The Christmas season has always been a special time in Westminster. For generations; long before our current tradition of an electric light parade right after Thanksgiving, the city came together for a community celebration and a parade called the Christmas Treat.
The Democratic Advocate on Dec. 26, 1947, reported the "successful celebration of the finest Christmas treat to the children of Carroll County since the ending of World War II.
"A parade consisting of the newly organized Moleville Post of [the Veterans of] Foreign Wars drum corps with majorettes, marched from the Armory over Main street to the place of celebration. Santa Claus rode in a large float with a mail box, and Boy and Girl Scouts collected letters and placed them in the box. The parade ended at the 'forks' where the community Christmas tree was lighted…"
For much of the history of Westminster, the center of town was considered to be the "forks," — the intersection of West Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Times have changed. The center of town is now considered to be the park at Locust Lane. Government does not dare use the words "Christmas" or "Hanukkah." And technology, not fruit, is at the top of the Christmas list for most folks. In my childhood years in Westminster in the 1950s, our favorite fruit was not an "Apple" computer. A gift of oranges was considered to be particularly special.
In 1983, Tom Doerr penned an article about Westminster's Christmas celebrations in "Westminster Past Times," a publication of the City of Westminster and the Downtown Development Committee.
Doerr noted, "For as long as anyone around Carroll County can seem to remember, the City of Westminster has sponsored an annual yuletide celebration called The Christmas Treat. A stocking full of candy and an orange are the traditional presents given by the City's elders to the young of the area."
"At one point," Doerr wrote, "starting in the expansive year of 1926, a noisemaker was added to the spoils. It is hard to picture today, but until the 1960s, thousands of children took part in this annual ritual of carols, a parade, speeches and gift giving. In 1934, four thousand treats were distributed…Schools were closed a half day early so that all children might attend. The organizing committee for the affair membered more than 30 people, and the Christmas Treat appeared for many years as a separate and substantial category in the City's spartan budget."
One of the earliest references to a community Christmas tree occurs in a history of the Westminster Woman's Club, which mentions a community Christmas tree lighting celebration on Dec. 20, 1928, at the forks.
Historian Jay Graybeal's research for the Historical Society in the 1990s indicated that going "back to 1903 and 1904… The big event along Main street occurred on the afternoon before Christmas day. Miller Bros. held open house for hundreds of children.
"It was gift day, and how they 'thronged into the 'men's side', through the arch and out the 'ladies' side'. With the help of Harry Cootes, 'Dad' Reaver, Baily Morelock, Oliver M. Crouse and the proprietors-Fred D. and Frank Z. Miller, every child was assured of a horn, a rattler, or a whistle or whatever the gift may be…"
When he's not singing "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas," and enjoying eating his Christmas oranges, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org