Share Your CHRISTmas Memories: Knoxville or Other!

Victorian Christmas

Before I share some of my CHRISTmas memories from decades past, I ask if you would please also share your favorite memory…or two…of earlier years in Knoxville. It’s easy and painless and readers will also be able to enjoy your meaningful experiences. Just add your thoughts at the bottom of this article. THANKS!


In today’s “politically correct” environment, nativity scenes are frowned upon or forbidden. Such was not the case in the 50’s in Knoxville. One of my fondest memories of Christmastime is the LIVE nativity scene put on by Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in the 2500 block of Fifth Avenue. Everything was live…except a doll that was used for the baby Jesus. Mary, Joseph and the shepherds were real. And the wise men were live, but they did not carry gold…even though it was only a few dollars an ounce at that time. Angels were on a platform extending from a third floor window. Donkeys and sheep were real, but there were no camels. Well that’s not true….in those days smoking was not “verboten” so Camel cigarettes were often visible among the onlookers.

There were two crews each night that alternated 30 minute shifts. Between shifts there was hot chocolate and cookies in the fellowship hall. It was fun, effective, memorable and …..welcomed by people of all faiths. Few if any were offended.

The lighting of the Miller’s tree…and later the Richs’ tree after they bought the red brick building on Henley across from the YMCA was always a treat. The music was piped out over the “loud speaker system” and voila….the tree lit up and everyone clapped. In those days you had to physically be there to sing, witness the event and participate in the excitement. Now we can sit in a recliner and watch the tree lighting in D.C., N.Y, Paris and Miami with merely a flick of the thumb. Have we progressed as the years have passed? I think not!


One year our family was stopped at the railroad crossing on Prosser Road, on our way from my wife’s home to my parent’s home behind Bell Avenue Church. Our sons were about four and beyond excited. While awaiting the passing of the 100+ car freight train we heard a knock on our car window. The kids gasped and said “it’s him…it’s Santa.” We turned to see the most realistic Santa I have ever seen. He had gotten out of his car which was stopped behind us and walked to our car to thrill our wide-eyed young boys. For a minute I thought, “can this be true?” Our sons remember this night vividly some 4 decades later. Yep….I do too


I have many others, most of which center on the warmth and camaraderie of family…Mom’s apple sauce cake with caramel icing, chocolate fudge candy, hot chocolate with marshmallows and her signature Swiss Steak. YUM!!! I also can feel the relaxation that came with the end of final exams and the first quarter of college each year.

I have many more, but we want to hear yours. Please share them with us!


Ross Greene Founder and Editor
Stephanie Urbas Multimedia Designer


  1. Jack Thomas on December 20, 2012 at 9:49 am

    I remember visiting family and friends on Christmas Eve as a child. How I enjoyed the eggnog(without the extra ingredient the adults had). We would also go to the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at Eastminister Presbyterian in Holston Hills.

  2. Bob Buchanan on December 20, 2012 at 9:59 am


    I used to love the annual Christmas parade on Gay Street. That signaled the beginning of the Christmas Season in Knoxville. As a small child the floats constructed by the various communities and organizations around the city, the high school and UT bands that seemed enormous and of course Santa in his sleigh (the real Santa?) we’re magical and exciting beyond belief. We were members of Fifth Avenue Baptist until I nine years old when we moved to Alice Bell Baptist (closer to home) and we always attended annual the Nativity scene even after we changed churches. It was so realistic!!

    Dad worked at Sears on North Central so I always went to see Santa there and I always thought the store was so beautifully decorated. Dad was manager of the receiving department and even as a child I knew my way around the store, including the storage rooms off the retail floor (imagine letting a child roam around in those spaces today). I just loved that store during the holidays. By the way, the “real Santa” came to Sears to see children after the downtown parade.

    Other fond memories were decorating the house in and out. Looking back now it was kind of tacky, but I loved it. We would drive around town at least one night to view other houses that traditionally had good Christmas decorations (probably tacky too).

    Merry Christmas to all, Bob Buchanan, Holston 1964

  3. Celeste Brichetto Millen on December 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Every Christmas for many years, my Daddy decorated our house at 3201 East Fifth Avenue with elaborate scenes on the front porch including bright lights and music. People would come just to see what he had done each year. Cars would wind around the block slowly or park and watch. One year he had Santa’s workshop and a hidden microphone that would talk to the little children who came. They were astonished. He put up a revolving Christmas tree in the sunroom with a Lionel train and village beneath it on a table for all to see. People would walk around the house to see it all. I slept on a sleeping porch upstairs and at Christmas he put a blue light in a star shaped light. I’d go to sleep with that blue light on, so excited and happy. One year my older brother and a friend tossed pebbles on the roof to make me think Santa was there. Thanks for helping me remember all this.

    • David "Pat" Wright on December 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Growing up in Park City was great in the late 1940s and 1950s. I lived in the 2400 block of, Washington Avenue and walked to school from the first grade through my senior year in high school. I attended Park-Lowery Elementary, Park Junior High, and East High School. At Christmastime, I loved all the lights in the trees and scenes in the yards. It was simply a magic time. Like everyone else I have great memories of Christmases in East Knoxville. I also remember the live tableau at Fifth Avenue Baptist Church. I can still see the manger scene, smell the goats and sheep, remember my friends in full biblical costumes, but most of all I remember the terrible stench from the fake mustaches connected to the fake beards from all those shepherds that had preceded me. The best part of the live performance was the hot chocolate served by the moms and dads who helped us dress and kept us as warm as possible. For me, the hot chocolate was reason enough to volunteer to stand in the cold and withstand the pointed fingers and giggles from my friends taunting me as they passed by on foot, on bicycles, and in cars with their parents. Christmas on Gay Street was the highlight of the Season. My sister would say, “Let’s drive downtown and see the lights!” So, we would turn off Magnolia Avenue on to Gay Street, go all the way to the Bijou Theater, turn around and go all the way back to Regas Restaurant with my mother exclaiming, “It gets better every year. I have never seen the lights so beautiful.” Yes, those were the days! Thanks for the reminder, Ross and I wish everyone a wonderful, meaningful Christmas and a 2013 that fills all your hopes and dreams.

  4. Ron Goodlin on December 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Though minimally decorated, in comparison to today’s standards, I remember a three part, lighted candelabra that we always displayed in a front window – and for at least one year, a silver (aluminum) Christmas tree. My favorite gifts were a twin guns and holsters set, a Red Ryder BB gun, and battery operated Army tanks.

    One Christmas eve, my grandfather led my brother, sister, and myself on a stroll, in the snow, from our home on Lansing, out to Burlington. I remember the sound of snow crunching under our steps as we walked.

  5. Ruth Letson on December 20, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    The lighting of the tree at Miller’s (later Rich’s) was a favorite of mine. They would light up the stairway on the school choir that was singing and ended with a soloist at the top of the tree singing “O Holy Night!”

  6. Carole Conklin on December 20, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    The Santa Claus Parade, as it was known in my childhood, was my favorite Christmas acivity. I think it was formerly held on a Saturday morning, though I could be mistaken. Another of my best memories was listening to a radio serial, “The Cinammon Bear.” What a delightful story about a stuffed bear coming to life before Christmas. Does anyone else remember it? I, too, grew up in Park City, and attended Park City Presbyterian. The Sunday School Christmas program is a treasured memory…mostly because Santa came after the program with treats. We kids loved it!

    • Alan Cheatham on January 3, 2013 at 6:16 pm

      I, too, remember the radio show The Cinnamon Bear. Hadn’t thought of it in years. I think it was always sponsored by KUB.

      Thanks for the recollection.

  7. Betty Smith Byerley on December 21, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    The picture of Gay Street from years ago sure brought back a lot of memories. Thank you for sharing. Also a big thanks for all the time and work that you have put into Knoxville Heritage. You have kept the East High family up to date on so many events, illnesses, sadness and lots of joy as well. In spite of what so many have endured this past year, there are still many blessings to be thankful for.

    I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and good health in the coming year. It’s hard to believe that we’re ready to start a new year.

    I am thankful to be celebrating Christ’s birthday and for our loved ones that have gone on gives us peace to know that they are celebrating with Jesus. Christmas with Jesus is far greater than we can imagine.

  8. Robert L. Foster on December 22, 2012 at 12:23 am

    Remember sitting on the shoulders of the statue of thesoilder on the Courthouse lawn to watch the Christmas Parade..Best seat in town…

  9. Bo Minnis on December 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Ross—-Merry Christmas and thanks for the great memories. My best to the family.–Bo-

  10. Dr. Margie Humphrey LeCoultre on December 22, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Margie LeCoultre was kind enough to share with us an article she wrote for the Knoxville News Sentinel in 2008. It brings back many memories for us in a very meaningful way. Thanks Margie…..JRG

    A 1940s Christmas through a child’s eyes
    By Dr. Margie Humphrey LeCoultre
    Sunday, December 21, 2008 ….Knoxville News Sentinel

    Christmases of long ago bring thoughts of laughter, fun and excitement to those with a childlike spirit. Christmas in Knoxville in the 1940s was magical. As a 6-year-old child, I knew Christmas was coming when the following activities began in my town.
    Miller’s and S.H. George and Sons department stores on Gay Street filled their windows with all kinds of moving toys, large trains that wound through tunnels in the window for the delight of all children and snow scenes with brightly dressed mannequins.
    The toy department in the basement of Miller’s contained every type of doll that a little girl could imagine with arms, legs and eyes that moved. There were doll houses, doll furniture, Brownie Hawkeye cameras, Western Flyer wagons and radios, just to mention a few choices awaiting an eager child.
    My mother, Cora Humphrey, worked in the Miller’s toy department and my dad, Gilbert Humphrey, and I would go visit her on Saturday. Mom would walk with me through the aisles and aisles of dolls, pointing out all of the features of the ones she specifically liked. Somehow, one of those dolls would end up under our tree.
    I thought Mom had a direct line to the Santa at the North Pole. (Today, I have two of the dolls keeping watch over the living room waiting for someone to tell them how well they have lasted for 65 years).
    While we were there, she would turn the trains on, and I could have just stayed all day watching them go round and round and listening to their whistle.
    The toy department was just in front of the Miller’s grill. There were U-shaped counters with red leather round stools. My dad and I would detour there after a splendid time with the toys. The menu was filled with good food, and it must have been the start of fast food. We were served quickly and efficiently. I just couldn’t wait for the fun on this excursion.
    Gay Street fulfilled its name with decorations of swags of greenery, colored lights and berries placed along the sides of the street and across the street from the telephone poles.
    At night, it looked like a fairyland. There was the Kimball’s clock stately tracking the minutes and hours until Santa would come on his Christmas visit.
    The Salvation Army bells could be heard ringing up and down Gay Street, encouraging passers-by to give, even though it was wartime and money was scarce. There could be seen a few beggars playing a guitar or just sitting on the sidewalk with a hat in front hoping for any change that one might have.
    Winter was upon us, and it was time to bring out those leggings that had a zipper halfway up the leg. The zipper made it easier to pull them on for a cold day. You had to take your shoes off in order to get the leggings off and on. My mother reminded me to put on my wool scarf. I really hated the feel of that wool around my neck, but she insisted, and back then, mothers always knew best.
    The decorations in my home were beautiful by the day’s standards. The red cellophane wreaths with one candle that hooked on to the shade pull was a glorious sight at night. The real Christmas tree that my mom, dad and I selected from a friend’s farm would not be put up early enough for me.
    I couldn’t wait to see the lights of red, green, yellow and blue that sparkled all around the tree. Various sized colored balls, a silver garland, and an aluminum star made the tree a perfect picture for family and friends to enjoy.
    A manger scene was tucked under the tree or placed on a significant table in our living room. (I still have the manger scene 65 years later).
    My teacher, Miss Hattie Nichols, at Fair Garden Elementary School encouraged us to bring suet for the large bird feeder just outside the classroom window. That was our Christmas gift to the birds.
    Everyone enjoyed the Christmas play given by the whole school. I was selected to say, “The Night Before Christmas” as I held an unlighted candle (fire regulations) in my shaking hand. There was punch and cookies afterward with my teacher telling my parents what a wonderful child I was.
    My church, McCalla Avenue Baptist, began its emphasis on foreign missions by encouraging members to give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. We had little boxes in which to put our change and then take it down to the front of the church on Sunday. There was a Christmas play each year with Mary and Joseph dressed in brightly colored towels for wraps or head dress.
    There was the angel with a crooked halo and silver wings that everyone held their breath hoping they would stay on. Parents beamed with pride as the children provided another way of sharing the Christmas story.
    Looking back, I know that we had so much, even though we had the cloud of war hanging over us. We could see the hardships of war as we viewed 1942 newsreels at the Tennessee Theatre.
    Even Knoxville has changed, as Miller’s and S.H. George and Sons no longer brighten Gay Street with their beautiful displays. The U-shaped lunch counter in the basement of Miller’s no longer serves delectable treats.
    My mom and dad are both gone, but I still share the Christmas meaning and joy with my family, just as my family shared with me long ago and in another Christmas time.

  11. Louise Collins Armin on December 25, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    My greatest thrill and memory of Christmas Eve was my Uncle Doug taking my brother, sisters and me to see the Christmas lights. It was so awesome— I remember the house on Fifth Avenue–I think it was on a corner with steps leading up to the porch. Sitting on the porch was Santa Claus who handed out candy canes. One Christmas Eve, my brother, Gene,(who had a ’38 Chevy coupe) took my sisters and I on the Annual Christmas Eve ride. We stopped at Swann’s Bakery where we got a loaf of unsliced bread, made a stop at Gas Walker’s and got a stick of butter—I have never tasted any thing so good since. We always went to see Kern’s Bakery Christmas display, The Elves Workshop, The big bartender, who eyes rolled and also the Coke Cola lady who drank her coke at the L&N depot.

    • Danielle on December 3, 2013 at 7:02 pm

      Can you tell me where the kern’s Barery display was located? My husband talks about one from when he was little but cannot find pictures of it. The one he remembered was in Bristol, VA.

  12. Carolyn Heiskell Phillips on January 4, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Hey Ross, I hope you enjoyed a blessed and peaceful Christmas with your loved ones. I’m just sorry that I have just pulled up this email. With all the busyness and sickness I missed reading this on the 20th. I certainly enjoyed reading about your Christmas past. I, too, remember those precious times of shopping downtown for gifts. Running in and out of stores on Gay Street in the cold to buy gifts from JC Penney, Woolworth, Miller’s (what was the other department store on that side of Penney’s?). We didn’t complain of the cold because we were really in the spirit of Christmas. Loved seeing Santa on Gay ringing his bell. Didn’t he have a bucket for change for the needy? The old gray cells aren’t what they used to be. 🙂 When we were finished with our shopping the warmth of the city bus felt so good on the ride back home down Magnolia before getting off at Lane’s Drugstore on the corner of Magnolia and Olive Street for the walk up to Linden Avenue where we lived. As Bob (Hope) would say..”thanks for the memories”. 🙂

  13. […] the annual Knoxville Christmas Parade. Numerous people commented on last year’s Christmas article . Please come back and do it again. We look forward to what you […]

  14. Wilma Lynne Thomas Loy on November 20, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    Hey Ross like you, I remember the play that the choir did outside at
    Fifth Ave Baptist church, my sister was in it. Were you ever in it? One of the best things was helping Mama cut the candied fruit for the fruit cake —-my grandmother’s receipt—it took Mama, Daddy, sister and me forever—–but it was worth it when all was done. One more thing—Daddy would take us out to North Hills to see all the light. THOSE WERE THE DAYS.

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