Many popular images and traditions of Christmas come from the Baby Boom years. With the dark days of World War II behind them, many Olympia families wanted to celebrate the holiday in style. Here’s a look back into Olympia history at a Baby Boomer’s Christmas.

What is the Baby Boom?

The United States Census Bureau defines the Baby Boom generation as people born between mid-1946 and 1964. Birthrates exploded as soldiers returned from World War II and the economy boomed.

Baby Boomer Christmas in Olympia: A Community Holiday

As today, Christmas in the Baby Boom years brought people together. Clubs in Olympia organized events and parties. A party held by Roosevelt Elementary School’s Brownie Troop 21 in 1957 was a typical one with cookies, games, carols and a gift exchange.

Entertaining was a big deal for parents of Baby Boomers. While many vintage recipes might seem a bit whacky by today’s tastes – Jell-O salad, anyone? – they were popular back then. “Dinner Bell” columnist Margaret Gabbard described a “fun” party table in the December 21, 1961 issue of the Daily Olympian: “Before you lies a table laden with festive foods: a pretty punch bowl filled to the brim, trays of sweet cookies [brightly] decorated for the holiday season, tiny sandwiches spread with spicy mixtures and colorful garnishes.” Her “fluffy holiday punch” was made of chocolate ice cream and mapeline flavoring.

West Fourth Ave. Barber Shop wishes everyone a happy holidays and merry Christmas in this ad from the December 24, 1958 issue of the Daily Olympian.
West Fourth Ave. Barber Shop wishes everyone a happy holidays and merry Christmas in this ad from the December 24, 1958 issue of the Daily Olympian. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

“Christmas Island” was also created during this time. This holiday display was originally on Capitol Lake before it was moved to South Sound Center. Today, it can be found at the Maytown Assemblies of God Church.

A Homemade Olympia Christmas

Groups held fairs and festivals to sell homemade gifts for the holidays. In 1965, for example, the Thurston County Homemakers Council held their annual fair at the Olympia Community Center, with the theme “Christmas Around the World.” There was a holiday tasting booth that sold recipes for pennies and the Hays Homemakers Club made fresh peanut brittle throughout the day. Santa also visited. Proceeds from the fair financed 4-H camperships and scholarships for home economics majors.

Picking the Perfect Christmas Tree

Although artificial Christmas trees made of wood or dyed feathers date far back into the past, the Baby Boom years offered the modern alternatives of plastic and aluminum. Local stores advertised the trees as modern and preferable. In 1967 Goldberg’s furniture store promoted their 6-foot-6-inch-tall aluminum version, a “glistering metal tree that is both beautiful and safe.” They sold for $6.95 – $1.99 on sale. Electrical color wheel projectors were also available to light these trees from below.

But for many people nothing could substitute for a natural tree. There were a growing number of Christmas tree farms in Thurston County where people could buy or cut their own. Shogren’s, located on East Martin Way across from Chicken-To-Go, even delivered. Organizations also sold trees to raise money for charity. In 1949, for example, the Lions Club of Olympia offered to ship fresh-cut Douglas Firs to support their boys work program.

Meeting Santa Claus in Olympia

black and white advertisement with Santa in a helicopter from Olympia 1968
Santa Claus’ annual arrival to Sea-Mart by helicopter was a highlight for many local children. Ad from the December 5, 1968 issue of the Daily Olympian. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Visiting jolly Old Saint Nick was easy to do for young Baby Boomers. His entrances were a cause for celebration and spectacle. In 1968 Santa landed by helicopter near Capitol Lake before parading downtown in a sleigh pulled by a tractor. Students from Olympia High School’s distributive education classes decorated downtown streets for the events and had built the sleigh.

Santa also visited shopping centers. In 1968 the Lacey Fire Department transported Santa in a fire truck to the main entrance of South Sound Center where he met with children in Santa’s Workshop inside.

Perhaps Santa’s most famous local appearances were at Sea-Mart in the mid-1960s. “To the delight of hundreds of youngsters gathered in the Sea-Mart parking lot Friday afternoon,” wrote the Daily Olympian on November 26, 1967, “Santa Claus came whirring down out of the blue, blustery sky aboard his mechanized reindeer, Whirly Prancer II, and almost on time. Santa’s set-down was delayed a few minutes when Whirley Prancer twirled right past Olympia due to brisk wind off the North Pole. He returned as fast as possible, from the direction of [the] Olympia Airport. Once all those mechanized reindeer had settled on the Sea-Mart rooftop, Santa alighted spiritedly, with a hearty ‘Hello Kids.’ He then clambered down a fire ladder to begin passing out candy canes, as youngsters clamored around. Santa, of course, was really friendly Freeman Rose, Olympia police officer. But don’t tell the kids that.”

A Crooks Family Christmas

Christmas Island in Olympia in an undated photo
This undated picture of Christmas Island on Capitol Lake was taken by my grandfather Andy Crooks. Photo credit: Crooks family

But perhaps the longest legacy of the Baby Boomer Christmas is the happy memories it gave. Growing up in Olympia my father, Drew Crooks, looked forward to the holiday. After a candlelight church service on Christmas Eve, his mother would read to him and his brother Marc “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Stockings were placed at the end of the boys’ beds and their mother would sneak in during the night to fill them with candy and Mandarin oranges. The Christmas tree, firmly secured after the family’s many dogs knocked it over one year – though they managed to do it again! – had Drew’s homemade ornament on it, a striped purple paper-mâché “ball” with silver rick-rack. This ornament is still put up every year. Although both parents are now gone, these memories live on. May we all enjoy happy holiday memories this year, and maybe even make some new ones.

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