The Monroe on a Budget column is printed Mondays in The Monroe Evening News. Here is this week’s installment:

When the Christmas season settles into family time this week or next, look for opportunities in which you or your children can interview the elders about how the holiday was celebrated years ago.

While family history research is a budget-friendly hobby on its own merits, the stories of Christmas past can provide a nice reality check against the commercial nature of the holiday season. To be fair, people have been complaining for decades about the cost involved with meeting social expectations. But it really was a different world for some previous generations than it is for today’s families.

Those who are old enough to remember the Great Depression or World War II might have interesting tales about the foods that were eaten on Christmas. For example, you might have heard that oranges were often placed in stockings years ago. But would anyone in the younger generations today know why? Oranges were an expensive treat for those who didn’t live near a grove.

On the other hand, Depression-era stories that today’s audience would connect with include the charitable outreach efforts. The Monroe Evening News in 1933, for example, published an article that detailed the efforts of that year’s Goodfellows fundraising campaign.

Those who were alive during the 1950s and 1960s can explain the scolding reference in the plot line of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” about metallic Christmas trees. That style of artificial tree is rarely seen today in favor of green or white trees. But metallic trees were quite popular during the early 1960s, as they complimented the era’s trends in home decor and fashion.

Here’s another story from the 1960s: Adjusted inflation, the 1959 Barbie doll cost the equivalent of about $30 today and a Mattel-designed outfit for her would range in cost from $25 to $50 in today’s money. That’s why many little girls during those years were given handmade doll clothes instead of store-bought ones at Christmas.

You might even hear some surprising stories among those who were children during the 1970s and 1980s. A high school classmate once told me what it was like to receive socks and underwear for Christmas. Rather than being upset, he and his siblings were happy as those were items his mom couldn’t afford to replace very often.

And I’m not sure I can explain the appearance of a Christmas tree with individually twinkling C-7 light bulbs to my daughter. That was the style of tree lighting I had when she was a baby during the early 1990s. But I was forced to give up that arrangement after miniature light strings and bulbs became the expectation and C-7s were incredibly difficult to find.

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