If it’s the most wonderful time of the year, it’s also time to get the house ready for Christmas. In my case, it means carefully opening the boxes of buildings that make up my Department 56 Snow Village. With each piece, I travel back to the Christmases of my youth and the people and places that made it so special.

The trip begins with the white church and Sunday school building. As with most baby boomers, in the 1950s my spiritual life was a constant. Between Sunday School, Bible School, Junior Choir and youth group, I was in church year-round. In December, participation reached a crescendo: the Sunday School pageant was held, the Junior and Senior choirs presented a Christmas concert, and both Christmas Eve and Day services were well-attended. Not a great (or even a good) singer, I nonetheless sang "O Holy Night" with three fellow teens in black robes with the large white collars. There are no pictures, no recordings — just my memories.

Next up is Grandma’s Cottage. Going to Nanny’s for Thanksgiving Day was a yearly ritual; Nanny cooked a turkey with all the trimmings while my mom and aunt contributed desserts and snacks. As an immigrant from the former Czechoslovakia, Nanny loved her new country and rarely spoke of her early life, except to say how hard it had been. Nevertheless, at Christmastime she always sent a package of clothes back to the "old country" to help people she remembered.

As I place the Greenhouse, with its glass ceiling, I smile thinking of my parents seriously inspecting trees, one by one, to find the best specimen to bring home. Waiting till closer to the holiday meant lower prices, so our annual trip was usually around Dec. 22.

The Bowling Alley was another staple of village life in the 1950s. My dad loved his church bowling league, looking forward to weekly matches with neighboring teams. Dad worked long hours but always was home in time for matches. It really was his only "me" time.

The replica of Radio City Music Hall, with its "Christmas Spectacular" and nearby Rockefeller Center tree and ice-skating rink, reminds me of trips to Manhattan. Going to the city — not yearly because, as Dad and Mom said, it wasn’t close by — gave this country girl her own Miracle on 34th Street.

Figurines complete the snowy scene of my long-ago youth. The pastor in front of the church, the family dressed to go to the Christmas Pageant, the soldier in uniform home for the holidays — yes, my village had all those things!

By now you may be wondering where my snowy childhood village was. Maine? Vermont? Surprise! I grew up in Levittown, the firstborn of a World War II veteran and his wife. We attended Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on Hempstead Turnpike; the Sunday School Annex was built when I was about 10.

Grandma’s Cottage was Nanny’s two-bedroom bungalow in Valley Cottage — in Rockland County — about a two-hour drive.

The Greenhouse? City of Glass, a garden center in Farmingdale that was demolished in the 1980s. The ice rink? Back in the day, East Village Green in Levittown had a rink next to the town pools. Bring your skates and have a good time; warm up across street at the village green drugstore!

And those fabulous Rockettes, they inspired this nondancer to practice kicks for hours on end. The result was a spot on the Footnotes, Island Trees High School’s 1961 dance team.

So you see, in the village of my youth it really was a wonderful life!

Joanne Fraser,


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