80-year-old Santa letters didn’t seek brand-name toys

(Editor’s note: Barbara Finlay of Bryan, a native of Fife, submitted the following letter to the Brady Standard-Herald after researching the history of the Fife community. In her findings were numerous letters to Santa published by the Brady Standard in the 1920s and 30s. We hope that today’s Brady Standard-Herald readers will enjoy the article as much as we did. Those Santa letters submitted in the 1920’s and 30s will be re-printed as a special feature in the upcoming Christmas edition that highlights the wish lists of today’s generation.) By Barbara Finlay In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I often hear people wishing for the simplicity of Christmas past. Most people in my generation and younger don’t really have many memories of such times, however, and we sometimes think Christmas has always been a time of stress, hectic shopping, expensive decoration, and frantic preparation. The old folks who grew up in rural Texas communities know better, however. I happened on some potent reminders of their experiences as I was looking through some old newspapers in search of information on the history of Fife, 18 miles north of Brady just off Hwy. 283. Now almost deserted, Fife in 1910 boasted a population of over 500 residents, mostly farm folks, with a working gin, two general stores, a post office, two schools, and assorted churches. Hundreds of people all over the state of Texas and beyond remember having lived there at one time. The spirit of a Texas Christmas in the early years of the century is well captured by the letters that the Fife children of that era wrote to Santa, letters that were published in the pre-Christmas editions of the Brady Standard. As is still true today in many small towns, children up to about age 10 would write their Christmas wishes in to the local paper. Their letters are revealing for not only what they say, but for what they don’t say. Unlike today’s letters to Santa, for example, there were no references to brand-name items’the media-driven advertising age had not yet hit. The children’s wishes then were much simpler’often they asked for only one or two items. Girls almost always asked for dolls and doll-play items, sewing items and dish sets, while boys most often asked for toy guns, wagons, balls, and riding toys. Fireworks were a popular request for both boys and girls. In addition, more practical items such as fountain pens, pencil sharpeners, handkerchiefs, and clothing were often on the lists; and almost everyone included wishes for fruits, nuts, and candy’items that were still special treats in rural Texas in the early decades of the twentieth century. Finally, the generosity of the children is striking, as they often expressed modest wishes for themselves but asked Santa to remember children who were less well off than themselves. As I read the letters, sometimes recognizing names of people I knew only as adults (and who now are in their 70s or 80s, if they are still with us), I feel a wonderful sense of their childhood holiday spirit come to me. I am happy to share a few of these letters, written by Fife children in the 1920s and early 1930s, in the hope that readers might recapture some of the same spirit of generosity, simplicity, and fellow-feeling in this holiday season.

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