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History in the Hills: Some Christmas memories

Christmas is a time to spend with family, friends and those closest to us. It is a time to come together and make new memories, traditions and reflect on what is important in our lives. Spending time with one another, going to special places and visiting those relatives we only see at Christmas are all part of what makes the holiday season bright.

Christmas also can be retrospective for us because connected to all those family traditions, big dinners, church services — there are people and places who are no longer here with us. Family members who have passed on, and places we lived or visited that made our Christmas memories special, are just now memories to treasure. But they are not truly gone if we remember them fondly.

Christmas in the Ohio Valley is wonderful. There is so much to do, for instance, visiting the Festival of Lights in Oglebay or the Steubenville Nutcracker Village. They have become family traditions for thousands of area residents. In the 1950s and 1960s traditions of Christmas were close to home. The Sears and Roebuck near the present-day Ohio Valley Honda in Steubenville had a Santa, and who couldn’t resist the smell of roasted nuts and popcorn from the candy counter. And on the second floor of The Hub, Santa always appeared typically after the Christmas parade, and everyone ran to see him to get their lists fulfilled. While you waited, you were treated to the great window displays that the Hub had. It was an exciting event just to go window shopping.

As is true today, one of the most exciting things to do in the 1950s and 1960s in the valley was to drive around the community to look at how different neighborhoods decorated for the holidays. Christmas lights and festive decorations on houses made for a magical experience. Just like today holiday decoration contests were common in the local area. The city of Steubenville has had a contest for the past 25 years organized by the mayor. Many other organizations held decoration contests, too, like the one in December 1954 held by the Weirton Jaycees. The winner that year was Arthur Falgiani with his hand-made nativity scene displayed in the yard of his home located at 108 Crest St. in Weirton.

Creegan’s Christmas displays were known nationally, but the ones I remember most fondly were those in the Fort Steuben Mall. All up and down the concourses there were animated figures moving among the scenes of a winter wonderland.

If you were especially lucky, your parents would treat you to the mall’s little train that would give you a ride through the building between the large crowds of shoppers. And always the day would end with a less than flattering picture with Santa.

At Historic Fort Steuben, during the Nutcracker Village, we have a mailbox for folks young and old to write letters to Santa. Sometimes we look through them before sending them to the North Pole. Lists this year are filled with requests for video games, Lego sets and toys. Looking back more than 100 years ago, the Herald-Star published letters to Santa. A list in 1900 consisted of toys, dolls and a cap gun, but most letters asked for oranges, nuts and bananas. It’s fun to think of how those who wrote those letters so long ago would react to a trip to the produce department at Kroger today. They might think they entered Santa’s workshop.

Christmas is a magical time for those young and old. Visiting places, eating roasted nuts and writing letters to Santa, decorating our homes and sometimes competing for the title of “best decorated” make unique memories. For me, what makes all these things special is the people we get to experience the holiday magic with. When the people and places who helped grow the magic aren’t there any longer, and the places are gone where the magic happened, it can leave a void.

As long as they are still in our memory, however, they are not gone, and that makes the void less vast. So hold those you love close to you this holiday season and make memories that last a lifetime, and you will always have a Christmas filled with love and cheer.

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