Sharing Holiday Joy: The Ghosts of Christmas Past


[Ed. note: During the holiday season, we are eager to spread the holiday joy by publishing cookie recipes and/or photographs of our readers’ favorite tree ornaments or holiday decorations along with a few sentences sharing a memory or meaning behind them. Please consider participating and send recipes, photos, and a few sentences about them to OR

Retired Boyertown Area Senior High English teacher and coach, and class of 1979 BASH alum, Philip Repko shares how old ornaments bring echoes of childhood.

by Philip E. Repko

"Both my mother and my mother-in-law were products of the Great Depression. Perhaps I should not make sweeping generalizations, but what my mother-in-law, Judy, and my mother, Jackie, had in common was a sense of certainty about the role of mothers and women in the world. That role may well have meant they cooked a lot of meals and folded a lot of laundry, but those tasks were but a tiny component of their purpose and function. The women of the family, whether they embodied the values of Italian-American wives and mothers in general - as Judy did, or whether they embodied the beliefs and superstitions of the German and Czech immigrants - as Jackie did, were responsible for the warmth and wonder of Christmas.

The ornaments in this picture reflect the approach that each of my mothers took to Christmas celebration. The pendant on the picture to the right is a prayer of sorts, asking that our earthbound selves be able to connect with those who have already moved forward to their reward. 

Both Judy and Jackie would appreciate the tree as we continue to decorate it. While our household fancification has tended toward minimalism as we have gotten older, the tree decoration leans still toward gaudy and overshone. Santa and Mrs. Claus, pictured just above, are more than fifty years old. While they are a bit weathered and worn, and as are our dispositions from time-to-time, they continue to generate a twinkle in our hearts. That twinkle harkens to the love and happiness that our mothers nurtured. 

The children of the Great Depression – Jackie and Judy – knew that America was not perfect, but they were grateful for all the beauty and comforts that America provided. Christmas was also a celebration of safety and security – and our mothers held nothing back in terms of food and treats, and decorations too. The house became a showcase each Advent season, perhaps succumbing to excessive display of tchotchkes (an ironic and obnoxious borrowing of terms from another culture).

Also depicted in the picture top left are a pair of ornaments that were ‘invented’ by a colleague and friend in the 1990s. They do not date to the 50s or 60s, but they do fit with the elegance and warmth of many of the most intricate pieces that were common on Christmas trees during my childhood, the 60s and 70s. The ornaments have a color scheme that fits in easily with the classiest and most pleasing holiday pastiche of 20th century America.

Each year, for just a moment, I can look at the tree and transform into my childhood self. If I am lucky, it lasts for the whole Christmas season."

[A 1979 graduate of Boyertown Area Senior High, Philip Repko returned to BASH to teach English for many years. In 2007, he left to become an assistant principal in the Daniel Boone School District, and following that he served as the principal of the Most Blessed Sacrament school in Bally. Most recently, he has retired from Saint Mary Catholic School in Schwenksville where he also was the principal. Now taking on a new challenge, he plans to retire for the fourth and final time in 2026. In his spare time, he writes.]

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