Clay County Christmas holiday memories of first half of 1900s

Mary Jo McTammany
Posted 12/7/17

Clay County Christmas holiday memories of first half of 1900s

Christmas time in Clay County used to be very different than it is today. In the first half of the 1900s most in the county were still …

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Clay County Christmas holiday memories of first half of 1900s

Posted

Clay County Christmas holiday memories of first half of 1900s

Christmas time in Clay County used to be very different than it is today. In the first half of the 1900s most in the county were still watching the radio and living in a cash poor, barter and credit rural economy. The difference between needs and wants was crystal clear.

Christmas presents were usually only a stocking with nuts, fruit and hard candy as this longtime resident of Green Cove Springs remembered. She was already asleep on Christmas Eve when a strange noise woke her, and she slipped out of bed into the parlor to see walnuts bouncing and rolling across the wood floor from the hole in the toe of her own thigh high black stocking.

Out in the deep woods, one family celebrated with an annual hunting expedition of men and boys that left way before daylight. Later in the day, the women packed up the food and younger children and met them in the woods for an open air feast.

In Orange Park, a young girl anticipated the arrival of Christmas Eve with mixed feelings – trepidation and eagerness. She was chosen to play the role of Mary in the church Nativity scene. But this year it was proposed that a live baby be used for the part of Baby Jesus and her costume was to be a rich robe with draping sleeves perfect from the front but … with a fierce, multicolored dragon embroidered over the entire back. It was a gift for his local sweetheart from a soldier’s tour in Japan.

Who knows if anyone caught a glimpse of that technicolor dragon she worried about? Everyone in the audience was in some way involved in the show so they already knew it was lurking there.

Christmas memories were made on the St. Johns River too.

In these times, outside decorations other than a wreath on the door were rare. Outdoor lighting displays were never seen because people still weren’t too sure about having electricity in the house and some still used kerosene lamps and wood stoves.

So, one Christmas in the early 40s, the Navy surprised everyone and unwittingly caused major traffic jams along the shores of the river.

Even before the massive docks were built to house the Mothball fleet as World War II was winding down, Naval ships of all sizes anchored off shore of Green Cove Springs. The Navy tricked out all the vessels with miles of lights and put a glow on the water and into the sky for miles around.

Residents were a little shaken at first and then again when as days went by hordes of sightseers flocked into town. Narrow streets became parking lots as people simply bailed out of vehicles and wandered toward the light. The same thing was happening across the river and on the Allie Shands bridge. The Navy MPs worked with local law enforcement and soon had everyone whipped into shape.

In these days, the gifts were simple but the memories rich and sweet revolving around church, family, friends and the U.S. Navy.

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