ANOTHER VIEW: Revisiting the Christmas season of a century ago

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An advertisement in the Dec. 16, 1922, edition of the Accomac-based Peninsula Enterprise newspaper said Santa Claus did his shopping at the Ward and Kellam store in Belle Haven. Another Christmas advertisement, for Watts Brothers, the men’s clothier in Parksley, offered “gifts he wants.” The Evans Theatre on Saxis Island had a show set for the day after Christmas. 

The newspaper of a century ago portrays an era of innocence and warmth — two words closely associated with Christmas.

Nostalgia always reigns at Christmas, if we are to believe the carols and other songs.  

The narrator in “White Christmas” is “dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.” In the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the past is a respite from present troubles: “Happy golden days of yore.”

On the Eastern Shore 100 years ago, with one world war behind them and the Great Depression coming up, life indeed seemed hopeful and bountiful. 

It is the nostalgic yuletide I imagine in the carols — the tiny-tots-with-their-eyes-all-aglow Christmas. 

On page 2 of the Enterprise newspaper, there was a story listing the heaviest hogs killed in Accomack County — A.B. Somers of Hopeton had one weighing 998 pounds. And there was news that the Atlantic Methodist Protestant Church, “one of the handsomest churches on the Eastern Shore,” was dedicated Dec. 10. 

On page 4, Leatherbury’s Department Store in Onancock — “the practical gift store,” the slogan boasted — advertised gloves, handbags, and “the prettiest Christmas handkerchiefs.” 

On page 6, however, was the real Christmas special: letters to Santa Claus from Eastern Shore children, like these, quoted verbatim:

Dear Old Santy:

I am a little boy six years old. I bring my mamma’s wood in and fill up her stove. I want you to bring me a ball, some tin soldiers, dancing top and electric train, billy goat cart, some oranges, nuts and candy. Don’t forget about Ma and Pa and Fogger and bring Daddy some cigarettes. With Love.

O. Page Mason

Mears, Va.

My dear Santa Claus,

Please bring me a blackboard, writing desk a wrist watch, a cherry girl and some candy, nuts and oranges.

Your little girl,

Margaret Trader

Mears, Va.

Dear Santa Claus:

Please bring me a little writing desk, a pair of rubber boots, a knife, some fireworks and some apples, candy, nuts and oranges.

Don’t forget to trim my tree real pretty, and bring me anything else you think I need. I am a little boy nearly six years old in the first grade.

Your little boy,

Carlton Lee Byrd

Mears, Va.

On page 11, for those who wanted bigger gifts, M.V. Richards, the agent for Accomack and Northampton counties, was advertising six-cylinder Model 45 Buick cars for $1,195. 

On page 12, Belote, Lewis and Company of Chincoteague was offering Christmas gifts including jewelry, cut glass, and China. 

Not all the advertisements included Christmas, however. 

On page 15, the Harry T. White and Son of Makemie Park was “prepared to furnish the best grade of coal, well screened and guaranteed correct weight.” And the Cherrix Garage, 17 Church St., Chincoteague, advertised that repairing cars was “a specialty.”

A century later, hog slaughters dropped from the headlines. Businesses stopped advertising coal. Apples and oranges were no longer included on children’s letters to Santa.

But the Christmas spirit of innocence and warmth remains on the Eastern Shore. Times have changed but the feelings are the same. May they ever be. 

The writer is editor and general manager of the Eastern Shore Post. Reach him at [email protected].

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