Haymarket Christmases of Years Past

The Haymarket Museum takes a look back at Christmas 1975

For the last three years, the Haymarket Museum has exhibited holiday displays to show the many different ways in which Haymarket residents have celebrated this festive season over the past 200 years. Visitors to the museum have already experienced Haymarket Christmases in 1825, 1850, and 1945; this year, the museum will celebrate a year that remains in living memory for many of us, and that took place in a cultural environment much like that of the present: 1975.

Though Haymarket’s character has remained much the same for the duration of its history, ideas and traditions from the larger world have often been reflected in the way that its residents celebrate the holidays. The 1825 exhibit introduced us to colonial games and recipes that had been carried here from England, while 1850 — the first year the Museum exhibit had a Christmas tree — showed the influences of new waves of people who enriched our society and diversified our traditions. 1945 showed us Haymarket on the home front of World War II, and shared how residents here in America worked to support the soldiers fighting overseas.

The years of the 1970s, much like the America of today, were exhausted by long military conflict, wars of ideas at home and abroad, sensational politics, and civil unrest. They swung from the scandal of the Watergate coverup and disillusionment from the subsequent trials to the patriotism and pride that characterized the nation’s bicentennial year. They forced Americans to see themselves at their best and at their worst, and to re-examine how, as the Founding Fathers wrote in the Constitution’s preamble, “to form a more perfect union.” This year’s holiday exhibit is very timely in this respect. Perhaps “Christmas in 1975: A Haymarket Holiday” will remind us that there is still much to do. But first, dust off your platform shoes!

Echoes of current events are always amplified during the holiday season; it is when we gather together to exchange ideas, catch up with our loved ones, and show off the newest trends. As far as holiday cooking is concerned, the 1970s were a time unlike any that Haymarket had seen before.

Though Saigon had fallen in the spring of 1975 and the troops were coming home, the prolonged deployment of American soldiers to Vietnam led to a resurgence of cooking ingredients and techniques that have since become infamous. These familiar standbys were enhanced by exotic ingredients that had not been available during the ration programs of World War II. Many of the more creative recipes consisted of preserved vegetables and meats (canned, tinned, and frozen)  encased in mayonnaise, gelatin, or aspic. The dishes were finished in a festive mold and decorated with as much color and exotic accompaniment as possible, with mixed results.

Embodying all of these qualities was the “Watergate Salad.” Created by General Foods as a marketing vehicle for its products, the salad is made with pistachio pudding, canned pineapple, whipped topping, and marshmallows chilled together and served out of a decorative mold. Originally styled the “Pistachio Pineapple Delight,” the salad eventually assumed the name of that time’s defining political event.

The decade’s later years brought a new emphasis on fresh ingredients, but in such a traditional environment as the holiday season the old favorites tended to linger. Holiday recipes from the era included such notorious classics as the Noel Glazed Ham, the Glazed Potato Ring, General Foods’ Vegetable and Tuna Jell-O Wreath, Cranberry Candles, and Bon Appetit Magazine’s Chicken in a Pineapple. Some less startling holiday standards included fondues, Swedish meatballs, and lots of mousses.

Fortunately, the holiday seasons of the 1970s were filled with wonderful new toys and technology, which happily eclipsed many of the more troubling recipes served at holiday dinners. Improved manufacturing and the incorporation of man-made compounds led to an abundance of relatively inexpensive, durable toys. Some of these were adaptations of older favorites, such as the newly improved skateboard and plastic dollhouses like the popular Weebles play sets. Others, like Nerf Balls and Stretch Armstrong, were the first of their kind. The 1970s also introduced the world to the first generations of arcade video games, such as Pong and Space Invaders.

When people gathered to celebrate the season, they danced to records by the Jackson 5 and The Carpenters, as well as to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The museum will be playing period Christmas records during the exhibit’s open hours; if you have a record from that time, bring it along!

Christmas in 1975 will open from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. on November 18th and 19th and by appointment through the New Year, as well as for extended hours on the weekend of December 2nd to coincide with the town’s annual holiday celebration. For more information, please contact Museum Director Denise Andrews at dandrews@townofhaymarket.org.

The town holiday celebration on Saturday, December 2 will kick off with performances from local students, dance groups, and musicians in front of town hall.  S’mores kits will be sold to benefit the Serve Our Willing Warriors (SOWW) project, a local nonprofit that serves wounded and ill soldiers and their families.  Town restaurants will have delicious menu items for purchase in our heated dining tent.  A bonfire, cookie decoration station, the Reindeer Snack Shop, craft station, and holiday music will make this a day to remember!  A special treat will be the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus. After parading down Washington Street, they will visit with families in the Museum courtyard.  As the sun goes down, the town tree will be lit at 5:30 pm to start the holiday season.

Danielle Kijewski
About Danielle Kijewski 3 Articles
Danielle Kijewski is a longtime volunteer at the Haymarket Museum. She and her family have lived in the Haymarket area for 15 years.

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