Past Times

Christmas Eve in Raleigh 1916: Shopping and firecrackers, but no ‘hullabaloo’

A giant Christmas tree was the centerpiece of this party at Saint Mary’s School in the 1910s.
A giant Christmas tree was the centerpiece of this party at Saint Mary’s School in the 1910s. J. C. Knowles Collection, State Archives of North Carolina

The exhilaration of holiday shopping and preparation was evident as Raleigh residents settled in for a Christmas Eve Sunday 100 years ago. N&O headlines that morning exclaimed “Christmas Takes Raleigh by Storm.”

Raleigh held up Santa Claus yesterday, stripped the jovial, rosy featured old gentleman of his choice offerings, appropriated his spirit, and sat down to wait through a Sunday Christmas eve for the anti-climax of Christmas.

Altogether, it has been a season of shopping early, shopping late and shopping mightily, all the time. Up-town stores, late last night, when they closed their doors against the last procrastinating purchaser, resembled a bargain counter after a fire sale. The buying was not of trifles, either. Merchants say that never before has there been such an enormous investment in high priced gifts, and such a heavy sale of all things.

Hundreds and hundreds of men, women, children, crowded, pushed, elbowed and squirmed their way up and down Fayetteville street into shops and out of shops. The absence of bundles was a curiosity in any man. The proclamation “Peace and Good Will Toward Man” hummed in the rush of the crowd, cried out in the rattle of the traffic, and kept time in the clatter of footsteps. Even the city ordinance against fire crackers and unseemly noise took a vacation while small boys and many large ones displayed their own good feelings in the crash of explosives. Liquor was seemingly absent from the joy filled throng and its accompanying disorder and hullabaloo were gone with it.

The postoffice, clogged to the limit of its clogging, the express office piled and packed with boxes to be delivered, the freight offices doing their best to relieve the congestion – all of them told in the impolite rush to be done with it all, the commercial end of Christmas. Mail matter and parcel post have broken records. For the first time the Southern Express Company has found it necessary to operate a special express train of five or six cars from Washington to Hamlet and occasionally to Jacksonville, in addition to the regular service. It was not all liquor either. Expressmen say that while the quantity of liquor shipped in for Christmas is not larger than last Christmas it is far smaller than Christmas two years past.

Even then, there were disappointments and disappointments in the whiskey department of the express company yesterday. More than one red nosed hopeful went in satisfied and came out dejected. It simply was not there.

The benevolence of the past Christmas season, for some reason, has never been beaten. It stands alone for the co-operation of those who have, to give to those who have not. … Raleigh was canvassed for the needy. Hundreds of Christmas dinners will be steaming on tables unused to every day plenty, and hundreds of children will get Santa Claus visits where Santa has not been known, just because of that co-operation.

Churches will be filled with Sunday worshipers today and the Christmas music, long practiced by the choirs of the various churches, will be sung. The day will be quiet, for Christmas eve. Really Saturday was that day, and this merely a stage of transition, a preparation for the greater peace tomorrow.

Then will come another Sunday like day. But the peace of it will be shattered occasionally with the small boy’s fire cracker and blank pistol. The N&O Dec. 24, 1916

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Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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