Christmas 1955 - I was seven years old and my little sister was age two when this photo was taken of our Christmas tree and all the loot underneath it. My Dad was a veteran of WWII, he had just gotten a good paying job as an engineer and we had moved out to the San Francisco suburbs only a few years earlier. My Mom was the stay-at-home kind.
The motivations for practicing Duck-and-Cover drills at grade school were beyond my comprehension; I was living in total middle-class heaven. Needs I didn't even know I had were met with excess. I could look through the Sears Catalog toy section and be reasonably assured that some of those treasures would end up under our tree. The only downer for the season was when I opened a gift that turned out to be a shirt or sweater - I felt gypped.
I must have gotten an new bicycle every-other Christmas. The toys were always cool - Erector sets, Tonka trucks, Lionel train, even an Atomic Canon once. These things made up for my Dad drinking too much on Christmas Eve and my Mother going to be crying. I took the toys in my room and played by myself with the door closed. These were times of excess - materialistic and alcoholic... and everything in between.
My parents struggled. My mother went to a psychiatrist and took Milltown. My Dad drank. There were no marriage counselors (other than the Catholic priest) and no self-help empowerment books. My parents foundered in guilt, self-pity, anxiety and cruel words between them.
A Christmas of "stuff" never really seemed to make up for it, though it did provide escape. I wasn't able to truly escape until I went away to college. And even then, I had to return home during Christmas break. Nothing had changed.
Today my wife and I spend practically nothing on Christmas; we don't buy gifts and we don't even attempt to compete with the other grandparents showering our grand kids with toys. We put up lights on the house and a lovely Christmas tree... it even has an angel on the top. We Atheists celebrate the holiday like most everyone does, with family and friends and good food, wishing for peace on earth and good will toward us all.