Christmas In The Sixties – The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

In Bygone by Augusto Toledo1 Comment

60s-xmas-studebakerIf you’re a Baby Boomer, chances are you’ll recall the halcyon days of the 1960’s, a time that many of probably reminisce with a bit of fondness. I know I do.  And so, as Christmas approaches, I hearken back to those days when life was simple and unaffected, and people didn’t need the sophistication and elaborateness of today’s modernity to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Living in a four-door apartment in Mayon Street, in the La Loma district of Quezon City, I remember that the Christmas season revolved almost entirely in downtown Manila.  Days before December 25th, we would pile up in the family Studebaker and drive along Quezon Boulevard, line up for Majestic or Excelente ham in Quiapo, and then picked up a kilo or two of chestnuts (still called castanas in those days) along Echague Street.  Along the streets festooned with brightly colored lanterns, one bought merienda fare for the kids – pilipit, hopia, rimas, banana cue, and maybe even a cold glass of halo-halo from Little Quiapo.  It was a far cry from today’s instant snacks of Chippy, Piattos and Oishi Shrimp Crackers.  In Acme Supermarket, mother bought the Marca Pina quezo de bola, that cheese ball imported from Holland that had the saltiness unique only in Manila. The grocery haul included tins of Darigold Condensada and Stokely Van Camps Fruit Cocktail for making fruit salad, and some Klim or Liberty Evaporada to lighten the heady flavor of Cafe Puro coffee. Nobody went for decaf, and Starbucks, still to be brewed in Seattle, Washington in 1971, was just unheard of.

Commonwealth Foods Inc. commenced roasting its Cafe Puro and Cafe Excelente ground coffees in 1952. The 3-step instructions at the back of this specimen bottle for brewing were both terse and succinct: 1) Clean coffee maker thoroughly. 2) Boil water vigorously. 3) Percolate then reduce heat to a simmer.

Commonwealth Foods Inc. commenced roasting its Cafe Puro and Cafe Excelente ground coffees in 1952. The 3-step instructions at the back of this specimen bottle for brewing were both terse and succinct: 1) Clean coffee maker thoroughly. 2) Boil water vigorously. 3) Percolate then reduce heat to a simmer.

Magnolia Milk (still in amber square bottles) for breakfast, Horlicks Malted Milk Tablets, Serg’s Chocolates or tootsie Rolls as treats for obedient kids, and maybe half a dozen bottles of Cosmos Sarsaparilla completed the shopping list.

In 1925, San Miguel Brewery purchased the business interests of American William Schrober, who had introduced Magnoilia Ice Cream to Manila back in 1899. SMB's dairy plant was located in Calle Aviles in the San Miguel District, before it was relocated to Calle Echague, and then to Aurora Blvd. in 1970. This one-quart amber-colored and four-sided Magnolia Milk bottle with a printed white label is fairly rare today, but was easily available in the 1960s.

In 1925, San Miguel Brewery purchased the business interests of American William Schrober, who had introduced Magnolia Ice Cream to Manila back in 1899. SMB’s dairy plant was located in Calle Aviles in the San Miguel District, before it was relocated to Calle Echague, and then to Aurora Blvd. in 1970. This one-quart amber-colored and four-sided Magnolia Milk bottle with a printed white label is fairly rare today, but was easily available in the 1960s.

Strangely enough, Horlicks (invented by British-born William and James Horlick) started out in 1883 as a malted milk drink called "Diastoid" for infants and invalids, in Racine, Wisconsin. Also a non-perishable, high-calorie food supplement which could be mixed with water, Horlicks was favored by mountaineers and Polar explorers. The tablets were sold as candy during world War I, and the brand was then acquired by SmithKline Beecham in 1969. In original and chocolate flavors and in tablet-shaped candies, they were packed in a thick glass bottle like the above specimen, until they were repackaged in paper packets, and were available in Manila during the 1960's up to the early 1970's.

Strangely enough, Horlicks (invented by British-born William and James Horlick) started out in 1883 as a malted milk drink called “Diastoid” for infants and invalids, in Racine, Wisconsin. Also a non-perishable, high-calorie food supplement which could be mixed with water, Horlicks was favored by mountaineers and Polar explorers. The tablets were sold as candy during World War I, and the brand was then acquired by SmithKline Beecham in 1969. In original and chocolate flavors and in tablet-shaped candies, they were packed in a thick glass bottle like the above specimen, until they were repackaged in paper packets, and were available in Manila during the 1960’s up to the early 1970’s.

Established in 1918, the Manila Aerated Water Co. preceded the Cosmos Bottling Corp., and produced Cosmos Sarsaparilla, before it was renamed Sarsi in the 1970's. This particular soft drink soled for a mere 5 centavos in 1957. The Concepcions of RFM, who acquired the brand in 1989, sold Sarsi to San Miguel Corp. in 2002. SMC turned around in 2007 and sold their interests to Coca-Cola Bottlers Phils., Inc.

Established in 1918, the Manila Aerated Water Co. preceded the Cosmos Bottling Corp., and produced Cosmos Sarsaparilla, before it was renamed Sarsi in the 1970’s. This particular soft drink sold for a mere 5 centavos in 1957. The Concepcions of RFM, who acquired the brand in 1989, sold Sarsi to San Miguel Corp. in 2002. SMC turned around in 2007 and sold their interests to Coca-Cola Bottlers Phils., Inc.

We would then gravitate to Escolta for shopping in style – Oceanic Emporium for fancy dinnerware (the Duralex plates and cups that never broke), new school shoes at Ang Tibay (you had to deliberately annihilate them if you wanted a new pair), Yatco’s and Heacock’s for gentlemen’s haberdashery, Syvel’s and Walkover for adult footwear, maybe a fancy necklace at Rebullida’s or Chiok’s, or a bespoke suit at Fifth Avenue.  Less expensive fare was to be had along Carriedo and Avenida Rizal, with stores like Otis Department Store and Shoe Mart (who would have known that this unassuming shop would metamorphose into the giant SM Malls?)  There was nothing like a fried chicken lunch as Savory, or a mid-afternoon snack and a milk shake at the second-floor cafe in Botica Boie, or savouries at Taza de Oro in nearby Malate.  The children’s playground at the deck of the Good Earth Emporium was a marvel of the times, matched only by the newfangled escalator at the Roman Cinerama Theatre, whose first offering was the panoramic epic “How The West Was Won.”

This French-made cup and saucer set was a mainstay at our dinner table. The Duralex brand name originated from the Latin "Dura lex sed lex," or "The law is harsh, but it is the law." They were so unbreakable that salesmen at the basement of Oceanic Emporium along Escolta would routinely slam them against each other to demonstrate their durability.

This French-made cup and saucer set was a mainstay at our dinner table. The Duralex brand name originated from the Latin “Dura lex sed lex,” or “The law is harsh, but it is the law.” They were so unbreakable that salesmen at the basement of Oceanic Emporium along Escolta would routinely slam them against each other to demonstrate their durability.

The Noche Buena dinner was the highlight of the social calendar in those days.  After the last Simbang Gabi, folks would gather in our apartment to greet the coming Christmas Day with festive eating and merrymaking.  The Majestic ham, now steeped for days in pineapple juice, would be the centerpiece of the dining table, astride bandejados of galantina, morcon and steaming bowls of pancit molo.  The fruit cake, soaked in Tanduay Rhum and biding its time inside the Frigidaire, would make its appearance at dessert, competing with leche flan and macapuno.

The menfolk would be in the living room, huffing and puffing the filterless cigarettes of the day – Marlboro, Salem, Old Gold, Fighter and Chesterfield. Father would be mixing classic cocktails like Martinis (stirred, and not Bond’s shaken version), Gibsons (a Martini but with onions, rather than olives, as garnish), Tom Collinses, Manhattans and Old Fashioneds.  The favored liquors were Dewar’s Whiskey, Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth, Beefeater’s Gin, and Vat 69.  The discussions, overpowering the din of a telecast in the back-and-white Zenith television set, would center on the socio-political events of the day – Macapagal’s ascendancy to the Presidency, Carlos Loyzaga’s hardcourt truimphs, Flash Elorde’s seizure of the Super Featherweight title, the ravings and rantings of pre-Tulfo broadcaster Damian Soto, or the menace of the new cholera strain El Tor.  Movie talk was focused on the machos of 1960’s cinema – Tony Ferrer (Tony Falcon, or Agent X-44), Alberto Alonso (Agent 69), and Bernard Bonin (Palos), or the rise of local queens Cynthia Ugalde and Chona Kasten in the pantheon of international beauties.

Philip Morris International entered into a licensing agreement with La Suerte Cigar & Cigarette Factory in 1955 to manufacture Marlboro and Chesterfield in the Philippines. In 1965, Fortune Tobacco Corp. signed a similar agreement with RJ Reynolds to locally produce Salem, Winston and Camel. Promotional lighters like these were a typical form of advertising to encourage cigarette smoking.

Philip Morris International entered into a licensing agreement with La Suerte Cigar & Cigarette Factory in 1955 to manufacture Marlboro and Chesterfield in the Philippines. In 1965, Fortune Tobacco Corp. signed a similar agreement with RJ Reynolds to locally produce Salem, Winston and Camel. Promotional lighters like these were a typical form of advertising to encourage cigarette smoking.

And on Christmas morning itself, we children would gather round the tin foil tree to excitedly open our gifts.  No iPads or X-Play consoles were in sight.  Instead, a toy gun with faux firing caps, a Made-in-Japan tin litho spacecraft, or even a Classic Illustrated comic book were enough for us to squeal in delight.  A visit to Ninongs and Ninangs was a must, and if one respectfully took the elders’ hand to one’s forehead (“Mano po”), why, he could be endowed with a Ps 2.00 bill, a mind-boggling fortune in those days.  Snacks would be served – maybe Fibisco soda crackers and Pepsi-Cola (“For those who think young,” as the 1961 slogan went) – while the adults carried on with more mature conversation.

The "Viewmaster" was a special-format stereoscope with corresponding reels, which were thin cardboard discs containing 3-D color photographs on film for viewing. The specimen above is a "Model G," which was a plastic version that replaced the old Bakelite models. The metal cap gun toy was modeled after real revolver pistols, using string caps that exploded harmlessly as the trigger was pulled and a hammer was released to strike the caps. And Modern Toys of Japan produced hundreds of tin litho battery-operated spacecraft toys in the 1950's up to the 1960's. The toy above is a "Space Surveillant X-07" saucer model complete with an astronaut and a bump-and-go feature. I received these toys from my father at various times during the 1960's era.

The “Viewmaster” was a special-format stereoscope with corresponding reels, which were thin cardboard discs containing 3-D color photographs on film for viewing. The specimen above is a “Model G,” which was a plastic version that replaced the old Bakelite models. The metal cap gun toy was modeled after real revolver pistols, using string caps that exploded harmlessly as the trigger was pulled and a hammer was released to strike the caps. And Modern Toys of Japan produced hundreds of tin litho battery-operated spacecraft toys in the 1950’s up to the 1960’s. The toy above is a “Space Surveillant X-07” saucer model complete with an astronaut and a bump-and-go feature. I received these toys from my father at various times during the 1960’s era.

The day would then end, and another year in that retro era would soon be over.  “The Christmas Song,” although composed as early as 1944 by Mel Torme and Bob Wells, and most famously sung by the Nat King Cole Trio, recollects those untroubled days of yore, when traditions ruled the Season, and simple family togetherness, unembellished by the fancy and often pretentious celebrations of this age, were more than enough to enliven the spirit and give meaning to Christ’s first coming.

Comments

  1. Consuelo Reinberg (the other kid in front of the Studebaker)

    One of the highlights of the Christmas season (for me) was the evening ride to see various buildings enmeshed with decorative lights, each building competing with each other as to which was the most spectacularly lit.

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