Christmas Traditions in Clairemont

Santa arrives at the Clairemont Square (North Shores Sentinel)

In the 1950s, Clairemont was facetiously known as “wage monkey heaven.” The term might seem indelicate to readers with contemporary sensitivities and hefty mortgages, but Clairemont was originally a place where a working stiff could afford to buy a home for his family.

A good Christmas gift in 1953 could have been a rear view mirror for your loved one’s car.  Effective, January 1, 1954, all motor vehicles in California were required to have a mirror that reflected a distance of 200 feet to the rear.

Rearview mirror (automotive catalog)

The following advice from a prominent psychologist in 1954 was published in the North Shores Sentinel about Christmas gift giving.

  • Don’t overwhelm your children with toys. Too many can confuse them.
  • Permit some leeway in cross-reference toys made expressly for the opposite sex. It is not necessarily sissy for boys to like dolls nor is a girl who likes baseball always a tomboy.
  • If you are worrying about whether toy guns, tanks and fighter planes might put the wrong idea into the kids’ head, don’t. Denying him the standard play things would make him different from his playmates. They might even be an emotional outlet for natural feelings of hostility or aggression.
Vintage Christmas card (Bill Swank collection)

In the Third Annual Clairemont Town Council Christmas Home Decoration contest (1956), local merchants donated over $300 worth of gift certificates to be handed out as prizes. First place went to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Wellen of 3277 Karok Avenue. They received a $10.00 gift certificate from Roy’s Market, a $5.00 certificate from Karlyne’s Ladies Shop and a bottle of champagne from the Texas Liquor Store.

If you think we live in an “every kid gets a trophy” society today, over 30 prizes were awarded back then. Most were $5.00 gift certificates from various merchants and everybody was happy.

Love, Harold & Edith Bill Swank (Bill Swank collection)

In 1957, almost as many residents won gift certificates in the Town Council’s Christmas Decoration contest. There was even a category for decorated apartments, but apparently no apartment dwellers decided to enter. The $25 first place gift certificate was awarded to Mrs. Robert Smith, who was the president of the Clairemont Women’s Club.

That same year, St. Mark’s Methodist Church was selling autographed copies of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss at their Christmas Market. How cool was that?

On December 6, 1957, Santa Claus landed by helicopter at the North Clairemont Square. He was also at the Quad (Clairemont Village) every day from December 10 through December 24 between 2:00 and 8:00 PM.

Through the modern lens, the 1950s are seen as an era of conformity, schlock and nostalgic traditions, but Christmas had special meaning in the Eisenhower years. For those strapped for cash, sad, little pine trees could be found outside DeFalco’s and Roy’s for 99¢.

The Charlie Brown tree didn’t come along until 1965 and don’t forget that in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Snoopy decorated his doghouse and won first prize. Charlie disapproved and lamented the idea that Christmas was becoming too commercial.

circa 1965 Christmas card photo holder with a picture of a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree (Bill Swank collection)

Let’s face it, in a contest between “creeping communism” and commercialism in post WWII America, the commies didn’t stand a chance. 20% of all retail sales in the United States are generated during the Christmas season. “Black Friday” symbolizes the day that retailers go “from the red into the black.”

In 1964, the Clairemont Town Council again sponsored a Christmas home decoration contest. The night of the judging, “fog blanketed San Diego and the judges strained to pick a winner.” Apparently, they got lost in the fog and selected a house in University City to win the $20 first prize gift certificate. How could a University City home win a Clairemont contest?

It was a time of guileless, but well meaning ideas and campaigns. Residents were encouraged to send Christmas cards to a 9-year-old Little Leaguer named Garry Moore, so “he won’t feel forgotten.” Garry was a polio patient at Children’s Hospital in 1956.

The headline of a January 6, 1966 Sentinel story read, “Old Christmas Cards Make Lives Bright.” The Clairemont Town Council began a well-intended drive to collect used Christmas cards to be distributed to “institutions and under-privileged people in this country and in less fortunate Christian countries around the world.”

Imagine the thrill of being poor, imprisoned or incapacitated… and receiving a second hand Christmas card signed by somebody you don’t know. Better yet, starving to death in a foreign country and getting a cheerful secondhand Christmas greeting from a Christian in the United States.

Naturally, the good folks of Clairemont responded in numbers the Town Council could never have imagined. Instead of 5,000 cards, they received 15,000 used cards which “created a logistics and shipment nightmare.” Wisely, the project was abandoned the next year.

My own father used to save Christmas cards, scratch out the names and send them the following year. I was never quite sure if he did it to be funny or he just didn’t want to bother with buying cards.

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