OFFBEAT: 'Christmas Memories' book a wonderful trip down Memory Lane
SPRING IS HERE - - This 1950 holiday advertisement shows how popular the simple toy concept of a "dressed up" wire spring, called The Slinky, could capture the attention of generations who included it on holiday "wish lists." This advertisement is included in author Susan Waggoner's new book called "Christmas Memories: Gifts, Activities, Fads, and Fancies 1920s-1960s" (November 2009 Stewart, Tabori & Chang $17.95) is a 130-page passport to vintage holidays, traditions and fun from decades ago. (Archive Photo)

Christmas Day is over, but the holiday season is going strong.

In fact, according to the popular holiday carol, there are 12 days of Christmas to enjoy after Dec. 25.

Since many people have gift cards to spend during the sales, let me offer a shopping suggestion..

A new hardcover book by author Susan Waggoner called "Christmas Memories: Gifts, Activities, Fads, and Fancies, 1920s-1960s" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang $17.95) is a 130-page passport to vintage holiday traditions and fun from decades ago.

It's heavy on photos, retro magazine and newspaper advertisements and classic "clip art" illustrations.

Who knew how many animal variations once existed for The Slinky?

Anyone who reads this daily column, as well as my weekly "From the Farm" column Wednesdays, knows how fond I am of days and decades past. Life seemed free from stress and worry, with the exception of feeling anxious whether the fondue pot was hot enough to start readying the color-coded skewers.

Speaking of fondue, this book begins with a section called "Christmas in the Melting Pot," describing how immigrants to America in the early 1920s blended customs old and new to celebrate Christmas here.

Waggoner also documents hot gifts over the decades, listing prices and plenty of facts and stats culled from the media, literature, personal journals and letters from each era. She discusses, too, gift boxes, vintage Christmas lights, and decorations, plus showcases photos of Christmas trees that adorned parlors, living rooms and picture windows of homes through the years. This author put years of research in this small, compact, yet very thorough book.

Some of Waggoner's price comparisons for the amusement of readers:

In 1921, a can of cranberry sauce sold for 24 cents. Today, expect to pay $3.

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A 1921 fishing rod and tackle would set you back $15. Today, expect to pay $178.

A Cocker Spaniel puppy under the tree on Christmas morning would have cost up to $20. You'd need to save $241 today, which wouldn't include the red bow for Fido's neck.

Many readers know I'm a big fan of sending "Season's Greetings" cards, though fewer people are mailing Christmas cards than ever before. Waggoner devotes plenty of images to beautiful holiday cards displayed on mantels and in archways during the past century.

I was particularly interested in this book's 1942 chapter which included an ad from a Sears Roebuck & Co. catalogue that boasted a five-pound fruitcake for $1.59.

Why my particular interest?

This year, I casually purchased a fruitcake for my mom Peggy (who'd been asking for one) on an impulse at a neighborhood bakery in Chicago. This three-pound salute to dried fruits" set me back $33. The fruitcake cost $9.99 a pound!

The book, of course, touches on celebrities over the decades ranging from Shirley Temple and Roy Rogers to Fess Parker (as Davy Crockett). Vincent Price pitched artificial Christmas trees in magazine ads and President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie offered White House decorating tips.

I'm sure this book will grace many coffee tables for Christmas yet to come.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or 219.852.4327.

Today's Celebrity Birthdays

Actress Inga Swenson ("Benson") is 77. ABC newscaster Tom Jarriel is 75. Actress Mary Tyler Moore is 73. Actor Jon Voight is 71. Country singer Ed Bruce is 70. Flutist Ray Thomas (Moody Blues) is 68. Singer Marianne Faithfull and jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. are 63. Actor Ted Danson is 62. Actor Jon Polito is 59. Singer-actress Yvonne Elliman is 58. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick ("In & Out") is 52. Actress Patricia Clarkson and comedian Paula Poundstone are 50. Guitarist-singer Jim Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain is 48. Singer Dexter Holland of The Offspring is 44. Actor-comedian Mystro Clark and actor Jason Gould are 43. Movie director Andy Wachowski is 42. Actress Jennifer Ehle is 40. Singer-guitarist Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket) and actor Kevin Weisman ("Alias") are 39. Actor Jude Law is 37. Actor Mekhi Phifer is 35. Actor Shawn Hatosy ("The Cooler," "The Faculty") is 34. Actor Diego Luna is 30. Country singer Jessica Andrews is 26. Musician Alexa Ray Joel (daughter of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley) is 24.