Yes, Grand Valley, There is a Santa Clause  

When I was a kid, Christmas was the highlight of the year. On my mind from the first day of school, it usually reached furor proportions by Christmas Eve. In the interim, we children made beaded ornaments, turned Reader’s Digest magazines into golden angels, and bugged our parents until they finally put up the aluminum tree. I’d peruse the Sears’ holiday catalog until it was ragged, and made sure my letter to Santa was the first on his workbench. And when Grandma Alonzi’s annual box of Italian cookies arrived, we knew Christmas was near. 

 

                                                                      Author, left, sharing Santa's lap with twin, Robyne, 1962. Courtesy author

            For Christians, the season surrounds the birth of the Christ Child, but sometime in the early 1800s, Santa joined the celebration. His legend is based on the real St. Nicholas, who gave gifts to children. The modern version of this jolly old man is said to come from Clement C. Moore's 1823 poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas."

            Many people struggle to believe in Santa, but not me. How could I not? Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Rudolph and Santa pranced across my black and white television, while Santa promoted the latest products during commercial breaks. I dreamed of pulling Chatty Cathy’s ring to hear what she’d say next, and Ronco’s Veg-O-Matic sliced and diced its way into my heart. At my step-father’s company parties, Santa ho-ho-hoed his way around the room, handing out mesh stockings stuffed with oranges and nuts. I considered this a precursor to the glorious array of presents that would surely appear under our tree on Christmas morn.

             Santa did not forget the new pioneer town of Grand Junction, in 1882, when it officially celebrated Christmas for the first time. Two main events capped the holiday. The Randall House cleared their dining hall for a ball and buffet, while at the new Crawford House, the town founder, George Crawford, began their festivities with a little political speech. Following him were religious recitations and songs, and then Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus appeared. They removed presents from the candle-lit tree and distributed them to the children. 

The Randall House on the NE corner of Main and 5th. Courtesy Museum of Western Colorado

            Our valley has never been shy of Christmas spirit. Main Street is annually spruced up with boughs of greenery and colored lights, and if we are lucky, a nice layer of snow. Pretty storefronts call to coated shoppers, and carols are sung on street corners. Around the turn of the century, William Moyer, owner of The Fair department store, invited Santa to greet the local children in his toy section. When Santa couldn’t make it (due to Rudolph being sick or an elf uprising), his employee, Frank “Dad” Smith, sat in, and no one was the wiser. Santa made that his main stop until the mid 1930s, when The Fair closed.

                         

Frank “Dad” Smith and grandson, Bill Moyer Orr, 1933, courtesy Sally Pahler                                                Christmas lights on Main St, December 1940, courtesy Donna Patton

            Soon after, Santa began arriving on Main Street. He still does. In the crisp chill air, children of all ages sit on his lap and share their desires. Santa’s elves wait close by. During the rough years of the Depression, Santa’s helpers took on different personas. Firemen repaired donated toys, which were handed out on Christmas Day, at the Avalon Theater. There, the “Soup Eaters” program presented a free movie, and every child ate a yummy bowl of soup. At the same time, the “Sub-for-Santa” program helped fill pantries of the destitute. Today, Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army, and many other organizations bring tidings of comfort and joy into needy households.

            One very special Christmas took place—not on a snowy winter day—but in the heat of summer.  It was deep in the Depression, and a newspaper reporter discovered that a sick, young boy would not make it to December.  The family was staying at a makeshift boxcar home at the depot tracks, like many families of that time.  The Daily Sentinel didn’t use names, but called out to the town’s citizens for help. The boy was dying, and everyone pitched in to bring Christmas in July to him. They gathered money and toys and bestowed them on the boy and his family. That sun-scorched day saw a slew of “Santas” bring joy into a sad situation, and the experience rekindled hope for a world-weary town.

A typical boxcar home of the Depression, inhabited by Moses and Susie Sherman of Montana, Courtesy Susan Edminster

            I’m nearly sixty-years-old now, but my childhood Christmases are cherished and happy memories. Toys, cookies, Santa, Christmas trees, decorations, goodwill towards man, and the Christ Child are what I remember, and for those years when I, too, am world-weary, the thought of Christmas transforms me. Happy holidays, and may you be transformed, too.

           

             

 

 

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