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In Michigan, Christmas was hay rides, throaty caroling and hot chocolate. In New England, it was plum pudding and frosty trees. In the German immigrant towns of Wisconsin, the old men drank cognac and Löwenbräu and listened damp-eyed to old recordings of long-gone Rhineland carillons. In Georgia, the holiday mornings began with bacon, eggs, red-eye gravy, biscuits, grits, deer sausage, fried catfish, cornbread, buttermilk, waffles, French toast, hotcakes and heaps of fruit. In the afternoon the womenfolk gathered in the big kitchen to prepare scalloped oysters and smoked turkey, fried chicken and black-eyed peas (cooked 24 hours), pot roast and cracklin' bread. The men strolled outside with their cigars, their vests unbuttoned, and examined the flower beds, kicked the tires on the model T, or organized a game of "touch" with the youngsters. Later, firecrackers blazed in the night.
Seasonable Start. In many places, today's Christmases are still rich with those old homey flavorsthough White Christmas threatens to supplant Silent Night, Christmas trees glitter with baubles, bangles and winking lights that Grandfather never dreamed of, and, for some, dinners at Howard Johnson's have replaced the huge old feasts.
Being family men themselves, U.S. retailers yield to no one in their appreciation of Christmas tradition. But like the caterer at a banquet, they must keep a steady head and a calculating eye. To them, Christmas, whatever its sentimental and religious significance, is also the most important financial event of the whole year. For many stores, it spells the difference between showing a profit for the year or merely breaking even.
In the major department stores, Christmas planning starts just about the time that the kids are breaking their first Christmas toysthe day after Christmas past. The long preparations begin with studies of sales slips, to determine what sold well, what proved a bomb. After that come committee meetings, buyers' meetings, salesgirl meetings. By mid-January, buyers are packed and jetting off around the U.S. and to faraway countries to find merchandise and to place orders. When shipments arrive, some stores slip a few new items on the counters to see how they sell; if customers pick them up, the items are reordered in quantity; decorators get to work designing store-window displays and interior dècor, order mechanized window spectacles that cost as much as $80,000. Christmas-card makers send instructions to their artists. The word this year: go easy on the kooky wisecracks and stick to religious sentiments with "direct clean statements."*
By September the four-color catalogue has been sent to the printer with its glossy display of tempting gifts. Before Thanksgiving, the trees are installed, the lights are hung, the animated displays are cranking. In the big department stores, where several Santas are needed to handle the throngs, intricate mazes are set up so that the tots will never see that there are more than one. Said one hard-working Santa in Boston's Jordan Marsh: 'The important thing in this job is production. You don't have time for waving and all that ho-ho-ho stuff. It just scares the kids away. What they want is to sit on your lap and tell you what they want for Christmas."