December 11, 2016

1937: The Christmas Without Candy

Come 1937, the Great Depression was taking a serious human toll.

One small boy arrived at Jefferson School "wan and helpless." When the principal, Miss Anyta Buzran questioned why, she uncovered an appalling travail: For the last two days, that boy and his two sisters had nothing more a glass of milk apiece to eat for the last two days. (*1)

Buzran quickly investigated several other families with students in her school and found 8-10 more children in the same condition. (*1)

Without a social safety net, things had become extremely desperate for many Prescott families who couldn't find work. After five long years of depression, even the charities had difficulties procuring suitable donations.

In December, Dr. Florence Yount "told the Kiwanis and Monday clubs that 'quite a number' of children in Prescott get what breakfast they can digging into garbage cans in the alleys downtown" on their way to school. (*1)

Since the start of the Great Depression, local Prescott charities decided to band their donations together each Christmas with the Goodfellows taking the administrative lead in order to have the best impact.

Toy ad, 1937
But in 1937, things had become so precarious that in spite of the season, it was decided that it would be immoral to spend a single penny of charitable giving on empty calories when basic nutritional needs were being left unmet.

"No candy filled stockings will be given away at this year's community tree program on the plaza," the newspaper wrote. "The need is so great this season that all the funds will be used for filling the boxes with food and, in some instances clothing as well." Absolutely no exceptions would be made "because of the exigencies of the situation." (*2)

The 21st annual municipal Christmas tree lighting on the plaza was affected as well. There wasn't enough tax revenue for the city to cover the cost. The paper reported that: "In view of the fact that there will be no municipal decorations for Christmas this year, every merchant or businessman is asked by the Yavapai Chamber of Commerce to do all the individual illuminated decoration of his store or place of business possible in order that altogether it will make a spectacle worth coming from miles around to see." (*2)

The delightful, heartwarming story of the first municipal Christmas tree ever erected in Prescott. It was also the first in Arizona.

Still, with the cooperation of the Arizona Power Co., the plaza would not be dark. "A series of experiments lately has developed a combination which has perked up the appearance of the Yavapai County Courthouse considerably in keeping with the spirit of the season," the Courier announced. "The eight light standards at the entrances, two (for each) entrance, have been provided with colored clusters of light, two green, two red, and one gold (light) on top, while flood lights in red and green have been worked out for the north entrance." (*3)

Arizona Power also assumed the cost of erecting and lighting the municipal Christmas tree on the plaza--a 40 foot giant that was "exceptionally well-proportioned." It would be graced this year with 200 lights. (*4)

The Masonic Temple also took up the call of brightening downtown with a unique display. They cut three trees from Mt. Union and spray-painted them silver. Twelve lights were installed to make them "glimmer." (*4)

Bashford-Burmister Food Ad, Christmas 1937
As for the desperately hungry children in Jefferson School, a local bridge club of 4 housewives each pledged $5 a month to buy the kids at least one good meal each school day. Miss Bruzan, with the help of her teachers, would prepare the food. (*5)

While external forces conspired to make 1937 the most desperate in Prescott history, Prescottonians instead came together to make the Christmas spirit even brighter and more meaningful.

Between 175-225 charity baskets were needed for all the anguished Prescott families. "Flurry, bustle and good cheer--stack on stack of food, toys and Christmas gifts--piled in the Courthouse basement to make a sizeable Santa's bag, featured the windup of the Goodfellows' annual Christmas program for the needy." (*6)

"Toys, all new or reconditioned, and of fitting interest to nearly any child on the (needy) list were packed," along with food and clothing. (*6)

During these difficult economic times, people were required to learn that "the best things in life" truly are free.

Folks spent time bonding with their families. Schools, churches and clubs offered various vespers, plays and yule services. Christmas carols rose into the winter sky and the needs of the poor were again met, at least for now.

Of course, there was an even greater free gift than this. For as a light rain began to fall Christmas Eve night, Prescott went to sleep remembering:
...the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (*7)

CLICK HERE for all the Christmas Themed Prescott AZ History Articles!

12/23/1937 The Harlem Globetrotters
performed in Prescott. (*6)
Tourist Tip:
Come the first weekend in December to the modern Courthouse Lighting in Prescott! At the same time, Sharlot Hall Museum offers a special Christmas event. Finally, be sure to take time to shop the local downtown stores for some unique holiday gift ideas!

(*1) Prescott Evening Courier; December 10, 1937 Pg. 3, Col. 4.
(*2) Prescott Evening Courier; December 11, 1937 Pg. 3, Col. 2.
(*3) Prescott Evening Courier; December 15, 1937 Pg. 3, Col. 1.
(*4) Prescott Evening Courier; December 11, 1937 Pg. 2, Col. 4.
(*5) Prescott Evening Courier; December 11, 1937 Pg. 2, Col. 3.
(*6) Prescott Evening Courier; December 23, 1937 Pg. 2, Col. 7.
(*7) Luke 2:10-11 (NKJV)


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