Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Spokane's First Documented Christmas Celebration and Other Memories

By Kris Krell

 Spokane’s First Documented Christmas Celebration and Other Memories

When I was growing up in South Dakota and Iowa in the 1950s and 1960s, we sometimes travelled Christmas morning to celebrate Christmas with my mom’s family in Meckling, South Dakota—just about an hour’s drive from home.  Sometimes my adult brothers’  and their wives and children lived in the town where we were living, so we stayed home and celebrated with them.  

Somewhere along the way, when I was in fourth grade, and we were living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the first time, we celebrated at home on Christmas Eve and in the morning travelled to Meckling. 

That was kind of farsighted on my parents’ part because our next move later that year took us from Sioux Falls to Salt Lake City, Utah.  We were back to celebrating just with mom, dad, and my two sister’s that were three years younger and three years older than me.

Four years later when we moved to Rapid City, South Dakota, we continued to celebrate by ourselves as the nearest family was about 6 hours away.  

We still celebrate on Christmas Eve with my older brother and sister, my younger sister, her husband and their three sons  (my nephews) and now their wives, their children, and their wives’ parents.  Our gatherings have doubled in size but the more the merrier, right?

The first documented Christmas celebration in Spokane was downtown in 1874.  Five families with eight children combined their resources and wanted to have for their children the most elaborate Christmas and New Year’s celebrations they could manage.  The families—the James Glovers, the Yeatons, the Henry Cowleys, the Swifts, and the Pooles prepared the two holiday dinners and purchased a Christmas tree.  

Another nostalgic recounting in 1924 of an 1878 Christmas memory was that of W.C. Gray, owner of the California House hotel.  The Christmas celebration was held at the James Glover’s house, a five-room home; half logs and half wood.  The weather was mild.  Christmas carols were sung—Silent Night, When Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night, along with others.  Mrs. Glover played the organ and treated guests with coffee, cake, and apples.

In 1927, Frank M. Dallman, founder of the Spokane Review newspaper recollected about his first Christmas in Spokane in 1883.  Frank believed that Christmas was very important to children. He said that very few stores in the area provided for Christmas—no trinkets, no books, or playthings for children. Dallam remembered that they found some nuts “that looked as though they came over on the Mayflower “ and a few pounds of stick candy.   Dallman’s wife made some cloth dolls for gifts.  When Christmas morning arrived that 1883, the children rushed for their stockings and everyone was happy because their wants were few and it was easy to provide for those wants.

Just a side note relating to a more current Spokane Christmas holiday, the Crescent Christmas windows are back after being in storage for 30 years!  Six windows at the Spokane Grand Hotel are filled with the animatronic characters that were so popular from the 1950s to the 1980s.  The windows will be on display until January 2, 2018. 


Source:  The Spokesman-Review, Then and Now:  Spokane Christmas through the years, December 7, 2015

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