Dayhoff: Unlike today, Christmas used to come and go quickly in Carroll County

In December 1896, the big news in town was the opening of the new Westminster train station.
In December 1896, the big news in town was the opening of the new Westminster train station. (Postcard courtesy of the Babylon-Dayhoff family collection)

Hopefully everyone has quickly recovered from visits with extended family, food, and celebrations as the Christmas season gives way to New Year revelries.

Interestingly, many years ago, most of the newspaper accounts about Christmas in Carroll County were not published until the week after Christmas. According to research by Mary Ann Ashcraft for the Historical Society of Carroll County, most of the advertisements for Christmas did not appear until well after the first day of December. Christmas was celebrated for a short period of time and folks quickly went back to the business of the day.


In December 1896, the big news in town wasn’t even Christmas, it was the opening of the new Westminster train station. Up until 1961, the station was located between the railroad tracks and where the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Library is now located.

A lengthy article in the Dec. 26, 1896 edition of the Democratic Advocate reported, “On Monday the new depot of the Western Maryland Railroad at this place, was thrown open for business … There is not a finer station in the State …” A big deal was made over the fact that the station had indoor bathrooms. “Toilet rooms for ladies and gentlemen open from each of the waiting rooms … and the mirror in the ladies' department is already in active operation.”


According to an article by local historian Tom Doerr, “The Christmas Treat,” in a newsprint publication from the City of Westminster and the Downtown Development Committee, “Westminster Past Times,” “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, 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.

“The new technology of the era played a role in the celebration during the twenties, when Santa flew in for the parade from the North Pole in an airplane. Santa also made regular radio addresses to the children leading up to the treat in 1926, and according to … The Democratic Advocate, Santa said, ‘I want to greet the good little boys and girls of Carroll County, both white and colored, and will only have gifts for the ones present.’”

Christmas in Westminster almost did not take place in 1930. According to Doerr, “The harsh drought of 1930, combined with the stock market crash and the early stages of the depression, caused Mayor George Matthews to cancel the treat that year…

“The four hundred dollars set aside for candy, fruit, and toys was donated to the Children's Aid Society ‘to be used exclusively for providing fuel, food, and clothing for the families of the unemployed who may be in need,’ according to the [city] record[s]…

“However, cancellation of the treat did not force cancellation of the parade, speeches, and music. Alas, the turnout was so sparse that Mayor Matthews was forced to reinstitute the treat itself, saying that the people had spoken their will…”

Of course, in 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor earlier in the month; civil defense was on the minds of many in the community. Right after Christmas “the local press carried a mix of holiday stories about community events next to wartime articles… [Including] a nearly full-page announcement entitled “What to Do in an Air Raid” from W. Warfield Babylon, Air Raid Warden for Carroll County ...,” according to research by Jay Graybeal for the Historical Society of Carroll County.

The advice in the announcement was to “Keep Kool … Don’t lose your head. Do not crowd the streets, avoid chaos, and prevent disorder and havoc. You can fool the enemy. It is easy. If planes come over, stay where you are. Don’t phone unnecessarily. The chance you will be hit is small. It is part of the risk we must take to win this war.”

Years ago, Christmas may not have been celebrated nonstop from Halloween through the New Year as it is today; but there is still a rich Christmas history story to tell in Carroll County and it has been the topic of well over 60 articles by this writer in the last 20 years. So, as you can imagine a portion of this column has been published before, especially in a much shorter version of this column in December of 2013.

Happy New Year.

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