Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

Published 8:19 pm Monday, December 13, 2021

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and feel like Christmas, and sound like Christmas especially in my memories of Christmas of long ago. I am really enjoying the old Christmas movies and TV shows as they bring back so many memories and stories of my family while I was growing up in Washington.

One special event, the lighting of the Community Christmas Tree at Main and Gladden Streets with the carolers singing beside it was so wonderful. Many thanks to the Washington Harbor District Alliance, The City of Washington, Parks and Recreation, the downtown merchants and all those who made the Light Up the City event possible.

It brought back so many childhood memories of Christmas in downtown Washington. Standing under that tree, I recalled the stories my mother and grandparents told me about the past Christmas trees downtown that were a part of their childhood growing up in Washington. I can imagine the same delight on my face watching Community Christmas tree lighting, may have been on grandmother’s face as Washington had its first public Christmas tree displayed back in the 1890’s. She was seven at the time and a holly tree that was on a private property on Main Street served as the town tree. A family friend of my grandparents, Mr. Edward Cooper, who owned a Metal Working Shop on Water Street at the time made the ornaments out of tin.

Then after that, in 1915, Washington hosted its first Community Christmas Tree. The tree was erected on the Court House Square which was next to the old Beaufort County Courthouse on Market Street, (current site of the Beaufort-Hyde-Martin Library.)

The fir tree was brought over from Scotland as a young sapling many, many years before it ended up as the Community Tree. Many Scottish immigrants who made Washington their home brought their favorite saplings and plants with them.

Hundreds of colored electric lights were placed on it, and it was lit up for a few hours for several nights each night.

On the first night during the tree lighting ceremony, Mr. Edmund Harding acted as Master of Ceremonies.  The welcome was given by Mayor Stewart, and Judge Stephen Bragaw gave a speech. Many churches and school choirs performed Christmas carols. Over two thousand people came to the ceremony from Washington as well as many other parts of Beaufort County and quite a few other adjacent counties.

All the children received a Christmas present of a stocking or small brown paper bag filled with fruit and candy. The children who lived in the rural areas outside of Washington were invited to come to the tree Christmas night to receive more candy and other goodies.  My grandmother, who had two little toddlers by then, brought the children to see the tree and get candy canes, oranges, chocolate drops, gingersnaps and raisins.

In the early 1940’s another Community Christmas tree was erected on the middle of Main Street at the corner of Market Street, across from the Guaranty Bank and Trust Building, now the location of the Agape Health Services Building.  My mother remembered seeing that tree as a young teenager.

So many memories. Now back to watching the Andy Williams and Lawrence Welk Christmas specials on YouTube!

Leesa Jones is a Washington native, the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.