Abbeville, Louisiana: Memories of Past Christmas Seasons
Below is an letter to the editor published in the Abbeville Meridional. It was written by Ken Dupuy, Author of "Journeys into the Past,/Abbeville, Louisiana,/The Early Years." (Published in 2008). The letter is published with the permission of by Ken Dupuy and the Abbeville Meridional.
December 17, 1998
In 1931, one of the oaks on Magdalen Square--probably the one across from the bank, as it was described in 1934--was lit up with beautiful colored electric lights, beginning on December 22. It was so well received by the public that it was decided to leave the lights until after the holidays.
In 1934, the oak tree on Magdalen Square across from the Bank of Abbeville was illuminated with 135 colored electric lights. Some of the lights on this square and on the courthouse square were also decorated with colored lights. I assume that these lights were the regular five-ball lights, the only existing one being on the northwest corner of the courthouse.
For Christmas 1938, the city placed streamers of colored lights--some 700 of them--all around the courthouse square. Additionally, another 277 lights were put on a Christmas tree at the Water & Light Plant, and 84 more lights were put on the plant's building. Even the "small trees" on Magdalen Square were decorated "for the season." Also, local home owners put up indoor and outdoor Christmas trees. Finally, the "business places...decorated very beautifully."
In 1939, the town had the "business sections lighted up with colored lights," and there were "decorated lawn Christmas trees" again. However, in 1939, there was a $15 first prize, and a $10 second prize for the best decorated trees. First prize went to Mrs.
Emmett W. Henry, who lived on South Main Street. The second prize was awarded to Mrs. Landry Stansbury, who resided on South State Street.
Also in 1939, a "community Christmas tree" stood on the courthouse square. Our previous courthouse was about a third of the size of our present one, so large crowds could gather on that square. Over 1,000 presents were distributed to the needy children who lived "within the corporate limits of the Town." Pre-registration and proof of need were required. Each of the older individuals, who were eligible for gifts, were given a large bag of groceries. These presents were dispensed on December 24th, on the courthouse square by Santa, "represented by Buck Guarino." These gifts were made possible "through the cooperation of the different societies...the Fire Department and town officials." As early as 1926, funds had been collected to provide toys and food to Abbeville’s disadvantaged children. The celebration in 1939 had been enhanced by the singing of Christmas carols.
In 1940 and 1941, the "Christmas lights" continued to be a special feature of the holiday season. In 1941, even though Pearl Harbor had been attacked only 18 days before Christmas, these bright and joyful lights were "crisscrossed through the business section" of Abbeville, and the merchants had their "stores and show windows fully dressed for the season."
I would imagine that World War II must have curtailed such festivities after 1941, what with our men and boys dying on foreign soil--in yet another war--the nationwide rationing of essentials, and because of air raid restrictions. Was this yearly celebration of Christmas continued later? I don't know. I'm also unaware of whether the distribution of presents to the needy continued after the war.
Well, there you have it. Perhaps the old saying is true: "There are no new ideas." Be that as it may, let's hope that Abbeville--its city fathers and its citizens--continues a tradition that gladdens the hearts of all who see "Les Lumieres du Village d'Abbeville."
2. Interactive Timeline PowerPoint with the letter listed above. This PowerPoint includes the letter and an interactive timeline to complete. The students will read the story and complete slide 4 (Timeline).
4. Compare and Contrast any of the past or current events with Abbeville's Christmas history.
5. Read Mr. Dupuy's letter and write about what you learned.
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