The time between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day was the gold standard (Summer was the Diamond standard) for time off of school. You had the toys you received for Christmas and there were always leftover pies, cakes and candy that had to be eaten. The day after our Christmas bounty.
The first time I remember feeling sorry for someone happened during this time when I was about eight years old. My friends and I were playing Tin Can Eddy and a kid from a few blocks away asked if you could join in. We had seen him around, but he wasn’t one of our regular gang. Still we let him play. Somehow, the conversation got around to each of use telling what treasures we had received for Christmas. Remember, I mentioned that my Mom saved all year just to be sure her children got many cool presents. When it came to Joe to tell us what he received from Santa (I’ll call him Joe because I don’t remember his name), he lifted his hands and said, “Gloves.” We quickly asked what else he got and he said, “Just these gloves. They’re cool right?” Joe said. I said, “Yeah, they are cool,” but in my heart I felt sorry for him and more appreciative of what I had. That feeling passed quickly and “Joe” joined in and had a great time. Afterwards he went home and we never saw him again. Maybe Joe was really an angel come to teach me a lesson. Nah?
In the mid-1950s my sister and brother-in-law moved into my grandmother’s house and my Grandfather and Grandmother moved in with us. My sister (ten years older than me) started having New Year’s Eve parties in her new house, which was around the corner from us. She invited our family and family friends and it was always a great time. The adults drank beer and highballs, and kids got to drink sodas (soda in Philadelphia is any carbonated soft drink). It was a fun time and I wonder now how so many people fit into such a small home. At ten o’clock or so, the chips and pretzels were replaced with hot dogs and sauerkraut and roast beef on Kaiser roll sandwiches. It was torture for us kids as we had to smell the food cooking all night before we could get some. It was always worth the wait.
At midnight, all the kids and some of the adults got pots and pans and large spoons and made as much noise as we could. The entire neighborhood did the same and for the first fifteen minutes of the New Year, it was bedlam.
After the noise making I always went back around to my house to say Happy New Year to my Grandmother. She didn’t like parties and instead at midnight simply heated up a coffee cake she bought at the German bakery. I can see her now sitting at the front of our small kitchen table drinking her coffee and eating her cake. I would kiss her on the cheek and she would give me a piece of cake. My father normally didn’t go to these parties either. He worked at the poolroom late, came home, and was in bed before the midnight.
On New Year’s Day we would wake up, have a good breakfast and get ready to see the Mummers Parade on TV. Several times my Dad did take us to see them in person, but I think that may have been before we had a television set. To be honest it was much easier and you saw at lot more on TV than in person. One thing I do remember about being at the New Year’s Day Parade was the men selling roasted chestnuts. They smelled great and anything hot on a cold January day was welcomed.
Soon the house would fill with the aroma of baked ham with cloves. This was our traditional New Year’s Day meal. Come to think of it, that was our traditional Easter meal as well. There were pies again and all the fixings that went with baked ham. Just like Christmas and Thanksgiving after the meal, everyone laid around half-comatose from eating too much. When my head cleared, I would remember that I had school the next day. The thought would hit me like a ton of bricks. We would have to wait until February to get another day off from school.