The Santa float in the Santa Claus Parade
City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, S0975, Fl 2306, id 33463-1
In 1944, in war weary Toronto, I was six years of age, in grade one at D. B. Hood Public School. After the glorious entrance of Santa into the city in the Eaton’s Santa Claus Parade, the anticipation of Christmas intensified. In the days prior to the all-important event itself, my brother and I considered the fifteen-minute Santa Claus broadcasts, sponsored by the T. Eaton Company, and the trimming of the Christmas tree, to be the highlights of the yuletide season.
The following is a passage from the novel “Arse Over Teakettle,” a story about a family struggling to cope with the trials of the war years in Toronto. It is a heart-warming and amusing tale of a young boy, Tom Hudson, and his coming of age. The book tells about his experiences during the Christmas season of 1944, including the decorating of the Christmas tree and listening to the Eaton’s Santa Claus radio broadcasts.
On the morning of Saturday, 22 December, my father dragged home a five-foot spruce tree and placed it on the back porch to allow the snow on its limbs to melt. At 3:00 p.m., we gathered in the living room to decorate this most precious of yuletide symbols. My dad hammered a wooden tree stand into the bottom of the trunk, and after many attempts, we managed to prop it into a position that was almost vertical. He placed it in the northeast corner of the room, opposite the fireplace, with the side of the tree with the thickest branches facing outward. Though it leaned slightly, the walls supported it admirably. My mother said that it was like a sailor who had consumed a few drops of rum—a little unsteady, but unlikely to fall down.
The first task was to string the sets of lights on the tree. When my father had positioned them, he switched them on to assess the spacing. We all agreed that they were perfect. Next, my dad unscrewed each coloured light and placed metal, star-shaped reflectors between the bulbs and the sockets to reflect the glow of each bulb. Meanwhile, my mother proceeded to arrange the paper streamers and garlands around and over the tree. Now it was Ken and my turn to decorate.
As we placed the small paper bells, metal icicles, tinsel, and tiny cardboard snowmen, my mother fastened the delicate glass balls to the ends of the branches. They were fragile, so she considered us too young to handle them. Next she placed the tear-shaped glass ornaments on the tree. They were about five inches (twelve centimetres) in length, with mirrored, multicoloured surfaces. They enchantingly reflected the glowing tree lights. Plastic ornaments were not common in this decade.
After we finished trimming the tree, at 5:15 p.m., my brother Ken and I huddled around the radio, which my dad had tuned to CFRB. It was the final Santa Claus broadcast, sponsored by Eaton’s Department Stores. It chronicled the adventures of Santa as he journeyed from the North Pole. We were thrilled as the music soared seemingly beyond capabilities of the speaker. The theme music had been composed by Irish composer Victor Herbert, who had included the song in his 1903 musical Babes in Toyland.
The deep-throated laughter of Santa Claus filled the dining room as old St. Nick informed us that he knew who was naughty and who was nice. Wow! This was mind control and spy technology far beyond modern expertise. The story had chronicled the adventures of one of Santa’s elves as he worked in the toy shop. I was certain that one of these toys would be under our tree on Christmas morning.