Time was, when Arlington residents wanted a shot of pre-Christmas cheer, they loaded up the car, jumped on Division Street and headed westbound until they rolled into downtown Fort Worth.
Back then, Christmas was something of a voyeur sport, where everyone descended on downtown Fort Worth to gawk in wonder at the cheerfully colorful department store windows of places like Stripling’s, Monnig’s, and Leonard’s, which was famous for its Toyland Monorail.
It was about the midway point of the 1940s when Arlington City Hall, then at Pecan and Main Street, began dressing up in lights and holiday wreaths and having Santa pop in to put a stamp on the festivities.
“It was really the first of what we would call Community Christmas,” says Geraldine Mills of the Arlington Historical Society.
We’re on the society’s computer perusing photographs that go back some 70 years, showing Arlington at Christmastime.
How times have changed.
Community Christmas in Arlington grew along with the city to where it is now – a spirited parade, a giant tree towering over Abram Street, wreaths blanketing every downtown post, Santa, Mrs. Claus, Elves, and lines of cars snaking through Interlochen neighborhood to see the decorated homes in full splendor.
Way back when, Christmas fun was the Arlington Masonic Lodge, which would offer up a Nativity scene complete with life-sized camels.
In the 1970s, neighborhoods began a more concerted effort to light up each home.
“It was huge back then,” says Mills. “Neighborhoods became popular places to drive for lights, and more of them started to band together and do it. East Arlington, West Arlington. One of the neatest ones was along Davis. Talk about lights.”
Another was in Shady Valley.
“I remember a home that had a big polar bear right inside the window,” says Wanda Marshall, also of the Arlington Historical Society. “I used to wonder if they actually killed that Polar bear.”
Mills thinks neighborhood lights fizzled as residents aged and simply grew tired of the crowds and annual undertaking.
“A lot of those homes didn’t change hands unless someone died in them and didn’t have a family member who took it over,” says Mills. “They just quit after a time. Sometimes traffic just got so bad they figured, ‘well, let’s end this.’ Or maybe when you get a little older you don’t like people coming by staring at your home.”
That shows why Interlochen remains the current main attraction here when it comes to neighborhood lights, with about 200 homes participating with holiday-themed displays. But even Interlochen is starting to show its age with fewer homes lighting up and car lines getting longer.
The Historical Society has its own holiday festivities, by the way. The first Friday of December is a good time to drop in on their celebration. The annual Christmas at Knapp Heritage Park features local elementary school choirs singing carols, giving tours of the cabins and schoolhouses and carriage rides. A highlight is resident artisan and blacksmith of Knapp Heritage Park James Ryan giving demonstrations in his Blacksmith Shop.
Just another example of Community Christmas, says Mills, with emphasis on community.
“What I like best about the season is how it brings people together in a common way,” she says. “It’s about Christmas. About Jesus Christ. But it’s secular enough that everyone can come and enjoy it. When you really think about it, it’s about being a part of something that is bigger than you.”