Town of Newburgh history

Holiday gifts through the years

By Alan B. Crawford
Posted 12/2/21

Well, Thanksgiving is behind us, Black Friday madness slowly fading, and we’re planning for the holidays. No matter how you want to celebrate, there is a common thread, the exchange of …

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Town of Newburgh history

Holiday gifts through the years


Well, Thanksgiving is behind us, Black Friday madness slowly fading, and we’re planning for the holidays. No matter how you want to celebrate, there is a common thread, the exchange of presents. And what do we have this year? Container ships anchored off the coasts, a shortage of truck drivers, and the possibility of not being able to have the selection of items from which to choose from. And, even if we do find the Holy Grail of presents we’ve been searching for, will we be able to get it in time? Oh, the agony of it all!

Today, it’s all about finding the newest item which is garnering all the attention and being able to wrap it up and give it to that special person. Over the years, I remember Cabbage Patch Dolls, Furbies, and even pet rocks. Amazing how advertising creates fads and excites everyone to want to own something that has no real value. Amazing, yet sad.

After the tree comes down, the snow melts, and we head towards spring, many of these items we’ve scoured the internet for, or stood for hours in endless lines are put into a closet and forgotten. Perhaps, they may even be sent to a thrift shop or rewrapped and re-gifted to someone later on. The moment of excitement is gone, and won’t return until next season. Kind of like the movie Groundhog Day isn’t it?

I remember back to my childhood and how I often excitedly anticipated that special toy, hardly being able to contain myself until we opened our presents. I have to say I was blessed with family who always made things special.

But, growing older, I found what I truly valued were those extra special goodies which came from the heart. They weren’t a fad or novelty, they were something I will always hold dear. And, some of which I still have.

Getting a new pair of gloves is something many of us receive, but what of that handmade scarf, afghan, or quilt? A person took time, sewing a bit of love into every stitch, over many days, weeks, or months to bestow upon you a treasure you could never purchase. A unique, one of a kind heirloom. Yes, I have some of these valuables saved from decades past. And, with them, the love which made them. One I especially hold dear is a diorama of a casino we made for my mother who loved donating at the Atlantic City venues. We even made a miniature slot machine to go in it! She loved it and gave it a place of honor in her china cabinet.

While I don’t wear the clothes my grandmother sewed for me, I sometimes look at the few I’ve kept, thinking of how much of her heart she put into them for me. I have afghans my Mom spent hours knitting. I have a special quilt my aunt made using squares of fabric from old clothes I had worn, adorning a number of squares with embroidery celebrating different events.

Perhaps my generation will be the last to experience those special riches that are not able to be delivered in an Amazon box. While Christmas didn’t become a federal holiday until 1870, families always gathered every year to celebrate and share. Since ancient times, people gathered to celebrate the winter solstice, which is the shortest day and longest night in the northern hemisphere and occurs, falling on either December 21 or December 22.

Germany is credited with the origins of the Christmas tree when in the 16th Century, people began to bring decorated trees into their homes. They brought this tradition with them to North America, with the first recorded tree being displayed was in the 1830’s, in Pennsylvania. Just last year, a tree from the Town of Newburgh was transported to New York City for the annual festivities. Doesn’t get any better.

Remember making popcorn and then stringing it to place as a garland on the tree? When the tree was taken down, the popcorn garland would be hung about outside for the birds to feast on. Doesn’t get much “greener” than that, does it!

There was no Black Friday back then, rushing about hunting for the deal of the day. People planned all year long. They gathered what materials they needed and began working on that something special which a family member would open. Planning was key. Special recipes and Christmas treats were once a year rewards for a good harvest and growing season. I remember making “black eyed susans” with my grandmother which were simply a bottom sugar cookie, with homemade blackberry jam spread generously over it, with a top cookie with the center cut out and the edges shaped to look like a flower. Damn, they were great!

I also believe some of the specialness of working all year on the gifts you would be giving was having to keep them secret so they were a surprise. How many of us hunted around the house looking for that secret hiding spot where your goodies were cached?

When you reflect back on those days, Christmas wasn’t just a single day, it was all year long. You took the effort and time, to put together something showing your love for another. It just wasn’t a click, a credit card, and moving on to something else. It was hours and time devoted to family.

When it all came together on Christmas, it was a means of solidifying family ties. Back before radio and television (yes, I realize there is so much more now), groups of people would gather and go about singing carols. Hot pastries, hot chocolate, and hot apple cider were the rewards from appreciative families listening to the voices. Yes, Virginia, there was music before earbuds.

So this year, and it’s been a tough year for many, think. What will be that special something you give someone? Will it be something which will be long held dear in both heart and mind? Something which captures the emotions and feelings you have for that individual? You don’t need to off load a container ship to make it a special day.


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