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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Naperville native remembers Christmas in the 1920s

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By Frank Osterland

Appeared in Positively Naperville, December 2001

The Christmas season is a great time for memories.

I’m a native Napervillian, born on Dec. 7, 1916, and raised in a house still occupied on W. Jefferson Ave.

Like most of our neighbors, my dad worked at Kroehler Manufacturing as a furniture upholsterer. I can well remember growing up there in the 1920s with brother Bob and sister Ruth. (Another brother, Allen, came along later.) I attended the old Naper Academy School until it was demolished and replaced by the present Naper School.

Our Christmas in those days centered around St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on W. Van Buren. The Church was moved to Naper Settlement in 1970, and is now known as Century Memorial Chapel.

Thinking back on those times, I can characterize them with one word—“simplicity.” People had modest means and expectations and relatively few requirements. Compared to the hustle and bustle we take for granted at this time of year, those were truly simple times.

Back then we had no brightly colored strings of lights to beautify the tree. Instead, candles were carefully placed on the ends of branches and lighted at special times. This was a fire hazard, of course.

One time, my grandparents’ cat made a move to grab an ornamental bird from a lighted tree. The results could have been disastrous, but someone had the presence of mind to pick up the tree and hustle it outdoors, fire and all.

Another thing sure to sharpen my recollections of long ago Christmases is the aroma of peppermints being baked in our kitchen. The older Osterlands brought a recipe with them when they came to Naperville from Germany, a recipe that had been passed down for generations. It was reminder to them of Christmases back home in the Old Country.

Peppermints for Christmas remain as an Osterland tradition. They’re nothing fancy and hard as a rock when taken from the oven, but it would never be the same at Christmastime without peppermints.

There were not highly decorated homes as we see today in every neighborhood. A occasional holly wreath sufficed for outdoor decoration.

Without radio and TV to saturate the air over and over again with seasonal songs, we got our fill of Christmas music in church, at home and in school. I learned “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) and “O Tannenbaum” (O Christmas Tree) from my mother and “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” and other songs at school.

We had no high pressure merchandising for gift purchases from local merchants and little money for more than a few extras. I recall the genuine thrill of receiving the Flexible Flyer sled that was every boy’s dream. No Nintendo games or electronic knick-knacks for us—and whatever we received was always appreciated.

Before the popularization of the automobile and air travel, most Christmas socializing was within families and friends in the area.

With the advent of electric lights, radios, televisions and other new gadgets, these simple things that I recall from those “good old days” have changed.

One thing that remains unchanged is the true spirit of Christmas. Hallelujah, Christ is born.

Editor’s Note: Frank Osterland (1916-2009) was among the first contributing writers to Positively Naperville back in its beginnings. We published a number of the stories he wrote, reminiscing about his childhood. Frank was our wonderful email buddy until his death at age 92.

Merry Christmas! Stay safe and warm with comfort and joy until we meet again…

PN Ombudsman
PN Ombudsman
An ombudsman is Scandinavian in origin dating back to Viking times; and refers to a community representative; usually acting independently on behalf of an organization, body of elected officials, or civic group. Thanks Scandinavia for inventing ombudsman.

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