A History of Christmas in Jeffersontown
Writer / Beth Wilder
Christmas seems such a part of tradition now, that it is hard to imagine there being a time when it was not observed as a national holiday. Nevertheless – in America, at least – it did not become a huge celebration until the mid-1800s.
Even in the early 1900s, many residents did not do much in observance of Christmas. A rather typical example of Jeffersontown Christmas celebrations was related by local resident Marcia Bryan Horton, who was born 1916. She did not remember celebrating Christmas at the Jeffersontown Presbyterian Church before the late 1920s (possibly because at one time the Presbyterian Church in Scotland forbade celebrating Easter and Christmas), although they did celebrate it at home, thanks to her German great-grandmother.
They chopped down a cedar tree from their back field on Christmas Eve and set out a box of ornaments for Santa to decorate the tree during the night while the children slept. Real candles were used to light the tree on Christmas day, and a handful of gifts were exchanged. Sometimes, Marcia got to string popcorn to hang in garlands around the tree. After Christmas, there always seemed to be big, bare sections of thread behind the tree — Marcia noted there was just “something special about cedar-flavored popcorn.”
Much of what Marcia learned about Christmas celebrations was gleaned from books and trips to Louisville during the season. Around 1925, the Courier-Journal & Louisville Times sponsored a Santa Claus, complete with a sleigh, six reindeer and a real Eskimo to tend the reindeer. Marcia had been waffling for years in her belief in Santa Claus but that one was so beautiful, she was certain he was real —until the crowd of children ended up shoving her next to him, and she saw the adhesive tape holding on his beard.
As she grew, Marcia realized many of her presents came from department stores in downtown Louisville, since she got to accompany her mother there for big shopping excursions. At the time, Jeffersontown had only a drugstore, a couple of grocery stores and a small drygoods store, so anything fancy usually had to be ordered from a catalog or purchased in Louisville.
Christmas was not all about gifts, however. Most presents were fairly simple. Christmas was really about the closeness of family. Making candy was one way to enjoy the happiness of being together at Christmas.
Marcia had to share her parents with all of Jeffersontown during the two to three weeks before Christmas, as they worked for the post office and were responsible for delivering all the Christmas cards and goodies around Jeffersontown. Marcia noted that her father received lots of gifts from the patrons on his postal route. Interestingly, she referred to “prosperous farmers with German names who gave him homemade sausage and liver pudding and mincemeat, and there were lots of cookies.”
So, it would appear in keeping with the times, that the Germans in town celebrated the holiday with a little more enthusiasm than those of other historic backgrounds. Still, most residents were probably celebrating Christmas in their own way at home since at least the mid-1800s, although the churches they belonged to may have waited until later to make special production of it.
As time wore on, churches and Jeffersontown seemed to take a more active role in spreading Christmas cheer. The 1948 issue of The Jeffersonian newspaper mentioned that Jeffersontown had a community Christmas tree, carol singing and a surprise party for the children that year.
By 1950, Jeffersontown’s Community Council had taken charge of what was to become an annual event to celebrate Christmas, lighting up a Christmas tree and a large Christmas card with greetings in the name of the community. Merchants on the town square were asked to decorate their businesses, with an award offered for the most outstanding. In 1952, residents were also encouraged to decorate their homes, in the hopes of receiving a prize.
Various local churches and community organizations worked hand-in-hand with the Jeffersontown Community Council to sponsor the Christmas festivities, but at the same time, they also were very involved with their own Christmas programs, parties and community service projects. Schools, likewise, spent a great deal of time and energy putting together Christmas programs and organizing projects to help needy families.
Jeffersontown has long kept that Christmas spirit and made it a part of every Christmas season, striving to make the holiday a little merrier for those less fortunate. As one civic club president stated in 1972, “Not only do we treat ourselves at Christmastime, but we honestly think just about as much of the other fellow.”
That principle is one which remains in effect to this very day for those who live and work in Jeffersontown and not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.