A Studies in Crap War on Christmas Special: '30s Kids Crave Toys, Neglect Jesus, Attempt Minstrelsy
Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.
St. Nicholas for Boys and Girls
Date: December, 1932
The Cover Promises: Exactly the kind of joyous, old-fashioned Christmas liberals elected Obama to destroy.
Representative Quote: "Fat people may wonder why they become so very popular at Christmas time. Especially Aunts. If they are wise, they suspect something when on Christmas Eve . . . their nieces approach them sweetly and and say 'Aunt Maggie, would you very specially mind if I borrowed one of your stockings - just for tonight?"
Here's a surprise. This New Yorker-dense dispatch from a purer American past is guaranteed to upset those of you who believe that the Best Buy cashier piping "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" somehow undoes all that is sacred about buying The Hangover on Blu-Ray.
In all 132 pages, I only came across one reference to that "reason for the season": the Christ Child turns up in a review of Eric P. Kelly's The Christmas Nightingale and that's it.
Still, Baby Jesus has one up on that glory-hog Santa, who doesn't show up here at all. Instead, St. Nick offers adventure stories, a girl-detective serial, more book reviews than the Sunday Times, an extravagant eight-page, multi-thousand word feature celebrating 1932's newest toys, and strategies kids might employ to get as many presents as possible. St. Nick, it turns out, was as dedicated to moving product as Nintendo Power was.
Please join Bill O'Reilly and I in boycotting the Depression. Did Christmases like Kenny and Dolly's ever really exist?
Christmas isn't about presents! It's about disrobing in front of mannequins! Anyway, the editors of St. Nick not only suggest that a fat person's stockings will take more gifts to stuff. They go so far as to instruct kids to mark their favorite toys in the magazine and leave it lying around where mom and dad might see it.
Even even before television's promotion of the Santa myth elevated lavish gift-giving to a hallowed -- even patriotic -- tradition, American Christmas was already less about Christ than it was about brand names. Here, it's Tinker Toys, Erector Sets, and Lincoln Logs, all of which turn up in rave reviews and advertisements, often on the same page.
That isn't to say that St. Nick was indifferent to the dehumanizing effects of mass production.
Just as with the The Weekly Standard, when you buy Lincoln Logs, you're actually buying your belief in America's historical greatness.
On occasion, such bizarre, hand-crafted, quasi-representational art experiments turn up in Christmas stockings even in our media age.
That one took five weeks!
The most revealing pages of St. Nicholas are those devoted to essays, poems, and art submitted by readers. Prose doesn't come much thicker than in"The Vacation Just Past,"14 year-old Ermine Lawrence's account of a trip to New Orleans:
"No matter how staid and phlegmatic your workaday soul may be, no one's heart could remain long impervious to the impetuous something that emanates from every quiet scent-laden courtyard; every graceful stairway."
It's Jim Henson's Thesaurus Babies!
Lawrence goes on: "Odd scenes greet you at every corner. Two mad little darkies execute the most intricate steps for a few chance coins in Pirate's Alley, a rendezvous of the famous buccaneering brothers, Pierre and John Lafitte, who daily handled more vast sums than the kinky little heads of the mercenary little scamps ever dreamed existed."
Reason No. 52 to build a time machine: the chance to kick Ermine Lawrence square in the crotch.
Perhaps girls and poetry will be less racist.
Less alarming items of interest:
- Article "John Fillmore's Fight," which recounts the career in piracy of Millard Fillmore's great-great-great grandfather in sentences like"Dolorous, indeed, were his reflections."
- Mystery serials "The White Feather," starring teen girls in a summer resort town, and "The Man From Mystery House," in which Smiley Andrews and Dick Scarlett sleuth across Maine.
- G. Ralph Smith's gorgeous illustrations of a poem about Brownies, whom I gather do not dance in New Orleans.
St. Nick's inexhaustible coverage of the toys of 1932 is impressive when you realize that 1932 didn't have that many toys. I can identify six types: dolls, models, board games, sports accessories, engineering construction sets, and tiny versions of adult things that are no fun at all, like roll-top desks and kitchen cabinets.
Talking up some of these duds, the Toy Fair editor works harder than Kansas City sports writers on Royals' opening day:
"Butterflies that measure a foot between wing tips! Snowball fights on the equator! Explorers who go to South America to see these wonders must have some way of keeping records. And so when Dr. H.S. Dickey went on a South America expedition, he took along two Smith-Corona typewriters. And they had to stand some rough treatment, too, strapped to the backs of naked Indians marching through jungle trails."
This article from the very next issue of St. Nicholas demonstrates that even in the '30s Americans understood de temporary nature of de dominance of white folks.
[The Crap Archivist lives in Kansas City, where he originates his on-line Studies for the Voice's sister paper, The Pitch.]
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