From the Historian: Village Christmas memories

Jim Burlingame

As a community, East Rochester has always had families in mind. Holiday traditions of decorations and activities are fondly remembered. In looking through archival photographs and newspaper articles, we found many reminders.

Santa Claus has often been a part of the festivities. In 1912, when our village was only 15 years old, Santa made an entrance. This can be seen in the attached photo as Santa greets a crowd on the corner of Main and Commercial streets.

In the 1940s and 1950s, it was common for shopkeepers’ windows to be decorated by school children with baked food sales. Such displays often included toy trains circling little Christmas trees. (For many years more recently elementary school art students painted the windows at the local Wendy's.) Lampposts downtown had holiday scenes and music. A large fir tree stood in front of the old Firehall/Municipal building on Main Street. This building was later torn down for urban renewal.

In 1955, a nativity scene was added to the display in Edmund Lyon Park. The manger figures joined the 18 carolers of the All-Nations choir. While the carolers are no longer there, the manger remains. Over the years, the village also rewarded homeowners with prizes for their outdoor holiday displays. Many remember when Pine Street residents created a streetwide display together.

Holiday concerts have always been held in the school. In the 1960s, one of the most special High School traditions involved the concert at the end of the school day before vacation. The chorus would sing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's “Messiah.” The audience would stand and former chorus members who had graduated would take their places on stage, just as they had done as students.

Most recently, our village has seen new decorations — wreaths are hung on the lamp posts downtown with snowflakes on those of the main streets. Edmund Lyon Park still has the nativity scene, and the Bandstand is beautifully decorated once again with its tree and garlands of lights.

Longstanding traditions like the Advent sale and the PTA’s Breakfast with Santa will be missed this year, as well as the horse-drawn wagon rides throughout the village. We will also miss the village employee celebrations and the large Christmas tree in the Eyer Building Lobby.

While the above displays and activities have been very visible over the years, many people have also worked behind the scenes to help with the holidays. The Fire Department and other organizations have continued to give assistance to our neediest families.

While much has changed this year in our world, we are reminded that many holiday traditions continue and bring us much enjoyment.

Jim Burlingame is historian for the town/village of East Rochester. He was assisted by Anita Mance.

Santa descending a chimney on the corner of Main and Commercial streets back in 1912.