Longtime Locals Talk Holiday Traditions

Longtime Locals Talk Holiday Traditions

A few Durhamites share their most beloved holiday memories

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Photo by Durham Herald-Sun, Courtesy North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library
A view of the annual Durham Holiday Parade. Photo by Durham Herald-Sun, Courtesy North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library

Floyd B. McKissick Jr.

N.C. State Senator

“My father, Floyd McKissick Sr., had an office at 213½ W. Main St.; he was the only African-American attorney to have an office on Main Street at the time. You could overlook the entire parade right from his office. There was lots of activity, lots of hustle and bustle, and beautiful Christmas decorations. This was approximately 1959-1966. And there were always vendors selling these balloons that you could blow up; they’d be about 6 to 8 inches in diameter, 3 feet long. The only time I ever saw them was Christmas.

My mother, Evelyn, started the Junior Mothers Club, and they had a tradition of adopting a family during the holiday season, and we also did it as a family. My mother took the lead in that.

Everybody in the families we adopted would receive toys and gifts, as well as meals on Christmas day – breakfast and a dinner. They were actually cooked and delivered; people in the club would deliver them.”

Arthur Rogers

Principal, Eno Ventures

“The Santa Train at the Museum of Life and Science was a huge deal for us. It’s the regular train, but it’s at night; you go halfway around the loop and Santa Claus is there in his little house, and he gives out candy. And when you head back, you see a red light in the woods and that’s Rudolph. And the kids think it’s all real. I did that with my sons, Henry and Edward, when they were around 4 to 8 years old, and they loved it, absolutely loved it.

Photo Courtesy Museum of Life and Science
The Santa Train at the Museum of Life and Science. Photo Courtesy Museum of Life and Science

I always went to the holiday parade. I liked it because it’s after Thanksgiving, so it’s actually a real Christmas parade. They had all kinds of crazy stuff: a trash truck, vans with crazy dancers – it was very lively. The last time they had it, there wasn’t much going on downtown; it was so quiet. But they’re bringing it back this year.

Another big Christmas tradition is a TROSA Christmas tree; we always get it from TROSA, [a comprehensive, long- term, residential substance abuse recovery program based in Durham]. We get them at the American Tobacco Campus (ATC), on the lot beside DPAC.

My son Edward’s favorite holiday tradition now – he’s 12 – is the tower lighting at ATC [when they put Christmas lights on the water tower. Last year, “The Sound of Music” was playing at DPAC and the players performed under the water tower. At the end, they light the tower and have fake snow [come down]. And then after that you walk across the street and they have Christmas trees that nonprofits decorate on that lot, and they light those up. It’s really nice.”

My son Edward’s favorite holiday tradition now – he’s 12 – is the tower lighting at American Tobacco Campus, [when] they put Christmas lights on the water tower.

A scene from American Tobacco’s annual Tower Lighting celebration. Photo Courtesy American Tobacco
A scene from American Tobacco’s annual Tower Lighting celebration. Photo Courtesy American Tobacco

Linda McGill

Owner, Jewelsmith

There was a store called Addison’s Playworld, and it was a great place to go for toys – it seemed huge.

“Close to Christmas, we would always go downtown, probably starting when my sister, Debbie, and I were around 6 years old and through our teens. My mother, Bobbie McGill, taught at E.K. Powe Elementary School, and she would be pretty done in after teaching third grade for the day. But she’d take us downtown and we’d go to Belk on Main Street, go to the girls’ department and check that out.

Mom was scoping things to buy for us and for our grandparents. Then we’d walk down to Ellis-Stone, another department store that was later bought by Thalheimers. Then we’d go to Stride Rite shoes. There was a store called Addison’s Playworld, and it was a great place to go for toys – it seemed huge. And then we’d go to Harvey’s Cafeteria.

It was a very fancy cafeteria that actually had waiters; somehow I remember white gloves. They’d take our tray after we’d gotten what we wanted in the cafeteria part and take us to our table. We’d watch the Christmas parade from the second floor of the cafeteria while we were eating. There’d be a crowd of people around the window, and a crowd on the street. It was a big deal. The Christmas decorations went all the way across the street, and there was a big Christmas tree at Five Points.”

Harvey’s Cafeteria was a very fancy cafeteria that actually had waiters; somehow I remember white gloves.

Locals dining at Harvey’s Cafeteria in the ’60s. Photo by the Herald-Sun, Courtesy Open Durham/Preservation Durham
Locals dining at Harvey’s Cafeteria in the ’60s. Photo by the Herald-Sun, Courtesy Open Durham/Preservation Durham

Seth Jernigan

Vice President of Brokerage, Real Estate Associates

“When I was growing up, we used to go to see Scrooge [in “A Christmas Carol”], and we’d have to go to Raleigh to Memorial Auditorium. And in my adult life, my wife, Kelly, and I have taken our son, Wyatt, 9, to see Scrooge and we didn’t have to go to Raleigh; we could go downtown to DPAC. We’ve been two or three years in a row now, and are still seeing the same actors. The lead guy is Ira David Wood III; he and his son alternate with the lead role. I’m not sure our daughter, Stella, has been to the show yet as she’s been a little young – she’s 6 now. This might be her first year.”

Charles L. Steel IV

Special Counsel, Manning, Fulton & Skinner

“There was always a Christmas parade, and I always marched in it, starting in junior high and then in high school. I was in the band; I played piccolo. It would be on a Saturday and folks would come and watch. We’d start from the west end of Main Street and go through the middle of town. The city would do Christmas decorations; all the lampposts had decorations that went across the street. That was a way to kick off the shopping season.

The city would do Christmas decorations; all the lampposts had decorations that went across the street. That was a way to kick off the shopping season.

And as an aside, the Durham High band marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for two years when I was in high school – November 1961 and also 1962. We were the only school to be invited back two years in a row.”

Addison’s Playworld at 413 E. Chapel Hill St. was a favorite gathering spot for kids in the 1960s. Photo by the Herald-Sun, Courtesy Open Durham/Preservation Durham
Addison’s Playworld at 413 E. Chapel Hill St. was a favorite gathering spot for kids in the 1960s. Photo by the Herald-Sun, Courtesy Open Durham/Preservation Durham

Gabriel Eng-Goetz

Founder/Creative Director, Runaway

“This holiday party we’re doing, it’ll be at Motorco, and we’ll have all local acts. We have four performers that night. It’s totally for the public; it’ll be ticketed. There’s a charitable aspect: We’ll be giving a percentage of our proceeds to CAPS [Creative Arts in Public and Private Schools], which has been headed up by the Durham Arts Council for more than 40 years.

Last year we sold out Motorco, and people had a really awesome time. It went from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., and we had Bless Your Heart, a local band; we also had a local DJ, Treee City. It was all ‘90s and early 2000s throwback jams. I think everyone definitely had fun.

The holidays are obviously extremely important to us because that’s when we make a large portion of our money. So this is grind time for me. I enjoy the holidays more after the 25th – I can actually take a breather once Christmas is wrapped up.”

Vintage photo of Christmas tree at Five Points from the 1920s. Photo Courtesy Durham County Library, North Carolina Collection
Vintage photo of Christmas tree at Five Points from the 1920s. Photo Courtesy Durham County Library, North Carolina Collection