Some of our Friends of the Page-Walker board members share their favorite Cary Christmas memories:
For the past 29 years, the Open House at the Page-Walker and the lighting of the Cary Holiday Tree have been favorite memories of mine.
The magnificent star-filled evening of December 8, 1991 featured the dedication of the first floor of the newly restored Page-Walker Arts & History Center followed by the Cary Holiday Tree Lighting. Strains of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus went through the minds of the Friends of the Page-Walker as they prepared for the first open house. Mike Thompson, on behalf of the Cary Town Center, donated a tree for the gallery which was trimmed by the Friends with handmade Victorian ornaments. The Lady Slipper Garden Club helped the Friends decorate the mantles and windows in the gallery and parlor, and art works by the Cary Arts Guild graced the walls. Carolers and a brass quartet, under the direction of Larry Speakman, added a Dickensian flavor. After a moving devotion by Dr. Harvey Duke and speeches by Wayne Mingis, representing Town staff, Mayor Koka Booth, Representative David Price, former Mayor Harold Ritter, and Myrick Howard of Preservation NC, summarized the pride that all felt with the culmination of a long, but very worthwhile effort. In the words of our Town founder and builder of the 1868 Hotel, Allison Francis Page, “Well done, my friends.”
The Holiday Open House tradition has continued. A warm, welcoming, beautifully decorated historic treasure filled with stunning artwork by Cary residents, holiday music and delicious treats welcomes Cary visitors. And recently, the evening is topped off with Brent Miller donning his top hat to assist visitors onto the horse and carriage rides. What could be finer?!!
I remember buying the family Christmas tree at the Cricket Texaco gas station in downtown Cary. There was a small grassy area between the gas station and E. Chatham St., and the Texaco station sold beautiful Fraser fir trees there for about $6 each. I can remember the string of clear light bulbs that would stretch overhead, to illuminate the tree lot. As a child, it was magical to run around, in between the trees, checking them all out. And as soon as we bought a tree and took it home, we would sit the tree in a bucket of water to keep it fresh.
I remember riding around Cary, looking at yard and house decorations about a week before Christmas. It was a tradition to load up the car with a few family members, and play Christmas music as we rode around town. If we had time, we would drive over to Capitol City Lumber Co., near the fairgrounds, to see the Santa and reindeer wooden cut-outs on top of their warehouse.
And I certainly remember the early years, back in the 1970s, when almost everyone in Cary put out luminaries on Christmas Eve. It was beautiful to see all those candles in the little white bags along the neighborhood roads. It reminded me of an airport runway! And I'm pretty sure that on more than one occasion, we turned our car headlights off, as we drove around checking out the lights. Of course, the bags/candles had to be cleaned up on Christmas morning - but that was a small price to pay for such beauty on Christmas Eve.
I have had the good fortune to live in the Trapper's Run neighborhood near Bond Park where for the past 25+ years, our friends and neighbors the Freemans, have been drawing visitors and spreading cheer with a light show that rivals the Griswolds! They have amassed a large collection of holiday lawn decorations, including traditional vintage figurines in the form of lovely angels and cheery snowmen and some more modern not-so-traditional decorations in the form of an inflatable, singing fish and my favorite, the green alien. I earned the special privilege of placing the alien for many years and looked forward to the day I got the call, “Barb, the alien is waiting for you!” What fun to find a place for this unusual Christmas misfit in the holiday landscape, sometimes hanging out in a circle of lit-up Santas, sometimes posing as a caroler singing along with the plastic choir boys beneath the plastic lamp post. The Freemans have been written up many years for having one of the most lit up yards in Wake County. You can get a glimpse of the twinkling wonderland in this 2017 video story from WRAL: https://www.wral.com/lifestyles/travel/video/17186625/.
Another holiday activity I am adding to my Christmas memory bank (and missing this year) is annual attendance at the "White Christmas" movie at The Cary. You cannot spend a couple of hours with Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby in spectacular technicolor on the big screen, throwing “snow” confetti in the air every time the word snow is mentioned, jingling a bell every time the word Christmas is mentioned, and singing along with the audience to “I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas” and not come out of the theater filled with tremendous Christmas spirit! It gets me every time! I love it!
I also remember Christmas shopping and taking my kids to see Santa at the Cary Village Mall. There were days you could not find a parking spot and the traffic waiting to get into the mall parking lot would be backed up down Walnut St. all the way to where Cookout is now! After we visited Santa at the Cary Village Mall, we'd head over to see his reindeer at South Hills Mall. I'm talking about real reindeer! Living, breathing reindeer! That was something very unique. And while there, we liked to go inside and watch the model trains.
Of course, there are the horse and carriage rides at the Page-Walker Holiday Open House, with horses wearing Santa hats clip-clopping around Ambassador Loop. And the Christmas parade through downtown. And finally, I remember my young husband and my young self attending the very first Cary Christmas tree lighting ceremonies in the early-to-mid 1980s. There was no entertainment then, no Cary Town Band, just a group of Cary citizens, joining together in song like the Whos down in Whoville. In particular, I remember one tree lighting ceremony when we all held lit candles while we sang. Here's where my memory fails me. I want to say we were holding a vigil in honor possibly of the Iranian hostages, but I am not at all certain of that and 1980 seems a bit early. If anyone reading this remembers that candle-lit tree lighting ceremony, please reach out and let us know when it was and for whom we lit the candles! Thank you.
My favorite memories are still visiting friends’ homes on Evans Road and looking at their Christmas decorations and tasting their homemade desserts. My aunt Ann lived on Ferrell Street and made cookies and cakes; it was always fun to stop by during the holidays to visit. Our holiday tradition for over 45 years was spent with The Burt Family who lived on Boundary Street on Christmas Day for a day of eating and relaxing, they in turn spent Thanksgiving at our home.
I was blessed growing up in Cary in the 1950s and 1960s. My three living grandparents lived on East Chatham Street, and virtually all my other relatives lived in the one square mile that was Cary long ago. So it's natural that family Christmas celebrations revolved around these nearby relatives. One of the family highlights of the season was the birthday celebration of my paternal grandmother, Annie Beasley Jordan, who was born on Christmas Eve. The Jordan family gathered for a Christmas dinner in the early evening of Christmas Eve to celebrate the double occasion of "Nana's" birthday and the anticipation of Christmas Day itself. In preparation for Christmas, although not seen in this photo, the fireplace mantle was decorated at both ends with matching Christmas trees made from multi-colored, round glass ornaments of graduated sizes threaded onto a long upright metal spear. With greatest care, Nana and I would thread the ornaments onto the spear, one by one, starting with the largest balls and working our way up to the top and ending with a glass finial. What a joy to share that time with my beloved Nana.
Going back another generation in the Jordan family, my great grandmother Ida Yates Jordan and her daughter Lily Jordan decorated this freshly cut cedar tree in Ida's home on Railroad Street (now Cedar Street), probably cut from land Ida owned in the area. Her house was located on the Bond Brothers Brewery property. The cedar tree is dripping with tinsel and presents are already piled under the tree. I remember coating our family trees with tinsel, each family member having his or her own technique, ranging from placing each single strand carefully on the branches all the way to draping handfuls of tinsel at the time! Does anyone put tinsel on their trees any more?
Christmas in Cary started for me in the 1980s, when I would travel to Cary every year to visit my in-laws. From that very first Christmas, I helped light the luminaries in front of my in-law’s house, a tradition that my mother-in-law said started in 1973 with my husband’s Boy Scout Troop, #208. When we moved to Cary in the 1990s, we started lighting luminaries in front of our house, too, and have done it every year since. I especially love seeing the lights stretch down the street, the candlelight dancing in each bag. 2020 will be the first year we haven’t had luminaries, with our local Troop skipping this year due to Covid. https://www.caryliving.com/a-tradition-burns-bright
Another fond Christmas memory I have is volunteering at Cary Towne Center at the Cary High School Marching Band gift wrapping booth. Both of our children were in marching band, so we had many opportunities to participate. What I loved the most about this were the folks that specifically came by the booth to support the band, having either had children in the band or were past band members themselves. We would even have folks stop by and simply donate money, without having any gifts wrapped. Sadly, the mall is closed now, so these memories are a thing of the past.
And finally, what would Christmas in Cary be without the Jaycees’ Christmas Parade each year?! We started taking our children to the parade when they were toddlers, and they both participated in the parade as they went through Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Boy Scouts, and Marching Band. Many years, we would come home with pockets stuffed with candy thrown by parade participants. We even brought home a CD of Christmas music that was thrown by a float one year!
My favorite Christmas memories come from the open house held at the Page-Walker Hotel each year. The Hotel is always covered in its Christmas finest, both inside and out. The scent of warm cider hits you as you enter the Hotel. Children and parents go from room to room discovering this historic treasure and enjoying goodies and fun activities. Out on the front porch, visitors line up for an authentic horse drawn carriage ride and listen to Brent Miller as he shares stories of the founders of the hotel and the history of Cary. On occasion, we even receive a bit of snow during the event which makes things seem even more festive. Those are my favorite memories of Christmas in Cary.
Life in Cary during the 1950s was pretty typical of small towns around all the major urban areas of the state and, I dare say, the country. Times and culture would morph through that decade as the returning military men began their new lives in the postwar period. Military service broadened all eyes and minds to the diversity and ingenuity of life in all parts of our country and the world at large. Lifestyles, manners and mores were seen anew due to the cross-cultural experiences the war brought to all. And, of course, the ballooning of science and technology that hastened globalization was "Pandora's Box" that continues to give the world new vistas and visions...much of the excitement was centered around Raleigh in the 40s and 50s. We were just a little town then but we had lots of special times.
My dear friend, Anne Turner Bland, (a picture of her Grandmother's hosue - the house she grew up in - hangs in the Page-Walker, I think) gives a super description of Cary Christmases in the 1940s/50s.
Pat's friend, Anne Turner Bland:
Much of my Cary memories were church related. I don’t know when we had a parade in Cary...too much competition for Raleigh. There were bags of goodies passed out by Santa that consisted of oranges, apples, candy, and nuts. This was at our church...am not sure what the Methodists did. Back then, there were only two churches in Cary.
We had Christmas caroling up and down the streets. Both churches got together in the school auditorium and sang carols, then we walked down to the small town hall and had the lighting of the Christmas tree in the yard of the hall. Then we had goodies, I'm sure.
I recall the arrival of Santa via helicopter in Devereux Meadow in Raleigh, and a mainstay was Santa and his sleigh and reindeer on top of the Capitol Lumber Company building across from the state fairgrounds. It was there for many years.
Then of course, there was the special sleepover at my house. With everyone on the floor...lots of Krispy Kremes! I loved that time...we drew names...I can still recall who got my name and what I got!! So many special times at my house. Mother didn’t cook except at Christmas time.
Lots of people came by to check the tins of fudge, date nut bars, ice box fruitcake, wedding cookies, chocolate dipped nuts, and more. It was such a fun time at our house.
These are the things I recall without going into presents. I was always amazed at your parents giving you money for after Christmas sales. That must have been fun!
Well that’s all I can recall for now. Always the Raleigh Christmas parade was never missed. Our grandmother took us to it every year. June and I loved it, especially the jolly old Saint Nick who was always the last in the parade. Many years, it was really cold, but we never missed it due to the weather.
As for decorations in Cary, I never remember them...don’t think we had them when we were little. I do recall the main middle Christmas display at Ivey Taylor’s.....it was Shirley temple playing an organ...not real of course. She was so pretty.