Puyallup: Opinion

Recalling early Christmas celebrations in Puyallup

Our Historical Society volunteers have decorated the Meeker Mansion for the Christmas season, and Whitworth Pest Control has again decorated the exterior. The valley is preparing for Christmas, just as it has for some 162 years, and yet few records exist of community holiday celebrations.

Last month, I mentioned a Thanksgiving celebration that took place at the end of the first World War. Here is the only other record I know of regarding local Thanksgiving celebrations and two Christmas traditions, almost 100 years apart.

Ten years after President Lincoln proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day, on Thanksgiving Day 1873, Eliza Jane Meeker organized a special event for the local school children of Elhi (at the bottom of the hill, east of Alderton).

Miss Delia McNeal described the festivities: “On Thanksgiving day we went to school as usual but just before noon, two wagons filled with people from the Franklin (Puyallup) neighborhood, drove up to the schoolhouse. I cannot recall the names of all that were in the surprise party but remember Mrs. Ezra Meeker seemed to be chaperone for the crowd. They came in until the room was filled to overflowing when they brought out their baskets and produced a ‘Thanksgiving Feast’ in which both pupils and teacher joined, thankful not only for the feast but for the kind hearts which prompted the visit.” (It is not known whether the school in Franklin was in session at this time. If so, it seems likely that Mrs. Meeker would have feted them as well since this is the school her children attended. However likely the event, no written record was left. “School at Elhi, Pierce County, Washington Territory 1873-74. Taught by Miss Delia McNeil.” Lori Price Collection, Puyallup Historical Society.)

Ezra Meeker described a similar community celebration of Christmas 1874 at the Franklin schoolhouse. Marion Meeker and a neighbor, Charles Ross, took a wagon up to the bluff south of Puyallup and cut a Christmas tree so large it filled a corner of the schoolhouse and nearly touched the ceiling. It was put on a turning pedestal with a curtain surrounding the lower portion of the tree hiding the mechanism that rotated it.

Small presents were placed on the limbs for decoration. The curtain hid the larger presents. Aunts and uncles, neighbors and their children all sat down to a venison and chicken dinner complete with roasted potatoes, homemade bread, cakes, mince pies and coffee galore. The crowd was so large that some had to eat outside, sitting on boxes or in their wagons.

After dinner, three adults dressed as Santas took the curtain down and called names for the presents. Everyone received two gifts, one large and one small. Willie Stewart was called out, then Charley Boatman and Carrie Meeker. When Santa delivered a present to 5-year-old Olive Meeker, it proved too much for her and she simply fainted. Some presents were handmade. Marion made his sister Carrie a pair of white dancing shoes out of buckskin. The minister received a sack of flour, some bacon and cloth for a new suit.

There was also some mischief making. Frank Spinning smuggled some pigtails into Santa’s hands as gifts for some of the boys. One pigtail accidentally ended up in the hands of a young girl who Ezra said was “mad as a March hare,” making Frank feel awful “sheepish.” As the evening wore on there was talking, singing and dancing (Ezra Meeker, Uncle Ezra’s Short Stories for Children, pp 6-11).

At the start of the holiday season in 1952, residents of 7th Avenue NW decided to decorate the 35 homes in their neighborhood. This soon became an annual tradition known locally as “Twinkle Lane.” For years a tall illuminated tree at 12th and Stewart marked the entrance to this attraction, and long lines of cars would drive slowly through the neighborhood. Twinkle Lane endured for 20 years until the combined effects of vandalism, neighbors moving away and the energy crisis of the early 1970s brought it to an end (Price and Anderson, Puyallup, A Pioneer Paradise, p.113).

If you are aware of documentation of other festivities, we’d love to hear about them.

The Puyallup Historical Society joins me in wishing all of you the best of the holiday season and a Happy New Year!

Andy Anderson is the historian of the Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion. You can email him at historyandy@comcast.net or call him at the Meeker Mansion at 253-848-1770.