December 23, 1966, is a Friday. It’s cold in the Upper Midwest with highs around 20; snow is possible from Arkansas and northern Mississippi to southern Ohio; the southeast expects rain. All over the country, elementary school classrooms hold Christmas parties.
Two crewmen die and four are wounded when North Vietnamese shore batteries hit the USS O’Brien off the north-central coast of Vietnam. It’s the first North Vietnamese attack on an American ship from shore. The Chicago Tribune reports that Richard Daley will announce by January 1 whether he will seek an unprecedented fourth term as mayor. The director of placement at Northwestern University says college graduates in business and industry can expect to be offered the highest salaries ever in 1967: engineering graduates will be paid an average of $712 a month to start; salesmen can expect $585. Seventeen Chicago-area men in jail for delinquent alimony payments have been released for Christmas, although some former spouses and their families object. Earlier in the week, thieves stole gifts intended for kids at the Ada S. McKinley Community Services Agency in Chicago, but a local men’s club has replaced them. Sixty-five children are expected to attend today’s Christmas party.
The 16 Polk Brothers stores in the Chicago area will be open tonight until 10:00 and until 8:00 on Christmas Eve. If you buy a new appliance, you get a free case of soup. The Tribune reports that eight Green Bay Packers have been named to United Press International’s NFL All-Star team, although the selections were made public last week. The Packers will play the Dallas Cowboys on New Year’s Day for the NFL championship. On the same day, Kansas City will play Buffalo for the AFL championship. Winners will advance to the first Super Bowl, to be played in Los Angeles on January 15. At the box office, top movies include Doctor Zhivago, The Fortune Cookie, Gigi, Fantastic Voyage, and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. On TV, CBS leads off its primetime lineup with Wild Wild West and Hogan’s Heroes; on NBC, it’s Tarzan and The Man From UNCLE; on ABC, primetime starts with The Green Hornet and Time Tunnel.
In the UK, the final episode of the music show Ready Steady Go, which has become a weekend-starting tradition in the UK since its premiere in 1963, is broadcast. The final episode, titled “Ready Steady Goes,” features a who’s-who of British pop stars including Mick Jagger, the Who, and the Yardbirds, and ends with the whole cast singing “White Christmas.” At WCFL in Chicago, “Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band spends a fourth week at #1. “Kind of a Drag” by the Buckinghams is at #2. The two hottest records at WCFL are right behind: “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen is at #3, up from #15 last week; “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees is at #4, up from #17. Rounding out the Top 10: “Mellow Yellow” by Donovan, Mitch Ryder’s “Devil With a Blue Dress,” “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys, “Lady Godiva” by Peter and Gordon, and the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”
Perspective From the Present: I can’t say for sure that Mrs. Rodger’s first-grade class at Lincoln School in Monroe, Wisconsin, had a Christmas party 50 years ago today. My sense is that when I was a kid, Christmas vacation used to start a little earlier than it does now, and so our last day may have been earlier in the week. But no matter. At the party, Mrs. Rodger gave each of us a Christmas ornament, a paper-maché gingerbread man with her name on the back. It hung on our tree at home every year. It came with me when I moved away, and I still get it out every year, even though we’ve stopped putting up a tree. It’s pictured at the top of this post, looking out from the mantel right now, reminding me of how far I’ve traveled in time . . . and how little.
This Christmas is a difficult one for a lot of us. You’d have to go back to the oil-shocked, recession-ravaged, Cold-War Christmases of the mid-1970s to find an equivalent sense of despair about the future—an equivalent sense that time is out of joint, the world is out of control, and we dangle over an abyss. But now as then, we strive to make the best of this holiday. We hold to the traditions that remind us of better times. We light flickering candles to make a space in the encroaching dark. If and when those candles are snuffed out, at least we had their light for a while.