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Merry Christmas from the Herald & Tribune’s past

The Christmas holidays have always been important in Tennessee’s oldest town. The above photograph from the Heritage Alliance’s archive shows this 85-foot spruce, located on West Main and 2nd streets, decked out in all its holiday glory. (Photo contributed)

By JOHN KIENER

Associate Editor

[email protected]

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the members of the Jonesborough Genealogical Society.

Everyone has their own memories of Christmas.  In “Feelings of Jonesborough,” Becky Poteat Sims expresses them the best as follows: “I love Christmas in Jonesborough with pine-bough trim, red lanterns, and red velvet bows.  It certainly captures the holiday spirit of Christmas past. I listen while youthful carolers through the streets sing, ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ and ‘Silent Night, Holy Night.’  I experience a feeling of peace and goodwill to all.  Quietly and gently, big white fluffy snowflakes begin to fall majestically on our town.  Merry Christmas, Jonesborough!”

A check of the Tennessee Blue Book indicates that “Christmas, December 25” is a legal holiday.  A look at An Encyclopedia of East Tennessee under the heading “Festivals and Events” reveals that the 61st and last event of the year is “Festival of Christmas Trees and Twelve Days of Christmas, Gatlinburg.”[In 2019 this is the fifth year in Tennessee’s Oldest Town that the Jonesborough Genealogical Society has decorated a tree at the Celebration of Trees at the Historic Visitors Center.]  Halfway through the Encyclopedia list, Number 32 is “Historic Jonesborough Days, Jonesboro, July.”

Merry Christmas has relatives in Washington County!  A look on pages 458 and 459 of History of Washington County, Tennessee, 1988 published by the Watauga Association of Genealogists  — Upper East Tennessee, states under the family name of “William Alburta Ray” –  Both “Little Bill” (as he was known) and Julia Jane came from old American families. His Ray ancestry in America dates to Thomas Ray (died in 1653) who settled about 1625 – 1630 near the mouth of the James River.  He married Merry Christmas, born 1608.  (Note her name.  She was the daughter of Doctoris William Christmas, who died 1655.)

Christmas is “Christ’s Mass,” according to the New Columbia Encyclopedia.   The text tells us that in the Christian calendar it celebrates the nativity of Jesus Christ.  According to their research, “The observance probably does not date earlier the A.D. 200 and did not become wide-spread until the 4th century.”  We find Christmas cards first appeared in 1846.  “The current figure of a jolly Santa Claus was first made popular in the 19th century.  The Christmas tree was a tradition from the Middle Ages in Germany.

The reason for choosing December 25 has been the subject of a lot of research.  The reasons for the date include its nearest to Epiphany, which in the East, originally included a commemoration of the nativity.  This information from the Columbia Encyclopedia also points out that: “The date of Christmas coincides closely with the winter solstice, a time of rejoicing among many cultures.”

The genealogy of Santa Claus, again taken from the encyclopedia, states: “Nicholas, Saint — patron of children and sailors, of Greece, Sicily, and Russia, and of many other places and persons.  Little is known of him, but he is traditionally identified as a 4th century bishop of Myra in Asia Minor.  His relics were stolen from Myra in the Middle Ages and taken to Bari, Italy.  St. Nicholas is the subject of many legends.  He is credited with restoring to life three boys who had been chopped up and pickled in salt by a butcher.  Another famous story concerns his giving three bags of gold to the daughters of a poor man and thus saving them from a life of prostitution. Later tradition transformed the bags into three gold balls, which became the symbol of pawnbrokers. 

“In the Netherlands and elsewhere St. Nicholas’ feast (December 6) is a children’s holiday, appropriate for gifts.  The English in Colonial New York adopted from the Dutch the now unrecognizable saint, calling him Santa Claus (a contraction of the Dutch Sint Nikolass).  They moved his feast to the English gift holiday, Christmas.  The career and qualities attributed to Santa Claus are recently acquired.”

I would welcome any addition to the genealogy of Santa Claus – for use in next year’s article.

Again, from Jonesborough, have a Happy Holiday Season!

                                                              PEACE ON EARTH…

Editor Kelly S. Arnold wrote: The coming of the Christmas season does something to the human psyche and attitude that would do well to stay with us 365 days a year.  The quotation from the Bible, “Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men…” is a sentiment that should not be reserved for just a couple of months out of the year.

As the economy’s effects strike the heart of the population of our country (and the world), as the homeless look once again for someplace warm to find shelter and food, and as old walls crumble [the Berlin Wall in Germany fell on November 9, 1989] and the opportunities for freedom and self-determination prosper, “peace and goodwill” should not become catch-phrases of the season but promises for the future.

As we approach a new century and millennium, let peace and goodwill be thought of each day, and let those thoughts affect our speech, our attitudes, and our futures.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy Life – ksa

  In 2019, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the staff of the Herald & Tribune: Publisher Lisa Whaley, Associate Editor John Kiener, Staff Writer Marina Waters, Advertising Manager Marcella Brooks Peek and Office / Circulation Manager Lorelei Goff.