By Joe Rector
Okay, Thanksgiving is over, so it is now permissible, maybe even legal in some states, for folks to put up Christmas lights, inflatable characters, and trees. Of course, places like Walmart and Home Depot stocked their shelves with these things around Halloween. It seems that every year, businesses are pushing folks to fire up the Christmas season earlier. I’m not a biblical scholar, but I think some scripture in the New Testament tells readers that such early indulgences are against the rules.
Christmases for us Baby-Boomers were much different. Our parents had no intention of pulling out things from attics or closets until the Friday after Thanksgiving, at the earliest. The season wasn’t officially kicked off in Knoxville until the conclusion of festivities in downtown Knoxville.
On that Friday, Henley Street was blocked in the evening. Crowds gathered in the street and watched the staircase windows of the Miller’s building light up one at a time as choruses sang a special Christmas song. The performers were a mixture of high school and church choirs.
After each area was illuminated, a soloist would sing “Oh Holy Night.” The conductor stood on the top floor of the parking garage across Henley, where a hotel in now located. He led the choruses with a flashlight, and when all joined in at, “Fall on your knees,” a giant Christmas tree would light up. “Ooohs and aaahs” erupted, and some in the assembled crowd sang along. That was the official beginning of Christmas in Knoxville as I remember.
Few people strung lights outside. Those who did use them put out only a couple of strands. Not a single house in the Ball Camp neighborhood was decked out like a “Clark Griswold” house. For the most part, folks in the country didn’t waste much time with “outdoor illumination.”
Few families had “store-bought” trees. I always thought that the solid silver trees with the color-changing wheels were beautiful. However, buying a tree like that was a waste of money for most families who eked out lives on weekly paychecks. In Ball Camp, as well as most communities outside the city limits, yearly Christmas trees came from pastures and wooded areas. A hand saw or an axe was used to cut a tree. Then it was dragged back to the house where parents and children struggled to cut the lower limbs from cedar trees and level the trunks so that they would fit into small stands. At the end of the task, “a lot of sap” covered hands and clothes. The stuff eventually wore off little hands unless a little gasoline was used to scrub it off.
Sometimes, a prop was needed to keep the tree upright in the living room. Regular watering kept trees from drying out, but cedar spikes still managed to fall to the floor and await a barefoot. Some of the family busied themselves with placing decorations on the trees, and the final touch was the “shiny icicles” that were strategically placed on the tips of branches. Soon after Christmas, trees were stripped of decorations and unceremoniously dragged to burn piles until the next garbage fire was ignited. My mother would have had a stroke if she thought a tree would stay up for weeks afterwards.
Christmas was a shorter season for us old folks. That doesn’t mean we enjoyed it any less. These days, folks are exhausted well before Christmas Day. They’ve expended their supply of energy so that relaxing and enjoying things are much harder. Pushing back the official Christmas start makes more sense these days. Doing so shouldn’t make a huge economic impact on stores. Gifts won’t be forgotten or misplaced if people buy them a bit closer to the big day.