August 14, 2014
Growing up in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, Christmas did not officially begin in our house until the tree went up. The blue spruce would be centered in front of our large front window in the living room, three or four days before Christmas. Then the rest of the household decorations would go up, including a life-sized, red cardboard fireplace.
That old cardboard fireplace was very special to me and my family for a number of reasons. Number one, I was told that Santa Claus would enter our house on Christmas Eve through that fireplace. Since we didn’t have a real fireplace it was explained to me that Santa could easily use our red cardboard substitute. So, to me that fireplace represented the entrance way for Santa’s arrival each year until I was probably eight or nine.
That fireplace was also where we hung our stockings every Christmas Eve. The stockings would only be brought out on Christmas Eve and they would be thumb tacked to the top of the cardboard mantle. Then on Christmas morning we would find them over-flowing and placed on top of our pile of presents, much too heavy to be supported by the thumb tack.
For those few nights leading up to Christmas, I would often lie on the floor in front of that fireplace, gazing at the shadow of the artificial flame that was being reflected on the inner wall. The flickering glow was created by a red Christmas bulb that was secured behind the cardboard logs on the floor. Above the bulb balanced a small round tin circle with vanes cut in it. The tin circle was carefully balanced just slightly above the bulb on a needle attached to a wire prong. The heat of the bulb would cause the round vane to slowly spin, creating an oscillating reflection against the red cardboard inner wall. This created an illusion of a real fire and I would lie there fascinated by this false warmth. All the while, I would be anticipating and eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa in the middle of the winter night.
The original fireplace we owned also had a special and unique feature, an adjustable chimney, that rose up the ceiling. The chimney also had the image of Santa on it holding a banner that read Merry Christmas. The fact that this fireplace had a chimney greatly added to the illusion of being genuine and a proper entrance way for Santa.
Thinking back now, it was funny how when we dis-assembled that fireplace after the holidays, it just looked like folded cardboard. Nothing like that tall and colorful image of red bricks and mortar we had among us in our home for the previous two weeks.
Our Mom and Dad kept that original fireplace for over thirty years. It would be repaired and reinforced from time to time with tape and staples to keep it viable and part of the yearly celebration. It was that wonderful chimney which was first to be discarded, damaged beyond repair from a leak in the attic. Eventually the fireplace could no longer be unfolded and able to support itself so a suitable replacement was sought.
We never could find one as big and majestic as the original purchased back in the 1950’s so a smaller and less robust version was bought to take its place. While we missed the original, the substitute was still better than an empty wall and it served its purpose.
There was a long running joke between my parents involving that fireplace. My Mom always wanted a real one, but my Dad would always good naturedly tell her that the Christmas cardboard version was good enough. Maybe that is why my parents always had a fake fireplace in their living room each Christmas for over forty years.
Now that I’m much older I own a house with an actual fireplace. It still serves as the place for our Christmas stockings each year even though my sons are all grown. It is a beautiful, modern fireplace and it always has a fire blazing on cold nights during the holidays. Yet, it does not take the place of that old, red cardboard beauty that lives vividly in my memories as a yearly reminder that Christmas had arrived.