As I reflect on what the Christmas holidays were like, I hope readers who grew up in Salt Lake City can add to the memories of the season.

The beauty of the Christmas holiday is that it stirs the fondest memories going back to childhood with the sights, smells, sounds, friends and family. As I reflect on what the Christmas holidays were like, I hope readers who grew up in Salt Lake City can add to the memories of the season.

When I was a kid, the anticipation of talking to Santa Claus was unbearable. I looked forward to having my parents take me to see Santa Claus at the old Sears & Roebuck building on the southwest corner of Main and Broadway. Walking into Sears was always a joy. There was the smell of fresh popcorn popping that filled the store. Santa was on the top floor sitting in the middle of a cavernous room with squeaky wooden floor planks that must have been oiled and cleaned with sweeping compound to preserve them. I remember being good was a standard for getting Santa to come up with a present, and somehow I got in under the wire.

Another big deal was going to the annual Christmas party put on by dad's employer, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Santa would come and distribute those red mesh socks filled with nuts, oranges and hard-tack candy. That was it. No toys, iPods, Barbie or Ken dolls. But for kids of working people, that sock was big. I once told my 4-year-old grandson how I loved the Lionel train Santa brought me. So, the next Christmas, he gave me a train. It’s one of the mementos, along with others, of our grandchildren brought out each Christmas.

As a teenager, one of the fondest memories was going downtown several times during the last two weeks before Christmas and mixing with the shopping crowd. Main Street between 100 South and 400 South and up and down Broadway was the place to hang out. It was the "in thing" to do. The sidewalks and stores were crowded. We walked in the crunching snow and everybody wished each other, “Merry Christmas.” It was a joyous and happy occasion. There was a real sense of love and community.

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Though we had little money, we walked around Auerbach's, Keith O'Brien, Paris, Roe's, Pay Less and walked "through" Kresses over to Woolworth's and on to Main Street. Shubach's always had great windows. The nights were cold, and huge snowflakes floated down and everyone seemed to relish them. The city and the faces of the people glowed and filled with cheer. The movie theaters had waiting lines, the Rialto, Capital, Utah, Broadway, Gem and the Star. People were dressed in their best. As teenagers, we would peek in the bars because that was "on the edge" stuff — then. And when we got older, we went in to get a taste of the "real" cheer.

Our city was never more beautiful than at Christmas. What made it special were the crowded sidewalks with people wishing Merry Christmas to each other, reminding us of the love and care we have for each other — the true spirit of Christmas.

Utah native John Florez has been on Sen. Orrin Hatch's staff, served as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and commission on Hispanic education. Email: