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Christmas shines with past holiday treasures



Associate Editor

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(Recalling Christmas memories sparks a wave of nostalgia in most of us.  A couple of hours looking through back editions of the Herald & Tribune produced the following articles about the season.  For many years, Paul Fink, the County Historian, supplied a history column for the H & T.  This story begins with one of Fink’s articles titled “Did You Know… Some of the Old-time Christmas Customs? – Editor)

From the Knoxville Argus about 1825.

“At an early hour, they (the students) take possession of the schoolhouse, kindle large fires in the chimneys, barricade the door, and wait, with shouts of defiance, for the arrival of the master.  He arrives and is denied entrance…Sometimes he calls others to assist in re-establishing his authority; but the besieged refuse to surrender, unless upon terms of honorable capitulation—a treat and a week of holidays. (Eventually, after capture, and what was described as a “cold bath,” the teacher agrees to his students’ terms.)

Fink writes that someone is the sent “for apples and cider, and sometimes, for refreshments of a more stimulating kind.  A general merriment and exhilaration follow, in which victors and the vanquished united in reciting with cordial glee, both the tragic and comic of the siege.

“The holidays are spent in rural sports and manly amusements.  The good wishes of the season obliterate all recollections of past differences between master and boys, and when on the next Monday, ‘books” is called, each one quietly and cheerfully resumes his proper position in the school-house…

“They (the students) continue studious and obedient until the approach of the next Christmas.”

This Christmas story was published in the Wednesday, December 22, 1993 edition of the Herald & Tribune.  Editor Kelly S. Arnold told readers under a heading marked “OPINION” — “If you had a chance to travel through downtown  Jonesborough at night, you have been treated to one of the finest displays of the Christmas spirit of any town in the area.  The decorations and lights are absolutely beautiful.”  The paper sold for 25 cents a copy or $10.00 a year.

Front page stories included a veterans’ honor for Jimmy Quillen, an article about ETSU re-accreditation, and information about state efforts to sign up eligible individuals for Medicaid. Washington County’s Fall Branch School received a historical marker approved by the Tennessee Historical Commission in recognition of its 150th anniversary.

On other pages, the Herald & Tribune printed two pages of Letters to Santa.  Among the letters, Hannah Cox wrote, “I know what I want.  I want a new desk for my room.  A watch for time.  I want a big T.V. for all of us, a lot of video games, a new fish, a frog and a new baby brother.  He needs to be 2 months old.”  Other letters wished “poor people would get clothes and a house.”  One writer said she wanted “ten presents this year.”

Agriculture Extension Agent Claudine Dixon wrote an article titled “An Ethnic Tour of the Holidays.” She told readers: “Let’s travel around the country and have an ethnic tour of the holidays… The Christmas Tree: Brought to this country in 1747 when the Germans settled in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania…Candles in the Window…An old Irish custom.  When Christmas was outlawed in Ireland by the Puritans in the 1600s, priests hid in the forests to escape persecution.  During the holiday season, Irish Catholic families placed lit candles in their windows in the hope that a priest would find his way to the house and bless it.  When the Irish came here in the 1800s, they continued this practice and the idea caught on rapidly. .Santa Claus…This jolly man in a red suit was based on the legend of St. Nicholas who was born of a rich and noble family in the third century…Left an orphan, he devoted his life to helping other people…However, the Santa Claus we know today – with rosy red cheeks and plump belly – was described in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,’ and a friend submitted it to a local newspaper… Poinsettias…This beautiful flower got its name from Dr. Joel Robert Poinsett, Ambassador to Mexico, who brought it here in 1829.  It is referred to by the Mexicans as ‘The Flower of the Holy Night.’’ Christmas Carols…The first was written by St. Francis of Assi in Italy in the 13th Century.  But, most of the carols we sing today originated in the 1800s.  ‘Silent Night’ was written by a priest and set to music by the local schoolmaster in the Austrian Alps in 1818. ‘O Holy Night” became the traditional song of peace when on Christmas Eve, 1870, a French soldier jumped up and sang it while facing fire of German troops.  The battle is said to have stopped and for the rest of the night there was peace on earth.  Christmas Wreaths…This familiar sight of the holiday season originated from the Advent wreath use in Germany… No matter where a wreath is used, its symbolic circle reminds us of the everlasting life promised through the Christ Child and the everlasting love of family and friends.”

Ten years ago, the Herald and Tribune was published with a dateline of Christmas day—Tuesday, December 25, 2007.  Readers were told “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” in a reprint of an editorial by Francis Pharcellus Church originally printed in the New York Sun in 1897.  A second editorial by the newspaper’s staff was headlined “Pray for peace during holidays” that read in part”…Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday of the Christian year…Christmas customs are centuries old  The mistletoe, for example, comes from the Druids, who in hanging the mistletoe, hoped for peace and good fortune.  In this year of continuing combat by Unite States Armed Forces in sites throughout the world, the Herald & Tribune hopes that next December 25th the troops will be headed home.  A joyous Christmas 2008 in the newspaper’s opinion would include the gift of the return of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq…Merry Christmas!”

“Positive Points” by Linda Poland listed “Top 10 gifts for the Christmas holidays –Gift 10 – Affection—A huge Hug; Gift 9 – Favor – A special favor; Gift 8 -Game—A complete game; Gift 7—Laughter – 30 minutes of fun; Gift 6 –Prayer—Prayer request of your choice; Gift 5 – Compliment – One special compliment; Gift 4—Disposition–A Cheerful Disposition for not less than  one hour; Gift 3 – Listening– One-half hour of undivided attention listening; Gift 2 – Note – No more than one full page and not less than twenty-five words; Gift 1 – Forgiveness – Forgive all past hurts.” Poland wrote that a friend sent her the list of 10 gifts and “…it really made me appreciate the simplicity of Christmas.”

Staff writer Heather E. Seay wrote an article that was headlined “There’s nothing like a real Christmas tree” with quotes from local organic Christmas tree farmer Curtis Buchanan.  Also quoted were Bobby and Beth Westbrook, who operate a Christmas Tree Farm in Fall Branch.

Letters to Santa included a story written by Publisher Lynn J. Richardson describing the work of Valorie Hall, a letter carrier “who has official permission from the Post Office to take on a second seasonal job – Personal Assistant to Santa Claus.”  Ms. Cooper’s kindergarten class at West View Elementary School wrote letters to Santa with help from Mrs. Fleenor’s seventh graders.  The requests as published read: “Tony would like a skateboard and a monster truck; Bailey wants a Hannah Montana doll; Josh wants a Leapster in his stocking; Brandon would like a guitar, a boat, a barn and a tool set; Arien wants a dirt bike and a farm set; Dakota wants a toy truck; Megan wants a skateboard for her dog; Jessi wants a Dora cooking kitchen; Ethans asks for an e-pet and a reindeer webkinz; Cheyenne wouldn’t mind some makeup; Kai wants a toy rocket ship and a motorcycle; Hunter wants a big brown teddy bear; Marshall wants an airplane and a Cardinals baseball cap; Tabatha would like a television, a computer, and a bike; Kaine would like a fish and some turtle stuff, but also wants Santa to bring her teacher some love; Haley ask for an mp3 player, pillows, a horse and a camera for Ms. Cooper; Cassidy requests a puppy, a cat and a drawing board; Eric wants a toy Escalade and a boat; Jonathan would like a monster truck.”

    It has been 10 years since this list was compiled.  It would be interesting to know what these students’ Christmas lists look like in 2017.  Merry Christmas!