FARGO —As we get closer to kissing 2020 goodbye, many people won’t shed a tear. It’s been a tough year with the COVID-19 pandemic, a contentious presidential election and more instances of racial injustice leading to protests in all 50 states. Some people wonder, with so much anger, stress and sadness, how do you go about celebrating Christmas like you would if it were any other year?
It helps to look back and realize that we’ve been through tough years in the past and managed to make the best of things.
Over the last few weeks, InForum has taken a closer look at some of the toughest years we’ve been through to see how the holiday season played out.
We looked at 1918, just after World War I when the Spanish flu pandemic raged and families faced the holidays without their soldiers. Part two detailed the toughest year of The Great Depression,1933, and how people in Fargo-Moorhead helped their neighbors despite enduring their own hardships.
In part three, we’ll take you to 1968 — a year of tragedy, turmoil and sizable social change. Here is just a quick snapshot of the world at Christmas 1968.
What was the top story of 1968?
If you were to ask anyone what the top story of 1968 must have been, it’s likely people (especially those under 50) would mention the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy. That is what we have probably heard the most about over the years. But according to Associated Press editors, the biggest story of the year was Apollo 8 and the first orbit around the moon. (The assassination stories shared second place.).
According to NASA, “As one of the most turbulent, tragic years in American history drew to a close, millions around the world were watching and listening as the Apollo 8 astronauts — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders — became the first humans to orbit another world.”
The astronauts knew all eyes would be upon them that Christmas Eve.
"We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice," recalled Borman during 40th anniversary celebrations in 2008. "And the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate."
So they read the first 10 verses of Genesis because it is the foundation for many of the world’s religions, not just Christianity.
The mission was also famous for the iconic "Earthrise" image, snapped by Anders, which would give humankind a new perspective on their home planet. Anders has said that despite all the training and preparation for an exploration of the moon, the astronauts ended up discovering Earth.
It’s interesting to note on Christmas Eve, Apollo 8 shared the front page with the poem "‘Twas the Night before Christmas.”
On Christmas day, they took second billing under an illustration of the nativity scene.
‘Sock it to me!'
During that Christmas on the Moon, the nation had a new President-elect, Richard M. Nixon, who tried to reach out to younger voters earlier in the year by appearing on the top-rated comedy sketch show, “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In". They even got him to utter the show’s catch phrase, “Sock it to me!”
When people weren’t watching “Laugh In”, they might have caught Elvis Presley’s Comeback Special or a new show called “60 Minutes".
The Beatles dominate, but not for much longer
For The Beatles, 1968 is widely considered to be the beginning of the end for the world’s most popular group. “Hey Jude” was easily the number one song of the year, staying at the top of the charts for nine weeks. But the group would call it quits less than two years later.
Popular Christmas gifts of 1968
Under the tree that year were some Hot Wheels or Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots. Or maybe there was a mini skirt from K-mart for just $5.
And if you really want to think outside the box, The Forum carried a story in December 1968 about the popular gift of Instant Whiskers — basically a wig for your face.
One reporter put it this way: “It’s just the thing for the young executive or stockbroker who likes to swing at night, but wouldn’t dare show up hair-faced at the office. Or for the cautious type who might like to try a mustache, goatee or sideburns at a party but doesn’t want to go through the time and trouble of growing them.”
They cost anywhere from around $10 to $100. Still not sure you're ready for such grooviness? take a look at the before and after photos here.
A final word or two from 1968 Ann Landers
In 1968, columnist Ann Landers had been writing her advice column, which appeared in The Forum, for 13 years. She chose to once again recycle a favorite column from that first year about the hardships facing the world.. However, she altered her message from 1955 to fit the tumultuous world of 1968. To start, she doesn’t seem to be a fan of "hippies".
“Hippies are searching for drugs to expand their minds, when in reality, they have merely opted to anesthetize themselves against the pain of growing up and accepting responsibilities. Of course, many of these hippies did accept responsibility and are now sailing off into the sunset of retirement with their AARP card in one hand and a margarita in the other.
Landers brings up something else that relates a little more closely to what we’ve seen in 2020. She claimed that the youth of 1968 complained that civilization is out of joint and they threaten to resign from the human race.
“They resent having to live in a dangerous and untidy world they never made. But what generation ever made the world it had to live in? “
She concludes with encouragement to young people to keep thinking about how the small decisions you make determine the direction your life will take and to realize you won’t always make the right decision, and that’s alright.
"To err or fall from grace is no disgrace. The disgrace lies in not learning from our mistakes, not recovering from our defeats and not getting up to try again.”
2021 is almost here. Time to get up and try again.
Other Stories by Tracy Briggs: