Christmas past

Holiday spirit brought a sweet, simple season

Long before Grapevine was officially named the Christmas Capital of Texas, the holiday season in the city was a special time.

"What I remember most from my childhood is the smells of Christmas," recalled Mayor William D. Tate, a lifelong resident. "The fresh fruit, the nuts, the fir trees and the candles.

"The smells blended together and it created the unforgettable smell of Christmas," said Tate, 73.

He grew up in an era of greater simplicity, before artificial trees, strings of lights, even before printed wrapping paper.

Gifts were wrapped in colored tissue paper and tied with quarter-inch ribbon. Mandatory rationing during World War II meant that most people recycled their wrapping paper, he said.

"Everyone cut the tape carefully with a scissors so they didn't tear the paper," he said.

Main Street, now aglow with millions of twinkling lights and abuzz with festive events, was quieter and a lot darker.

Shop owners decorated by having an image of Santa Claus, a candle or reindeer painted on their windows. Stores only stayed open late on Saturday evenings and Christmas Eve.

"People shopped later because they were waiting on that last paycheck," he recalled.

For Tate and other long-time residents, the candlelight service at First Methodist Church (now First United Methodist) was the highlight of the season.

Created by Madeleine Hemley, the choir director for the church and music teacher in the Grapevine school district, the service was always on the second Sunday in December.

"Everyone in the community would come, whether they were members or not," said Sue Franks, a lifelong resident.

Before the event, church members would gather mistletoe and dip it in starch to give it a flocked look, she said.

The church was decorated with the mistletoe and hundreds of candles.

Each person who attended was given a candle. At the end of the service, the sanctuary lights were turned off and the candles were lighted while church bells chimed for about 30 minutes.

"It was the most beautiful sight you have ever seen," Franks said.

Tate said fruit was given away to the less fortunate during the service.

The event set the rush of the season in motion.

Before artificial Christmas trees, early December was the time to buy a fresh-cut tree so it wouldn't dry out before Christmas came.

Tate, whose family owned a grocery store and hardware shop on Main Street, remembers nailing strips of wood on the trees for temporary stands.

While much has changed in the past 50 years, even more had changed since pioneer times when Tate's parents were born. Work didn't stop for Christmas back then.

"My father was born on Christmas Eve in the back of a wagon where his mother had been picking cotton along Denton Creek," he said. "She put him in a shoebox filled with cotton to keep him warm."

Gift-giving also was drastically


"Christmas back then wasn't the big deal it is now," he said. "You maybe got a pair of socks or if the crops were good that year, a new pair of shoes."


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