The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

December 18, 2012

Christmases of my past were as simple as a transistor radio

By Jim Raykie
Editor, The Herald

SHENANGO VALLEY — It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, at least according to a holiday song popularized by Johnny Mathis.

It would be more wonderful for all of us (well, maybe not for most of the retailers) if the season was less hectic. With early Black Friday sales through Christmas Day (and the days right afterward for post-holiday deals), that's more than a month during which many folks are trying to catch their breath.

I like to be out and about during the holidays, visiting stores and enjoying the sights and sounds of the season. But to be honest, many folks make that a big challenge whether they are walking in the aisles or driving down the street.

I have tried throughout the years to keep the holiday as simple as possible, and keep my childhood memories of Christmas alive. When I was a kid, the holiday was more about family, friends, food and drink than it was about presents under the tree. Too bad we have strayed far away from such simplicity.

I was in a store the other day and listened to parents trying to decide which $500 technology toy they wanted to buy their child - the latest iPhone or iPad.

It was in stark contrast to one of the technology toys that I got for Christmas when I was a kid: a super-duper transistor radio.

Hey, I was thrilled. It lasted for years and provided thousands of hours of music when we slept out as well as Pittsburgh Pirates baseball on the front porch with my grandfather.

Some of the many other Christmas gifts I got from my parents were clothes from Schreiber's, ID bracelets, watches and other gifts from Louis Jewelers, and anything athletic-related from Sports Center - all on Idaho Street in Farrell and a 10-minute walk from our house.

No Black Fridays. No standing in long lines for hours on end waiting for special sales. No putting up with holiday traffic.

I try to keep it simple by watching all of my favorite holiday movies (and I have a lot of them) and some I watch two or three times.

Everybody has a favorite, but I seem to watch various versions of "A Christmas Carol" more than the others. The travel by Scrooge to Christmases past, present and future offers a fascinating lesson about life. In addition to video, it's not Christmas without holiday music, and the choices are infinite. Many groups have recorded traditional holiday classics, and some are really good. Many of today's voices have produced great music.

But for my tastes, like most folks, I enjoy the songs and artists that define my Christmases - Elvis, Frank Sinatra, our own Tony Butala and the Lettermen, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and the Ray Conniff Singers.

The latter was a favorite group of my father's. During the holidays, their album, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," had a permanent place on the stereo spindle for more than a month.

As one might guess, it's my favorite collection of holiday music. Spindles are long gone but the album has a special place in my CD player as well as my heart. It's been around for 50 years, and probably can be bought in a Walmart bin for $5. But it's some of the best choral holiday music ever recorded.

I'm a techy sort of guy. I love progress and computers. iPads and iPhones are great, and they make terrific gifts, and leisure as well as professional time is more enjoyable with them.

My sister Kelley is like me. If she could decorate her house with old-style lights, an aluminum tree with a color light, and red cellophane window wreaths with a candle in the middle, she would.

I'm fortunate to be able to relate to simpler times, as I try to balance the hustle and bustle of today with the values of Christmases past that define that part of my life - transistor radio included.

Jim Raykie is the editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays. His email is