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HomeFeaturesFrom the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Christmas in Susanville

From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Christmas in Susanville

The ladies from the Susanville Soroptimists in the 1953 Christmas parade.

by Susan Couso

Since the first emigrants spent the winter in Honey Lake Valley, Christmas has been celebrated. Meager means and harsh conditions did not deter these people from noting the day which has been exalted since the second century.

It seems that no matter the conditions or the era, the things that Christmas continually brings, memories and hope, are always there.

The Christmas of ‘olden days’ seems far removed from today’s ‘mega fete’. A sprig of greenery, an orange, a small paper-wrapped package, these are the delights of Christmas past, but the most wonderful gift of Christmas has always been the joy of sharing and the pleasure of being with those we care about.

In Lassen County in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the image of Christmas was brought to us in the media. No one could escape from Christmas. We all knew what Santa Claus looked like at an early age, and we all wanted to be a part of the celebration where, in many cases, the religious roots of Christmas gave way to a season of good will to all.

Christmas trees have been around since before Christmas. Early rituals centered around the Winter Solstice brought evergreens into the home as a reminder of rebirth and life. What better symbol to enhance the modern Christmas spirit?

President Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas tree in 1923, but most people were way ahead of him. In Lassen County we are blessed with Yule trees galore, and we make sure to share. In 1945, A. B. Irwin worked to ship 125 silver-tip Christmas trees to Navy personnel serving in the Pacific, and another twenty-one trees went to Hawaii for sailors there.

In 1950, Forest Service Christmas tree permits amounted to 841 in the Fredonyer Summit area alone, and in 1955, 33,600 trees were cut in a sale contract. By 1956, the Forest Service was selling Christmas Trees near Fredonyer Pass for $1 each. There is nothing that can replicate the scent of a freshly cut silver-tip fir.

There was a giant 50-foot-tall Christmas tree, placed at the intersection of Main Street and Lassen Street in the 1940’s.

The Susanville Fire Department personnel went into the woods to cut the monster tree, which was donated by Paul Bunyan Lumber. It was festively decorated by the firemen, using their fire equipment to reach to the very top of the mighty evergreen.

But Christmas is about so much more. Children, who will always remember their youth, were treated to many events during the holiday season. There were plays at schools and churches, and lots of music and song. It is a joyous time of year.

One of the most enduring traditions in Susanville was the Christmas Party for children at the Sierra Theater.

For many years local organizations, businesses and individuals worked to make this event special. The Susanville Fire Department, Fruit Growers Supply Co., Sacramento Bee, and radio station KFBK were big contributors. The children were treated to movies at the theater and then often went to the massive Christmas tree at Main and Lassen to received candy, fruit, and a gift.

Giving is a major part of Christmas, and Lassen County’s citizens have always been generous. Numerous local clubs and organizations, including the 20-30 Club, Monticola Club and Rotary Club set out barrels to collect food and distribute the donations to needy citizens.

Parties were held at the county hospital to include patients in the festivities, and people continued to try to make the season enjoyable for everyone.

Area schools devised celebrations of their own, and for many years, Santa Claus took time from his busy schedule to visit local kindergarten students.

Christmas decorations were everywhere. In 1950, the City of Susanville urged everyone to decorate and even supported a contest with prize money for the best outdoor Yule decorations. This year, the two huge trees in front of the Elks Lodge were decorated.

There was a giant 5-foot-wide star above the trees. Everything was adorned beautifully, and at 5:00 p.m. on December 19th, Mayor Burnett threw the switch and electricity bathed the setting in sparkling light. Even the large plastic Nativity Scene was lit from within. And with the light, Christmas songs began to fill the air.

In 1953, the city purchased lighted decorations to line the entire length of Main Street, from the Elks Lodge to the city limits. This big venture was named ‘Operation Christmas’, and local organizations, merchants and individuals came together to put the décor in place.

The Future Farmers of America worked to attach wreaths and ribbons on lamp posts and power poles, and just about everyone was absorbed into the Christmas Spirit.

But Christmas is definitely a religious celebration, and a time to think of spiritual things. Some, like Lillie Mae Carter have known Christmas miracles. Lillie Mae had received word that her son, Sgt. J. W. Young had been killed in action in Korea. But in December 1951, almost a year later, she received a letter from her son. Sgt. Young was not dead. He was a prisoner in a Chinese POW Camp. It was Lillie Mae’s happiest Christmas.

Lassen County churches always fill to the brim to celebrate Christmas. The words, the songs, the friendship and forgiveness of a church service are what so many people need at Christmas time and throughout the year. We must remember just why we have this season of joy and love. We must remember why we give and why we care, for it is Christmas, and there’s a reason to celebrate.

The annual Christmas party in uptown Susanville, 1946

If you are a fan of our weekly history stories you should join the Lassen County Historical Society! It’s a fun way to be a part of our county’s rich history. When you sign up, you’ll receive regular Historical Society newsletters with interesting stories and information. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in area history.

Through your membership you help preserve local history. You can download a membership application by clicking here.

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso Publisher/Editor
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