My mom, who is 90, was reminiscing recently about Christmas during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
There wasn’t much in the way of gifts. Matter of fact, there wasn’t much in the way of food.
Daily life was usually a struggle. Grandpa became a scavenger, coming home with fruit that had been discarded by stores, or fallen off a truck onto the streets of New York City. As long as it was not rotten, they’d eat it. To this day, my mother will eat fruit that neither you nor I would probably touch.
“It’s only bruised,” she will say. “There’s nothing really wrong with it.”
There was only one Christmas during those years that Mom remembers getting a store-bought gift. While she and her sister were singing in the children’s choir at church on Christmas Eve, either Grandpa or Grandma slipped out, dashed back to the little apartment where they lived, and put two wrapped presents – one for my mom and the other for Mom’s older sister – under the tree.
Later, when they all returned from church together, Grandpa and Grandma pretended to be surprised to see gifts under the tree.
Mom doesn’t remember what her sister’s gift was. But her eyes still open wide when she recalls the thrill of opening hers: A Shirley Temple doll.
My mother’s experience during the Depression is a reminder of the excess of material things we have today, and that we don’t need much – or anything at all – to celebrate Christmas.