Yesteryear Columnist Shares Some Christmas Past Memories

Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy old miser from Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, underwent a life changing experience on Christmas Eve from three disembodied spirits known as the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future. Today’s column is a glance back to some of my Christmas pasts in the 1940s and 50s.

In 1947, my family lived in an apartment on W. Watauga Avenue. Our five and a half foot pine Christmas tree was decorated with about 20 paper-thin colored glass balls with glitter sprayed on them. Cotton swabs were placed throughout the branches to give the appearance of ice and snow and then covered with a heavy dose of icicles. Mom was meticulous about her icicles; they had to be strategically placed on the tree one filament at a time. The finishing touch was to thread a long chain of freshly popped popcorn and drape it around the tree. Conspicuously absent from the pine were lights.

My main gift that year was an American Flyer electric train. Other presents included a metal two-story Keystone filling station with an elevator, a xylophone, a blackboard on a folding wooden stand and a Gene Autry outfit that was only visible from the front side. I was a root-n toot-n cowboy as long as I didn’t turn around.

By 1950, we were living on Johnson Avenue. Our Christmas trees then were generally cedar with large colored lights and bubblers that boiled after they got hot. A tree full of these multicolored devices was truly impressive if not somewhat unsafe. Gone by then were cotton swabs and popcorn strings. We usually purchased our trees from vendors on Walnut Street or Market Street at Kiwanis Park. Attendants wore heavy wraps and hovered over a wood fire burning inside a metal drum. We took the tree home and placed it in front of our picture window facing beautiful Buffalo Mountain in the distance. 

A special memory in 1953 occurred at Henry Johnson School when my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Dorothy Pierce, selected me to go into the basement and bring some Christmas decorations to our room so we could adorn a tree. For a brief few minutes, I was the envy of the class. 

In 1956, I clipped a coupon from a comic book, mailed it to the Wallace Brown Company and began selling Christmas cards to neighbors, family members and friends. This enterprise lasted but one season.


About 1959, nine of us high school students were in the basement at the old downtown Science Hill building. The accompanying photo shows (L to R) me, Frank Moore, Bill Woods, Guy Wilson, Jud Mast, Al Ferguson, Johnny Leach, Joe Biddle and Graham Spurrier. A photographer from the Johnson City Press-Chronicle came by and asked us to pose for a holiday picture for the newspaper by singing Christmas carols.

We rounded up some ROTC training manuals from the drill hall to serve as songbooks and posed for the shot. The next day, our photo was in the newspaper. Our “songbooks” were decorated with musical notes, the background was darkened to give the appearance of nighttime and “snow” was magically added.

The caption stated, “They sing Christmas carols and the scene is one that will be repeated many times over within the next fortnight, snow or no snow. And Christmas caroling is a custom that grew up in the middle ages when beggar and king joined in the observance of Christmas. Carols were sung in the streets and images of the Virgin Christ carried from house to house with feasting and merrymaking to mark the festival time.”