The Christmas season has always been a special time in Westminster. For many generations, the city came together for a community celebration and a parade that we called the Christmas Treat, just days before Christmas.
The Democratic Advocate carried a headline on Dec. 26, 1947: “3000 Children Receive Presents.” The article reported upon the “successful celebration of the finest Christmas treat to the children of Carroll County since the ending of World War II.
“A parade … 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. Up until the 1970s, much of the main business district in Westminster was on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Over 50 years ago the downtown-shopping district included East Green Street, West and East Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Some of the many shops and businesses on Pennsylvania Avenue included Earhart Motors, O’Farrell Brothers Pontiac, The Avenue Barber Shop, Westminster TV and Radio Shop, Carroll Electric Service, Dutty’s Beauty Salon, Everhart’s Barber Shop, Wine’s Sports Shop, and Wilson’s Garage to name just a few.
Moreover, who can forget the huge toy department in Hollander’s Auto Store, Bobby’s Hobby Lobby, Rosenstock’s Ladies’ Shop, Gehr’s Hardware Store, The Treat Shop, and the Bixler and Guild Drug Store on Main Street.
The early parades marched west along Main Street to the “Forks” at Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue where Santa Claus had his “temporary residence.” The jolly old fellow moved in the early 2000s to Locust Lane, along with the Westminster Community Christmas Tree.
Main Street was decorated with large colored light bulbs that were strung on both sides of the street as well as across the street at various points. These strands were covered with live holly that had been meticulously wrapped around the wiring.
The Democratic Advocate on Dec. 26, 1947, describes the parade with the “city’s two bands,” the American Legion, and the 29th Division Association. Christmas carols, led by Kale Mathias, were sung by the community. Santa often rode on a float, but was also known to come to town on a fire truck.
Times have changed. Pennsylvania Avenue is no longer the middle of business activity and the center of town is now considered to be the park at Locust Lane.
Many years ago, including my childhood years in Westminster in the 1950s, a gift of oranges was considered to be particularly special. The 1946 newspaper article reported, “Many parents accompanied the children, and those under 12 years of age each received a box of candy, orange and noisemaker. The children came from all over the county’s rolling farmland…”
In 1983, Tom Doerr penned an article about Westminster’s Christmas celebrations titled, “The Christmas Treat” 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 1960′s, 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….”
Much more research is needed to determine when the Christmas Treat tradition began in Westminster. Although previous research indicates that one of the earliest references to a community Christmas tree occurs in a history of the Westminster Woman’s Club which mentions a Westminster community Christmas tree lighting celebration on Dec. 20, 1928, at the forks of West Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue…” historian Jay Graybeal reported in research he did for the Historical Society in the 1990s that the community Christmas traditions date “back to 1903 and 1904… The big event along Main street occurred on the afternoon before Christmas day.” Oral tradition indicates that the community started to come together for Christmas after the Civil War.
Of course, the history of the Christmas holidays in Westminster is one of my favorite topics. A good bit of this particular aspect of Westminster history has been published before in the Westminster Advocate on March 16, 2005, and in the Baltimore Sun on Dec. 22, 2013. However, good positive news needs to be repeated often in a community newspaper – especially at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
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Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.