being set out for sale. I can remember looking for a tree that one could place in the corner of the home because it was rare to find a Scotch pine that was perfectly cylindrical.

And trees come with lights already attached; when one goes out, all the remaining lights stay lit. How many of you remember testing an entire string of lights with a new bulb just to locate the burned-out culprit? Back then, lights were in a series until someone invented parallel connections.

One of our favorite treats during the holiday season was plum pudding. J. L. Hudson’s used to have the best plum pudding topped with hard sauce. Somehow during the transition to Marshall Field’s and then to Macy’s, that recipe must have been lost because it is no longer on the menu.

Soldiers in various battlefields could always look forward to seeing Bob Hope on one of his USO tours. Yes, his jokes were lame and predictable, but it brought laughter and fun to our brave troops who were away from home during the holidays. And Hope’s bevy of beauties that accompanied him were a welcome sight, too. In that regard, I wonder if one of the entertainers, Charo, can still do the Cuchi Cuchi now that she’s 65 years old?

Christmas songs certainly have changed over the years. For instance, back when we heard, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” we thought nothing of the line: “A pistol that shoots is the wish of Barney and Ben.” Today, when we hear that line, we wince. Christmas television shows hosted by Perry Como, Bing Crosby, and Andy Williams were another tradition. Crosby surprised us by performing a duet of “The Little Drummer Boy” with then-bad-boy David Bowie. And now that duet has become a classic.

Finally, one of the bygone traditions that really needs to be restored is the exchange of the “Merry Christmas” greeting. Let’s stop all the malarkey about happy holidays. If you encounter me during this season, I’ll be wishing you a Merry Christmas because political correctness is not a part of my world. And as a follow-up to that, nativity scenes should never be banned in public places.

So there you have it. Christmas memories and traditions that have served us well over the years. By the way, this column is best read with John Williams’ “Somewhere in My Memory” from Home Alone playing in the background.

Now tell me: If we had the chance to do it all again, would we? Could we? I sure hope so.


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.


Always a Pleausre


I always smile when i see a new column with your byline.  I agree with your thoughts about Christmas, especially the dreadful "Happy Holidays" greeting.

I conitnue to have wonderful memories of Christmases past.  I enjoy seeing the new offerings of Christmas lighting every year.

Last Christmas we carolled at a nurisng home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.  That was a great time, cheering up people who are elderly and infirm.