By Elise Franco
On Christmas in 1959, a ham was 33 cents per pound; a one-carat diamond engagement ring cost about $400, and the holidays were a time to slow down and kick back with family and friends.
It’s a far cry from where we are today as Christmas seems to fly by, fast-paced and not leaving anyone time to stop and just enjoy the season, said a few Mahoning Valley natives.
Sue Greco, of Hubbard, was just 2 years old 50 years ago, but remembers enough about that Christmas and the ones to follow to know it’s just not the same.
“The visiting that took place between family and friends was nonstop,” she said.
Greco, 52, said each Christmas Eve her parents would take her and her sister to visit their grandparents.
“We would always play [the record] ‘Mr. Tap Toe’ with my grandfather,” she said.
But in 2009, everyone seems too busy and hurried, Greco said.
“Christmases were a lot more fun back then,” she said. “For my grand kids, if I could do anything, it would be for them to have a memory of some tradition.”
Austintown Fire Chief Andy Frost Jr., 66, said he remembers Christmas in 1959 being more about family and less about presents.
“My family was together for dinner every Christmas Eve and every Christmas Day,” he said. “Everything was slower back then, especially compared to today’s everyday life.”
Frost, who grew up in Youngstown, was 16 in 1959.
He has six brothers, and he has two vivid memories from that year.
“Turkey, there was always turkey,” he said, “And my girlfriend. That was the big thing for me that year.”
That turkey was only 49 cents per pound, according to a December 1959 issue of The Vindicator. That’s compared to a turkey today, which costs about 79 cents per pound.
A Vindicator advertisement from the week before Christmas in 1959 read, “Last minute shoppers hurry. Downtown stores will be open tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday.”
West Federal Street was lighted from top to bottom with Christmas lights and decorations that strung from one side of the street to the other. Large signs on the side of department stores such as McKelvey’s and Strouss’ were lighted as well, inviting shoppers inside.
Inside McKelvey’s, glittering snowflakes hung from the ceiling, catching the light just enough to draw the eye of patrons as they shopped for the perfect Christmas gifts for friends and family, and Christmas trees were decorated in every corner of the store to add to the ambiance of the holidays.
Frost said it was these places, as well as most of downtown, that he remembers most during Christmas time as an adolescent .
“In 1959, it was still all hustle and bustle with the buses going up and down the streets and the big department stores,” he said.
Frost said his parents would take him and his five brothers downtown to shop and visit storefront windows to see the holiday displays.
“In their front windows, they would have big, beautiful displays with live models and Santa Claus,” he said. “The way they decorated downtown was just phenomenal.”
The Youngstown area still has many of the same qualities it did in 1959 though, Frost said.
“The Youngstown I grew up in is the Austintown I now I live in,” he said. “We are still a true blue-collar community, and that’s what we were known as.”
Greco said one of the most popular toys that Christmas was the Chatty Cathy doll, which cost about $20. The Barbie Doll also made its debut that year, costing $3 in 1959 compared to about $15 today.
This year the Nintendo DSi and Zhu Zhu Pets are flying off the shelves faster than retailers can restock them.
The Zhu Zhu — if one can be found — cost about $10, and the Nintento DS is about $170.
Carol Lucurell, 56, of Austintown, said she thinks the holidays are much more commercialized than in the past.
Lucurell, who was 6 in 1959, said her parents always made Christmas memorable for her family, even though they didn’t have mounds of toys to open on Christmas Day.
“I can remember my mom and dad going all out for us,” she said. “They made sure we each had something really special.”
Though life is generally faster-paced than it was 50 years ago, Lucurell said the holidays are still a time to spend with loved ones, and a few family traditions have carried over to younger generations.
“Every Christmas Eve we would be allowed to open one gift, and the rest were saved for the next morning,” she said. “That’s something that my kids still do today.”