A time of celebration: Olympia celebrates Christmas in 1950


ohn December 23, 1950, children filled Ed Zabel’s Capitol Theater in Olympia. They had gathered for the annual Christmas matinee at the theater. Young audiences were able to enjoy the films “March of the Wood Soldiers” (a re-release of Laurel and Hardy’s beloved 1934 holiday film “Babes in Toyland”) and “Father of the Bride” as well as six cartoons. . The children were also able to meet Santa Claus and receive free barley sugar.

Gilmour’s Daylight Bakery Christmas specials advertised in the December 21, 1950, issue of the Daily Olympian. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Library

While the postwar baby boom was in full swing, Christmas in 1950 was all about children. With the economy booming, vacations became more commercial while emphasizing family and helping others.

Local newspapers were full of advertisements for the latest gadgets and toys. Adults could buy the new Polaroid camera and clothes. With so many children around, toys and games were popular items. Cowboy toys and costumes proved particularly popular that year.

Fortunately, one item the Daily Olympian wrote about wouldn’t be under anyone’s Christmas tree locally: the “Atomic Energy Laboratory.” On the shelves for just two years, the “world’s most dangerous toy” contained uranium samples for children to experiment with and included a working Geiger counter. Costing $ 50, only 5,000 were sold and there is no evidence that it was available in Olympia.

The stores did their best to attract customers. The Sav-Mor Food Center gave customers free candy canes on Saturday, December 23. Brown Motor Company gave away a free holiday turkey with the purchase of a new or recent used car. Children could visit Santa at the Wards department store.

The vacation activities of local organizations (and even families) were faithfully recorded on the social pages of the local newspaper. The clubs organized their annual parties. The Woman’s Club of Olympia hosted a tea party, collecting a silver offering for the Salvation Army. The Eagles Club hosted a musical evening on December 21, with tap dancing and vocals. The Kitchen Band, a girl group, played music using everyday items, everything except the kitchen sink, the newspaper joked.

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Santa wears a holiday-themed brick of ice cream in this advertisement for Olympus ice cream from Olympia Creamery Co. in the December 14, 1950, issue of the Daily Olympian. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Library

With the holidays focusing on children, the schools in Olympia got to work. Garfield Elementary School hosted a family concert. Each year sang Christmas carols near a tree in the lobby, but due to overcrowding, their parents had to listen outside through a sound system. Later, the PTA served dessert to the children during lunch. Local clubs sponsored Cubs parties. The Kiwanis entertained the Cubs at Lincoln Elementary School and the Rotary Club sponsored a party at Garfield Elementary School. Pack 31 at the Washington School hosted a family celebration with an exchange of gifts, Christmas carols and skits as well as a visit from Santa Claus.

The schools also organized their annual holiday concerts. The Washington Junior High School Band showcased their new uniforms, paid for by a recent magazine subscription campaign, during their annual Christmas Cantata. The theme for the Christmas concert in the Music Department at Olympia High School was “Reindeer Rhythms.” The stage was flanked by twin trees covered in silver garlands and bathed in blue light. The backdrop was Santa Claus and his sleigh.

And there were plenty of delicious food choices to choose from. The Daily Olympian was full of holiday recipe suggestions. Hostesses could serve “Christmas Morning Chicken Pie” and oyster bisque from the New Boston Inn in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. Or in a milder mood, they could try making ice cream rings, angel food cakes, oatmeal macaroons, or coconut igloo cookies.

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Expert candy maker E. Remington Davenport taught Christmas candy making in Olympia, as seen in this October 29, 1950 ad from the Daily Olympian. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Library

Or the cooks could try their hand at one of the newspaper’s candy recipes. For more hands-on experience, they could attend the second annual candy-making school at American Legion Hall, sponsored by the Daily Olympian newspaper. Candy maker Earl Remington Davenport had trained with his stepfather, who worked as a cook for the Habsburgs. Earl’s grandson later founded Seattle Dilettante Chocolates. In Olympia he taught two classes, one at two hours and the other at eight, with special emphasis on Christmas candy. His book, “Basic Candy Making Course,” was available for a dollar.

In the midst of all this celebration, those in need have not been forgotten. The groups used the holidays to raise funds. The Elks Jingle Club, founded in the 1920s, continued to operate, holding its annual Turkey Trot. The Thurston County Social Service has appealed for donations of bicycles for children in need. It was the most requested gift, according to a pre-holiday survey. The Knox Tire Company volunteered to repair the donated bikes.

Another project was the Sunshine Kids Fund for Underprivileged Children of the Olympia Active Club. The Club’s objective was to ensure that no child goes without it during the holidays. They raised funds from businesses and individuals to purchase toys and other gifts. The “Sunshine Kidder” listed the donors in the newspaper, praising some of the most important of them in verse.

The holidays in Olympia in 1950 were certainly joyful for many people, creating festive memories that last a lifetime.

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