by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
I wrote a portion of this week’s article for The Voice, a monthly Historical Society newsletter, back in 2017. I find that today, 4 years later, while my memories are still fresh, I still haven’t been able to learn “who was that man behind the beard?”
Who doesn’t have memories of Christmas, regardless of your heritage? Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, or any number of secular or religious holidays, they all share a common thread...family!!
How did/does your family spend the holidays? After nearly twenty-one months of some type of Covid “lockdown,” Grain Valley residents are looking forward to celebrating with family and friends. One common thread seems to be Christmas will be spread out over several days as different children and grandchildren will be arriving at different times. Some responded with, “this is the year our son/daughter will be spending Christmas with their wife/husband’s family.”
It made me think back to the 1950s and 1960s and a less mobile society. Some families might have two Christmas dinners, but they were usually on the same day and only a few blocks or miles apart. ! I suspect growing up in Grain Valley in those days was quite similar to many small towns. From Thanksgiving until December 25, the routine was much the same each year.
At school, our music teacher began rehearsals for the annual! Christmas pageant. I do not recall many specifics about those years, but I do remember in first grade that all of the girls in my class were dolls. I wore a white frilly blouse and a red taffeta skirt. My mother attached bows on the ruffle with tiny bells that jingled when I danced. Each year the pageant had a theme and every grade performs along with the high school choral groups and the band. We probably had a cast of 250 students.
By the late 1950s we had grown so much we had to have two programs, one for the elementary students and one for the junior high and high school. Did any of you take part in one of the pageants?
Sometime in the mid 1950s, Tom Heidelberger planted an evergreen tree on the southwest corner of Front Street and Main. In those days that was the City Park. We still had the old railroad station where mail was delivered until about 1960. The city park was also the site of “free shows” in the summer. !
Each year in early December, Tom would sting the tree with colored lights. It became the town Christmas tree and remained so well into the 1970s. What began as a little tree about 5 or 6 feet tall, grew to be quite large. For many years, Tom provided more and more lights to the growing tree. Does anyone recall when the tree was cut down?
On the last Saturday before Christmas, Santa arrived in town to pass out candy and ask the age-old question, “What do you want Santa to bring you this year?”!
At that time there were only three churches in Grain Valley, but each one prepared for the holiday. Three of the biggest cedar trees in the area were chopped down as each Church add a tree to their sanctuary and a wreathe to the front door. Each of the churches had a Christmas Eve service. The Christmas story was acted out by the young people complete with Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wise men and, of course, angels, which were always girls! And then, after the scriptures and singing, there was Santa Claus!
Santa always came to school, too. He visited the all-school assembly and he made it to the elementary classrooms, too. Do any of you remember the “faces” of Santa? I’ve been trying to remember and have asked several people. If you are reading this story and can give me an answer, I would love to know.
Also, if you have photographs of Christmas in Grain Valley PLEASE consider sharing some with the Historical Society. Scan the photo and email to me at MLNMIZZOU@gmail.com. Or get them to me and I will scan and return the original. Remember, they don’t have to be “old” to be historical. 2021 will soon be “history” to future generations. Please help us to preserve that history.