08/31/07 - posted by Frank Dunnigan
I grew up on the 2600 block of 18th Avenue, which was decorated extensively every holiday season from the time that most of the homes were built, circa 1936 until about 1967. Years earlier, the homeowners had decided to participate in the City-wide decorating contents, which were sponsored by one of the two morning newspapers, the Examiner. (Democrats took the Examiner and Republicans took the Chronicle back then.) Each house had a wooden frame that matched the house's front window configuration, and was fitted with outdoor lights. As time went on, some people added to these by constructing matching frames to go around the garage door or the front stair entrance. One neighbor had an enormous Star of David (appropriately outfitted with blue & white lights) and those who sought minimal participation opted for a single strip of lights along the edge of a balcony or a large, spot-lit wreath in the front window. Two popular colors choices for the lights were alternating red & green bulbs, and multi-color. Some people went with clear, and at least one neighbor in those days managed to find clear twinkling lights. As time went on, nativity scenes and inflatable Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed Reindeers came onto the scene as well. The decorations, including lighted Christmas trees in the living room windows, would go up in early December, and "the night of the lighting" would take place at 6 p.m. on a Saturday about 2 weeks before Christmas. Santa would arrive on a fire engine, courtesy of the fire house located up the hill on 18th Avenue near Rivera, sit on his "throne" set up at the garage door of the block's "King & Queen" for that year, and listen to childhood wishes, while dispensing candy canes that were invariably purchased from the Hramada Candy Company, located on the Waterfront--a project that my father and I handled for many years. For our family, that night always meant an early dinner with my grandmother and aunt at the Hot House at Playland (our unanimous choice for many years, while Mom worked on party preparations at home), followed by the lighting ceremony, and then by an Open House of family and friends. I just came across an old color slide of that night in 1959 (I was just turning 8 years old), and there were 17 of us gathered around the (oh, shudder!) aluminum tree--parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and 1st, 2nd, & 3rd cousins, though I recall that there were even more camera-shy relatives elsewhere in the house. Strangely, I'm the only one left from that group of adults and kids, but just like the night itself, that picture evokes many fond memories of when life was safe and certain, growing up in San Francisco's western neighborhoods.
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