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Christmas in the Pass
Pass Christian, Mississippi
Christmas in the Pass has become a wonderful tradition along the Mississippi Gulf Coast as it is only celebrated in Pass Christian. Along with other annual events that have evolved through the years, the Mardi Gras, the Blessing of the Fleet, the Sea Food Festival — and in more recent years other traditions have been added — such as the Vietnamese New Year, Celebrate the Coast, the Collage, Jazz in the Pass, and the Coast’s only walking parade, the St. Paddys Day Parade. In this small, quiet, mostly residential city, these traditional events continue with a zest for entertainment.
All of these celebrations are free of charge to one and all. What monies that are derived through contributions are used to pay for the events or in some cases include a means of raising revenue for charity organizations, or for local schools and churches.
None of these events could continue without the many hours of planning and participation by the sponsors, sturdy volunteers, local citizenry, and City government.
On the first Friday of December of each year since its inception, the downtown area is closed to traffic and becomes transformed into a pedestrian mall that is operated by the sponsoring local shop owners. Joining with the merchants are all of the local church and service organizations as well as support from industrial, commercial, professional, financial, and individual contributions.
The Noel celebrations reach back through many years, but continuity was rekindled following the near obliteration of Pass Christian’s downtown. In August of 1969, Hurricane Camille caused the inundation of Pass Christian’s seashore by a 25-foot-high tidal surge. That tidal wave laid a blanket of water upon the town and caused much more destruction than did the downtown Fire of 1877.
The First Lighted Tree
Following Hurricane Camille’s destruction, there was a great surge of support and contributions from the national government, national organizations, neighboring states, and local military commands. As a small part of that support, the first Christmas following Camille was not ignored. Holiday donations were abundant as significantly evidenced from various parts of Texas. A 17-foot golden outdoor tree was sent in from a Houston firm that manufactured Christmas trees, decorations and ornaments. Tex Hale, president of L.C. Williams Manufacturers, sent a letter stating that the tree was a symbol of their high regard for the courage, strength, and spirit of the people of Pass Christian. He further stated that his company wanted to make a gesture that would lend “a torch to the holiday season.”
The Panola County Campfire Girls and Bluebirds of Carthage, Texas sent boxes of toys to the Pass Christian Rotary Club’s Doll and Toy Fund that was chaired for many years by Dr. C.D. Taylor. Even today, the Rotary Club continues the Doll and Toy Fund tradition in the name of Dr. C.D. Taylor.
The Tree Lighting took place on December 18, 1969, located at the War Memorial Park. Local organizers included Tom Bourdin, Mrs. Claybourne Rick and Mrs. Rory Rafferty. Mayor J.J. Wittmann officiated over the ceremonies with the Perkinston Jr. College Choir and the local Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troops participating. The Pass Christian High School played a number of renditions of seasonal music.
The invocation was delivered by Rev. Thomas Ayo, pastor of the First Baptist Church and the benediction was provided by Rev. John O’Brien of St. Paul Catholic Church. A religious commentary on the symbolism of the Christmas Tree was presented by Rev. Nathan Walker, Pastor of the First Missionary Baptist Church.
Because of the vast destruction that was still very evident during day light, the darkness hid those imperfections as a large crowd gathered at the unlighted Park. In the downtown area, there were efforts made by those homeowners who were able to decorate in the spirit of Christmas as a sign of their gratitude. They felt that they had much to be thankful for and could best show their thankfulness by decorating their homes for Christmas – because of the vast destruction, most of those decorated homes were predominantly displayed along East Second Street. It was commented upon, that those homes which remained standing, stood as a symbol for all the other homes which were destroyed by the Big Storm.
In attendance were three television stations and two radio stations, in addition to several newspaper reporters from around the state.
When the tree was lighted, Mayor Wittmann announced that,
“Christmas is the time to celebrate the birth of Christ and it is the holiest and happiest season of the year. We would like this tree to represent a new spirit of anticipation and for it to be a symbol of the rebuilding of Pass Christian. We have the spirit, enthusiasm, and the will to stay and rebuild. Let the blessing of this happy event stay with us and bring us closer together so we can all work for a bigger and better city.”
The Star Spangled Banner was played by the Pass High Band followed by the audience singing the National Anthem. Because of the spirit and merriment of the occasion and the comradery that was instilled by the gathering crowd, they stayed to hear the list of names that were certificate recipients for “Outstanding Humanitarian Service and Assistance.” There were more than fifty individuals and organizations that were acknowledged, including President Nixon, many national and state dignitaries and organizations, and local Military Command support groups.
Following the somber presentation of certificates, the mood changed to a merry time as the Boy and Girl Scouts led the singing of Jingle Bells and other favorite holiday tunes.
Building a Tradition
The 1969 tree lighting event at the Park continued in becoming a tradition that is still performed today. During the 1971 Tree Lighting Ceremony, Capt. James Hill, former commander of the U.S. Naval Construction Battalion, was honored following his death during that year. Mayor Wittmann stated that, “Capt. Hill was with us 24 hours around the clock following Hurricane Camille, and we owe much gratitude to this man.”
In addition to lighting the 17-foot golden tree gift from Tex Hale, a live Christmas tree was also donated by the Friends of the Park, who dedicated it in the name of the children of the Pass.
In 1972, the tree became known as the Friendship Tree in remembering its Houston donor. The fourth Tree Lighting ceremony was sponsored by the Xi Theta chapter of the Beta Sigma Phi sorority calling on Dr. CD Taylor to officiate.
The Pass Christian Middle School Band was led by Ted Williams and the Trinity Episcopal Church choir was under the direction of Mrs. Byrd Cassibry. The invocation and benediction were presented by Rev. John Gaspar of St. Paul Church and Rev Herbert Beasley of First Methodist Church. Mrs Carrie Allen, president of Xi Theta chapter introduced other local volunteers, that included Mary Abbley, Leada Adam, Esther Adams, Gerry Bishop, Flora Jones, Alice Russell, Isabel Terrell, Inez Wittmann, and Catherine Young.
The Golden portable tree was ultimately replaced with traditional cut trees and beginning in 1986, the annual tree gift has been presented by Mr. and Mrs. Randall Jones in memory of their deceased daughter, Gretchen.
Christmas in the Pass
Pass Christian hosts one of Mississippi's best-known yuletide celebrations, Christmas in the Pass, which is a prelude to the approaching holidays. Founded by local merchants since 1985, but avidly embraced by much of the community, the Christmas prelude features: Mid-town street malls that have been closed to traffic, merchant open-houses, caroling, concerts, craft fairs, a brilliantly lighted boat parade, a Santa Claus parade, tree-lighting ceremonies, and holiday merriment.
Each year the merchants and the community add new festivities in preparation to greeting thousands of guests who arrive to promenade throughout the barricaded, traffic-free streets in a cheerful, open-air arena.
On the first Friday of December, holiday revelers are treated to a tree-lighting ceremony as Santa Clause arrives with his elves in a reindeer drawn sleigh. Concert bands and choral groups cheerfully promote a holiday atmosphere for the merry making with the sing-along audience.
Merchants host open-houses offering snacks of yuletide cookies and candies with hot or cold beverages.
An atmosphere for children regales throughout the downtown area with a wonderland at the Park, Holly Trolleys, Santa's Secret Kiddie Land, a Wishing Well, a Doll Display, and photo sessions with Santa.
Walkways and paths are lit by hundreds of flickering candles as carolers joyously sing out with Christmas cheer on every corner. Well-wishers promenade in costumed grandeur handing out assortments of candy canes for everyone's sweet-tooth.
The quaint, decorated restaurants are cheerfully lighted while offering sumptuous cuisine from their menus. Culinary competitions promote tasty, herb and spiced recipes in a Christmas-Chile or Gumbo Cook-off.
For that unique weekend in Pass Christian, Christmas cheer is a reflection of commerce as well as community spirit. Local schools, churches, organizations, fire department volunteers, and individual citizens join in the holiday spirit of fun promoted by the merchants and professionals in yuletide celebration.
The Historical Society Building becomes transformed into an antebellum Christmas parlor -- complete with authentic antiques, tapestries and carpets. In small clutches, senior citizens and school teachers reveal old time Christmas stories to entertain and delight the local and visiting children.
On Saturday afternoon, the centrally located St. Paul Church hosts a gospel sing composed of local church groups that send forth the melodies of yesteryear. This beautiful presentation is followed by the Coast Chorale ensemble vocalizing the classic songs of Christmas. Just off shore, that evening, the Yacht Club sponsored small craft regatta is heralded at its completion by a bombarding display of fireworks.
On Sunday afternoon, the famed Gulf Coast Messiah Chorus presents George F. Handel's Messiah. This glorious presentation is a Gulf Coast Christmas tradition which has performed for more than four decades. The Chorus members and instrumentalists are heralded in a magnificent production which rounds off a joyous and spiritual weekend.
For weeks afterward, a medley of activities marks the season as this Christmas prelude continues. The whispering of breezes are broadcasted while being caught by the masts of the fishing and pleasure boats in the Marina; the street lighting remains, blinking in brilliant seasonal decor; the merchants' shops and the downtown area continue greeting and welcoming their clientele; the quietly decorated old homes ornament the tidy neighborhoods throughout Pass Christian; and the snow slowly melts along the pathways to the Gazebo in the Park; -- and at 6 p.m. each evening, all the church bells ring out -- signaling the Angelus hour.
Note of Recognition
Each year, the City and Volunteer Fire Departments have decorated the downtown area with Christmas lighting as well as participating in Santa parades.
The City Police and Reserves have maintained traffic and pedestrian safety.
The Merchants, Professionals, and area businesses and many individuals besides the City administration, churches, schools, and service organizations, have devoted time and services in addition to providing donations to finance the event. Other funds are raised to add to the display inventory that light up the downtown streets and dark zones in the area.
A New Beginning
Christmas in the Pass
Christmas in the Pass 1995: A Real Winner
As described by Bil Kidd, Editor of the Pass Christian Review
How do you describe a beautiful celebration on a perfect night at which three thousand or so folks turn out to view dozens of attractions stretched out more than a mile?
Let’s start with the arrival of Santa Claus in War Memorial Park. Amid the flashes of red lights and screech of sirens, his sleigh landed, he alighted, and with quite a few “ho-ho-ho’s” arrived at the gazebo, where our honorable Mayor Billy McDonald, greeted him and led the count-down which a “zero” lighted up the lovely tree in the gazebo. As usual, the tree was donated by the Jones family. And their after distributing candy canes to the kids with the help of his elves, he was back in his sleigh and away in a motorcade lead by the blue lights and followed by the trolley.
Just as we started our stroll west, the lights on the dozen or so yachts just offshore came on, and what a sight it was. It was a universal hit, judging by the comments we overheard.
Restarting our stroll, along the fences lighted by Rotary, to the Hancock corner, we found it teeming with people, mostly socializing or feasting on the grilled goodies purveyed by the Dive Rescue squad at Russell’s.
Continuing west, we returned the greetings from the doctors’ offices, saluted Wicker N/ Wood, had a cookie or two at Allen Electric, looked in on the large crowd in the Hillyer House, and slumped into a chair on the front porch of the Historical Society. Inside, the Garden Club had set up a Victorian parlor that brought back memories to many and we also made a dive for the spiced hot tea and goodies.
Next door, St. Paul’s was the site of the gumbo contest where you got a sample of the three best recipes for only a buck. (The Harbor View Café was judged the winner) Other food was being sold by the adherents of the two teams vying for Mardi Gras supremacy.
A few doors west, the Cub Scouts were selling their nachos and stuff in the front yard of the (Inn at the Pass) bed and breakfast and having fun doing it.
Passing above McDonalds, who had a lot of patrons, we came to the usually vacant Rafferty (Exchange) Building, in which were ensconced from east to west, a storytelling room led by Carol Terrell, the shop run by the PC Highschool Beta Club where kids could buy in secrecy, Christmas presents for their parents, and an art exhibit by some of our talented local artists.
The corner of Market and Scenic was jammed, but the nice new directional signs erected by the Merchants Association stood tall over the crowd. Parkers’ was packed, and so was the Morning Market. The Joneses were dispensing toys to little ones. Valentino’s, Lynda’s, the Bahia Shop, and Blue Skies shared carol music by Joy Mehrtens and had many lookers and buyers inside.
Just below them, the Harbor View Café was packed with hungry merrymakers, who watched the dancers as they ate.
We now turned north on Market and noted the Stitch Niche and Stuffed Shirt had their share of celebrators, then made our way east on Second Street where at RainTree we found lovely lighted paths and pools in the gardens, and kids who had their pictures taken with Santa Claus (who was played to the hilt by Vic Jerome, who may give up police work for “Santaclausing”). It was a melange of excited kids, a charged-up Santa, pleased parents, and music.
At the corner of Second and Davis was another large group, plus a record crowd paced into the coffee house. The three antique shops were busy and up Davis Avenue were decorated stores, a kids art exhibit in the recently vacated video store premises, Jackie’s elbow to elbow with shoppers and Bill Hopper sharing his trains with the kids, while Anne ran a Santa toss-event with prizes for the skillful.
There was a lot of entertainment about, most notably, the “Yulesingers” quintet from Biloxi, local church choirs, a children’s violin group at Lisa’s Portraits, the Cloggers, and the “Boots and Bows” dance group. The high school band played in the park to entertain those who were awaiting the arrival of Santa.
Sponsors were: Peoples Bank for the trolleys, Hancock Bank for the boat parade, The Review for musical groups, and Russell’s and Magnolia Bank for JoJo the Clown.
Prizes were awarded as follow: Overall Buildings – First Place to Valentino’s, Second to Wicker N’Wood, Third to RainTree.
The Best doorway award was to Julian Byrne office. Best Windows was to Jackies. Special Achievement to Harbor Medical Clinic. The winning ticket for the beautiful bracelet donated by Pav and Broome was won by an ecstatic teenager, Lucia McDaniel.
Hardly a word of criticism diluted the avalanche of praise and raves by the public and the merchants. Obviously, it takes a lot of people to plan and present such a fun evening, and Alice Russell and Ed Jurkowski, co-chairmen, recruited and led them. This is a fine example of the kind of event that the Pass does so very well.
1996 – Christmas In the Pass XII - Friday, Dec 6, 1996
Once more Alice Russell and Ed Jurkowski accepted the role as co-chairpersons. With the passage of each year, committee leaders and sub-committee chairmen perfected their routines only to be challenged by generating new innovations. As each year had become more successful than those of the previous years — crowd, traffic, and parking controls were also added.
In front of St. Paul Church, a food tent was erected by the Parent Teacher Organization to dispense and sell items for their favorite charity – the school children.
The Rotary Club sponsored a newly built and specially decorated Santa Sleigh which was complete with glowing reindeers and has become a permanent addition to the parade.
That was the first year that it snowed at the park as 12 tons of ice were shipped in by an ice plant from New Orleans as ice was shaved to spread snow upon the grassy areas of the park. The kids found the Winter Wonderland fantastic as they rolled snowballs and tossed them at each other.
A dozen little Elves were costumed and became Santa’s little helpers in presenting candy canes to all the gathering children while Santa extended his hands in warm greeting to the waiting hordes.
1996 Commentary by Bill Kidd
What a winner we had on Friday, December 6th, 1996,when we all celebrated the 12th annual Christmas in the Pass community party. A multitude of compliments have been flying about ever since.
The kids’ popular favorite was the snow that was laid down in War Memorial Park; they came, in all ages, from the time the snow was blown in at mid afternoon until long after dark – and some came back the next morning to frolic in the melting remnants. Snow donors Stitch Niche and Pecan Grove Landfill deserve a special thanks from the kids and their parents.
What Christmas means to me — were the thoughts that were delivered by the elves which added a fitting seasonal emotional feature that was both new and heart-warming this year. Costumes were the creation of Karen Boudreaux. The elves won the right to ride with Santa by writing winning essays about Christmas.
The elves were: Cristina Ephriam from Pass Middle, Jennifer Lady of Coast Episcopal Middle, Wesley Lumpkin from Pineville Elementary, Frederick Malini of St. Paul Elementary, Jeanne Louise Pitre of Coast Episcopal and Bonnie Taquino of DeLisle Elementary.
In addition to the six elves being added to Santa’s team was the new Santa sleigh that was pulled by two illuminated prancing reindeer. The sleigh was funded by the Pass Rotary Club and designed and built by Bill Kidd with the help of Charlie Henderson, Frazer Rice, David Taylor, Trey Campbell, and Roy Hogan. Joida Evans lent her artistic hand to decorating it.
The reindeer pair was conceived and created by Timber Ridge artist John Wilson, who is famed for his wiring artistry. The truck and generator to pull the new sleigh were loaned by WPSCO. The reindeer/sleigh was placed at City Hall for the remaining Christmas month, but finds its home at one of Dayton Robinson’s garages for the rest of the eleven months of the year.
The residents of Miramar Nursing Lodge were greeted by Santa and the elves and entertained by several musical and dancing groups.
Many civic, school, and other non-profit groups from the Pass use the event as a major fund-raiser, providing services to the visitors while aiding in their own causes.
Pass Christian welcomed more than 8,000 people during the 20th annual Christmas in the Pass Celebration on Dec. 3, 2004. The event was the beginning of the holiday season for 30 local businesses, as well as numerous crafts people.
Merchants held open houses for holiday shoppers. Children participated at nearby activities while parents shopped at stores and boutiques throughout the city.
"Christmas in the Pass has evolved into a spirit-filled family celebration,"said Alice Russell, who chaired this year’s event. “The celebration began in 1984 with 400 visitors. Now look how it has grown. And, it gets better every year."
Carolers, the Pass Christian High School Band and a youth Violin group kicked off the event at War Memorial Park, where a memorial Christmas tree dedicated to the memory of Gretchen Jones was lit. Santa arrived to1ead a parade down Scenic Drive.
The following decorating awards were given:
Best Balcony: Bourdin Plumbing on Davis Avenue;
Best Theme: Teri Jones and Judy Comeaux, “Island of the Misfits Toys"
Best Door: Corner Market on Scenic and Market Street
Best Residential Yard: Michael Scardino, East Second Street
Best Residential Porch: Al and Marion Hooks and Gene Theriot
Best Decorated: Miramar Nursing Home, Dennis Forsyth, Michael Ha11, Bryan Amos and Kevin Blake.
Lighted Boat Parade winners were:
Brent Jeukin & Janet Marie; Bradley Boys, Justin Lassabe, Billy Mahoney, Mike Hardaman, and Dane Jenkins
Committee members for Christmas in the Pass were Alice Russell (chairwoman), Alicia Ellis, David Chavers, Scott Naugle, Nanette Carter, Connie Jenkins, David and Traci Goff, Ann Taylor, Jeffry Taylor, Marcie Rogers, Billy Pruitt, Tim Ladner, Wilma Rizzardi, Scott Bradford and Howard McKissack.
If you have a special Christmas Story to tell about Chritstmas in the Pass, please send it to Dan@PassChristian.Net
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