Back When ... Payson Celebrated Together, Part 2

HISTORY

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At last the day arrived, usually around Dec. 20.

Town folk, along with those from the surrounding ranches, came together at the hall for their time of joyful socializing.

The Christmas tree celebration was a wonderful opportunity to affirm the importance of community.

This was the time to dress up in one's new duds, and the children often received their annual ration of new clothes to wear to the event.

Often there were 200 people present, and most brought pot-luck dishes for the common meal later in the evening.

The celebration might begin with the school's Christmas play, directed by Julia Randall. In turn she would lead the assemblage in the singing of Christmas carols while her sister, Cece Gibson, Mrs. William "Wash" Gibson, accompanied on the piano. The singing would end with "Jingle Bells" and that was the cue for Santa Claus to come bounding in.

Bill Boardman usually played the part, though Leni Cooper, Howard Childers, Bud Jones and Lewis Pyle took their turns wearing the velvet suit. The gifts from the tree were distributed by the old gift-giver, and then the Womans Club members assisted him in distributing the crinoline bags of candy, nuts, and fruit to everyone.

"Everyone" included the babies in arms. Those families who were absent were noted, and they would have their bag of Christmas cheer delivered the next day.

Anna Mae Deming recalls, "It was my duty one year to drive to the top of Ox Bow Hill to deliver Patty Walsh his candy bag. I took old Ben Butler his bag, and then rode horseback a mile north of our (Ogilvie) ranch in Star Valley to deliver a bag to old Bob Peace who was sick in bed with the flu. It was the only gift he received that year."

When the gift giving was over and Santa had retired, the littlest ones were bedded down on or under the wooden benches that lined the walls, and the dancing began. Everyone danced, including the children who were still awake. And who could sleep with the roof being raised by happy music?

Rose Childers tickled the ivories while Bill Haley played the saxophone, and over the years the fiddlers included Charlie McFarland, Sam Haught, "Pappy" Haught, Franz Cooper, Dave and Harry Goodfellow and Earl Jackson.

Midnight meant it was time for supper, and out would come the coveted covered dishes.

The midnight meal had been a tradition from the earliest days in Rim Country, when all night dances were held in rural schoolhouses. Kohl's, Rim Rock, Pine, Strawberry, Myrtle, Gisela all had been the scene of neighborly gatherings that lasted all night.

After coming long distances from an isolated ranch and doing this only on occasion, who would think of leaving early? After the midnight meal the dance continued for the hardy until breakfast and a reluctant departure.

Times changed, as they always do. The town was growing and there were too many people to accommodate with gift bags.

One year the celebration was marred by a terrible occurrence. The candy bags and gifts were all stolen the night before the celebration. What had been a close-knit community of people helping one another was eroded by newcomers and less neighborly times.

By 1940 the tradition of the community Christmas tree had disappeared. But lest we become too sad, we remember that other traditions have come to take its place.

These days we look forward to going about the town and observing the Christmas decorations on the houses and in the yards. We have begun an Electric Light parade down Main Street. We may be too large a community to gather at one dance hall, but we can still wave as we walk or ride, know our neighbors and police officers by name, and count on the local newspaper to fill us in on all the happenings.

Then there is that sense of "community" that we find in our churches, the service clubs, the societies and leagues that bind people and families together for fellowship and mutual help.

Times change, but our needs are the same. Let us continue to find ways to meet one another's needs as the community Christmas tree did during its nearly 50-year history.

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