Winston-Salem Time Traveler: Christmas Memories



BY MOLLY GROGAN RAWLS

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.”

Bob Wells and Mel Torme aptly captured the warmth and good feelings of Christmas in their 1945 song titled, “The Christmas Song.” Just hearing the tune reminds us of relaxing in front of cozy fires on cool evenings and listening to our favorite Christmas music.

We all have special memories of Christmases past – and so does Winston-Salem. Here are a few special memories:

  • The lighted WTOB television tower at Thruway Shopping Center
  • The coffee pot festooned with a red bow
  • Children looking longingly through store windows
  • Homes decorated inside and out
  • The children’s Christmas pageant with a real baby

Over the years, Santa’s arrival in the Christmas parade opened the Christmas season in Winston-Salem. The parades featured marching school bands accompanied by cheerleaders and dance squads, colorful floats carrying beauty queens, clowns in costumes, horses, and their riders decked out in their finery, and scores of children and adults marching with scout groups and service organizations.

Christmas parades were often held on Thanksgiving Day; sometimes they were held at night, and sometimes they were canceled because of bad weather. If you attended the Christmas parade in 1947, you might have thought you were in New York City at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A record-breaking crowd saw huge balloons and a fire-breathing dragon travel down West Fourth Street. A monstrous recumbent Gulliver barely made the turn onto Trade Street.

Before shopping centers and malls were built, shoppers drove downtown to shop and to admire the lights and decorations. During the Christmas season, the stores played Christmas music and were open later in the evenings. Window dressers vied for the most creative and enticing displays to attract shoppers to their stores.

The larger department stores featured their own Santa Claus, and little shoppers could sit on Santa’s lap and deliver their wish lists in person. Sears Roebuck Company at West Fourth and Broad Streets featured their own Santa Claus and mailed a “Wish Book” to the parents, just to help with ideas. Sears also installed a special Nativity scene with white, fiberglass figures atop the store marquee every Christmas. When Sears moved to Hanes Mall in the 1970s, the figures were displayed at the Sears Auto Store. Today, the refurbished figures, along with several new figures, are lighted and displayed on the lawn of the Children’s Home.

The Moravian influence in Winston-Salem is very evident at Christmas. For many, the Christmas season begins with a visit to the Candle Tea in Old Salem. Held in the Single Brothers House, visitors are invited to join in and sing Christmas carols that are accompanied by an organist. Moravian women demonstrate how beeswax candles are poured, removed, and then trimmed. Many school groups, Boy and Girl Scouts, and families come to the Candle Tea. All visitors see the putz, which is a scale reproduction of Salem village, and the Nativity scene. Visitors in the past partook of a warm cup of Moravian coffee and a delicious piece of sugar cake. Everyone takes home a beeswax candle trimmed in red crepe paper.

The Moravian, or Advent, star is a familiar sight in street and home decorations. Julius Lineback was the original “star-maker” in Salem, and he passed his talent, forms, and patterns to his son, Harry. The handmade process is tedious, but the results are stunning. Today the Moravian star is featured prominently in our downtown street decorations.

Moravian lovefeasts are held throughout the year, but the Christmas Eve lovefeasts have been a tradition for Moravians and non-Moravians for many years. The lovefeast buns and the cups of warm, sweetened coffee, plus the children’s choirs singing “The Morning Star” lead to the ending song as “Joy to the World” or “Hallelujah, God with Us” is sung with lighted and upraised candles. The lovefeast never fails to remind us of what Christmas is all about.

Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, filled with old and new memories.

To see more Winston-Salem Christmas images, look at digitalforsyth.com.  

Coming in January: “Preserving Family Photographs.”

By Molly Grogan Rawls, author of the Winston-Salem Time Traveler website. Contact Molly at mollygroganrawls.com or winstonsalemtimetraveler.com.


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