Myrtle Beach-area residents give the gift of sharing by recapturing the memories of Christmas past

For The Sun NewsDecember 8, 2012 

— It is hard for our children and grandchildren to imagine Christmas before computers and video games, iPads, iPhones, texting, Tweeting, Face book, Xbox, or even color television.

But many of our neighbors remember those days, and they took time to share some touchstone holiday moments from their childhoods, knowing that someday, today’s youngsters will lilkely look on today’s 21st century traditions with similar fondness.

Cynthia Hawley of Surfside Beach, remembers Christmas in New Town Square, Pa., to be a time of family traditions.

On Christmas Eve, her family would go to the Ice Follies. Following the Follies, they would have a formal dinner. The centerpiece of the table was a sleigh filled with gifts. Each gift had a long ribbon that went to plate setting on the table. Whoever sat at that plate would receive that first gift of Christmas.

After everyone was in bed for the night, Hawley would sneak down to the tree. All the presents would be beautifully wrapped with ornaments hung from the bows. There was no such thing as gift-bag wrapping in those days. Hawley would unwrap all of her gifts and then carefully rewrap them.

Each gift had a little clue on the nametags and the children would try to guess what was in the package before opening it. On Christmas, family members dressed formally: She loved how they would slowly open the gifts, one gift at a time. As a child, the only thing she ever really wanted was a horse. At age 10, she got one, a rocking horse.

This Christmas, Hawley’s wish is to be in Pennsylvania with her children and grandchildren sharing the traditions of her childhood with them. At 74, being with her family is the best gift of all.

Elizabeth Marinaro of Carolina Forest, still has the lifesize doll that she received when she was 5, 70 years ago. The following year she received a carriage for the doll. These were her favorite childhood Christmas gifts.

Marinaro spent her childhood in the Washington D.C. area. Her family always decorated the tree together. Every Christmas Eve, the family would go to midnight mass then when they returned home, her parents would give all of the children one gift. They could open that special gift in the morning and play with it while waiting for their parents to tell them they could come into the living room .

She recalls sitting on the steps with her two brothers playing with their new toys anticipatingwhat Santa had brought!.

The Christmas dinner guests were always different because her father would invite anyone without a family to share the holiday for dinner. Any service members at church or traveling through were always invited.

She has continued some of those childhood traditions with her own children and grandchildren, and they have made new ones of their own. Every holiday season they always go to one of the many Christmas shows in town.

On Christmas Eve they go to Yamato’s at Broadway at the Beach then walk around singing along with the Christmas carols and admire the huge Christmas tree.

“We always have so much fun together,” said Marinaro. “I would love to see more of the real spirit of Christmas in the community. I never see nativity scenes ... It seems everyone is worried more about gifts, not the other important things. There is not one thing that I want this Christmas except for everyone to remain healthy in my family and be able to take care of themselves.”

Julie Harpe, of Murrells Inlet, grew up on the corner of 29th Avenue and Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach. Her family lived in, owned, and ran the Sea-Vue Inn. Every year her father would cut down a tree and the family would decorate it together. During the winter, the hotel was closed so Harpe could spend hours looking through all of the rooms in search of hidden Christmas gifts.

Like Hawley, Harpe would sneak downstairs on Christmas Eve and open all of her Christmas gifts then rewrap them. She found her favorite gift when she was 8, a pink electric blanket. Right off of the ocean and with steam heat, the hotel rooms never heated up in the winter. It was hard to rewrap it, she wanted to sleep with it so much. She stayed awake all night anticipating the next morning being able to snuggle up to her new electric pink blanket.

The year Ocean Boulevard was paved, she got a bicycle for Christmas. That was a big time for Myrtle Beach, pavement and a bike. Her other favorite gift was a Madame Alexander doll, which she still has today.

Her grandmother also owned a hotel, and they would have a traditional Christmas dinner with her. Harpe remembers that her grandmother had a fake silver tree at her hotel.

Today, Harpe and longtime boyfriend Bill Loud have traditions of their own. They always put up and decorate their tree together it. He loves to serenade her with Christmas carols about love while decking the halls. He wears his Christmas elf hat and matching booties, spreading cheer to those around him.

“Growing up in the ‘50s, we didn’t have a whole lot but what we got we appreciated. Christmas wasn’t so materialistic,” said Harpe. “Now, it is so consumer-based, I just don’t get it. It is a holiday of the spirit and the Lord, not of giving gifts. It is the birth of Jesus, not how many gifts you can get and give.

“Living on the creek in Murrells Inlet is a godsend to me,” she said. “Although I would love a pair of really good binoculars to look out over the creek, I am blessed to have my happy life with my boyfriend Bill. As long as we are together and have the beautiful creek to keep us company, I will be happy forever.”

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