More 1950's Christmas memories of how it used to be....this time remembering a golden era of employment in Seattle.
My father’s career was in banking, and in 1952 my family moved from Oregon to Washington and he went to work for Washington Mutual Savings Bank in Seattle. At that time there was a main bank office downtown, where he worked, and a few satellite branches scattered in the Seattle area. Each year Washington Mutual would host a lavish Christmas party for the employees and their families. The bank would rent the Hec Edmondson Pavilion at the University of Washington for the night, and the parties were generally held the week before Christmas on a week-night after work. My dad would come home and change from his everyday work suit and tie to his Sunday best suit, while Mom had on a newly purchased belted dress, nylons and high heels, her hair curled and styled and red lipstick. She also had a mid-calf length green wool coat that she wore to parties with a Christmas corsage in it's lapel. I would wear a fancy new Christmas dress that usually 'twirled' with thin white cuff socks and shiny black patent leather shoes. When my little brother Joe got big enough he wore boy's slacks with a short sleeve white shirt and a red clip-on bow tie.
Since we lived near the University, it didn’t take long for dad to drive us there, and I was always exited to see the round white dome of the pavilion as we neared the party. The Hec Edmondson Pavilion was a large basketball arena on the university campus, named after the head coach of the Huskie basketball team. Some of the bank employees had spent the day transforming the arena into a holiday party atmosphere. There was sure to be a large decorated tree, and a microphone standing up at the front with group seating of metal folding chairs facing front for the crowd. Everyone would sit together as families, and mom and dad usually found a place for us in the middle of the group.
After the party started, there would be holiday entertainment, and I specifically remember one year they brought in Stan Boreson, a local Seattle personality, to sing and play his accordion. He had a popular Christmas album out, where he sang Christmas songs with a phony Scandinavian accent that my Dad just loved. There would also be a real ‘live’ Santa at the party. Under the decorated tree up front was a huge pile of wrapped presents for the children, with all our names on them. Santa would be handed a gift and then he would call out the name of one of the children and they would go forward to get their gift from Santa who handed it to each child, with a kind word or two.
December 18, 1958
I would take my brother up front, when he was little and afraid to go alone, and shy of Santa. We got some very nice gifts at the party. One year Joe got a large fire truck with a moving ladder and hoses, and I got a nice doll.
During the party they passed out red flannel stockings with a turned down white cuff and our names embroidered in cursive on it and little silver bells hanging at the edge. I used that stocking for many, many years, until it became too threadbare to hold anything. I still have it tucked away among my Christmas decorations. It is laughable now to see how small and thin it is, compared to today’s Christmas stocking ‘standard’. Children didn’t receive many things in their stockings in those days, so they didn’t need to be large, and we were delighted with what we got. At the end of the party each year we got a red mesh plastic stocking as well, filled with hard Christmas candy, fruit and nuts. One year we got candy necklaces (see photo below) and Santa always gave us a candy cane or two.
Behind the main program area were long decorated tables where the children sat and ate treats and Christmas cookies with milk. I loved seeing all the other kids and eating at our own special table.
1953 (I'm 2nd on the left)
The adults were served dessert with coffee or eggnog, and they stood and chatted in groups together. Dad was a people person and loved talking with all his friends in a social setting, while mom mostly watched over us.
There was also a photo area to one side of the Christmas tree with a couch and chair. Santa would be seated there to take photos with all the children. The bank photographer took pictures of each child with Santa for no charge, and the parents would be presented with an 8X10 afterwards. We got some lovely Christmas photographs that we would never have had otherwise. The bank photographer also took family pictures. The only ones I have remaining of those, are one year when our family was seated on a couch all together, and then one of Joe and I standing by the tree with our gifts in our hands, and finally mom and dad alone together on the couch.
I think Joe and I were always overwhelmed with the fun at these parties, and they were just riches for us kids and I looked forward to them each year. Since I am four years older than Joe, I remember those parties much better than he does, and I got the benefit of those years. It’s amazing now to think of how good the employers were to their employees in the post-war years. Those truly were golden years of employment in the cities. However, as times changed and Washington Mutual added new bank branches each year, they grew too big by the early 60’s to continue these parties and they were officially dis-continued. And of course they grew too big in the end to survive. All we have left are the memories....