Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

Everyone is busy with holiday shopping and decorations.  Some may have already put up the Christmas tree.  As the years go by, the traditions may change or are forgotten.  Some families remember the little things they use to do when the children were small or recall what they did at Christmastime as children. 

One of the biggest chores connected to Christmas was dragging out the boxes and boxes of decorations.  Why did we ever save all that stuff?  I still have handmade ornaments I wouldn’t part with even if they do look a bit faded, but many of the other decorations could easily go in the trash.  Did we ever put things back in the right box?  I still have the original boxes that the ornaments came in and I can waste a lot of time when it comes to undecorating the tree. 

When the first residents of Hoffman Estates moved into Parcel A & B in the mid 1950s, they may have been putting up a different kind of tree.  Do you remember the aluminum tree?  Some people thought they were the most beautiful trees.  You couldn’t put strings of lights on them because you might electrocute yourself.  A spotlight with a rotating color wheel was used to light the tree.  Almost everyone put the same colored ornaments on it.  I never had one because I really love the traditional green tree. 

Even the fresh green trees suffered from fads of the time.  Flocking trees was one of those fads. To have the latest fashionable tree, white or pink or blue snow was sprayed on the tree to make it look more festive.  A florist could do this for you or you could do it yourself with a box of Ivory Snow laundry soap.  The recipe was part of their ad in all the women’s magazines.   I’m sure there are many horror stories about this do-it-yourself project.  Another fun decorating project was putting holiday stencils on the windows with glass wax.  It looked beautiful until the day you tried to get it off the windows. 

Christmas lights are a story in themselves.  As children we remember stories our grandparents told of having lit candles on the tree.  A bucket of water was always at hand.  Thank goodness for electricity and those large beautiful lights of many colors that made our eyes sparkle.  Those big bulbs from years gone by were very hot.  Everyone was careful not to leave the tree lit all day for fear of starting the tree on fire.  Now we have small cool lights, known as Italian lights.  Sorry I’ve dated myself.  They are LED lights, for indoors or outdoors.  The lights and the tinsel are the best part of Christmas for me.  I have memories of the tinsel sparkling in the light of the outside street lights streaming in the windows at 3 in the morning when my brothers and I would be looking to see what Santa had brought for us only to hear my mother say “What are you kids doing up, get back to bed”.

All of our Christmas memories come back to us at this time of year.  Many of us celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ashura and the coming New Year.  May you all enjoy your special days with family and friends and  I wish you all a  Happy and Healthy New Year . 

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Village Historian


  1. LaVonne Presley Says:

    Those aluminum trees needed some gifts to set the mood for Christmas. Since a few stores at Hoffman Plaza opened in the summer of 1959, some last minute gifts could be purchased at the Ben Franklin dime store, Snyder’s Hoffman Drugs, and Jewel. As a check-out clerk at Snyder’s Drug Store during my Christmas break from college, I became the person who wrapped the gifts for the husbands. The drugstore had a nice selection of higher quality costume jewelry and perfumes for the frantic last minute shopper. The husbands greatly appreciated the selection that the store carried, but really appreciated the gift wrapping. There was a toy section, also. The most memorable gift for girls in 1959 was Barbie in her famous black and white swim suit. Such fond memories from the early businesses of Hoffman Estates.

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