Celebrating Christmas in Concord in 1917

A photo slide of Concord’s North End with White Park in the foreground.
A photo slide of Concord’s North End with White Park in the foreground.

Christmas means many things to many people. It is a wonderful period where a fleeting touch of nostalgia brings us joy, sometimes deep sadness, and we rejoice. We celebrate in our churches and with like-minded people, for it is together we wish to be on this holiest day.

Each person has their own perception of the perfect Christmas that keeps it alive within each of our hearts. We think back to the early years and we cherish our most sacred thoughts and keep them safely in our minds to bring that nostalgia back again each year.

It was in the Second Congregational Church on Christmas Eve in 1917 that the Rev. Charles Wing stood in front of his parishioners and preached a most inspiring sermon. The church was decorated for the season and the season’s songs were sung by 150 people in unison. A tree was decorated and the people of Concord placed paper wrapped gifts beneath this tree for the less fortunate children in Concord that would otherwise not have a gift to open Christmas morning.

Our own Concord physician, Doctor Metcalf spoke of his time in England and France helping with the Great War hospitals during this highly attended service. He spoke of much tragedy, for everyone in attendance feared what they knew: the horrors of war.

Many of the younger men and women left the church after the service and traveled to White Park for a bonfire, hot chocolate and some ice skating. The brisk evening was just beautiful and the young enjoyed this time … it was their time. Though sacrifices were being made there was much joy in Concord this Christmas for it was indeed the season of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Men.”

As the young filtered away from the warmth of the bonfire with hot chocolate in mugs they walked and sung Christmas carols along the streets, down White Street to Washington and then off to Main Street to ride the Phenix Stable sleigh about town. They sang and they rejoiced – still too young to own nostalgia, making memories as each step was taken. Caroling from door to door as our ancestors gazed out of their frost-covered windows at the young singing and rejoicing as they sang “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

The young men and women did not think of the shortages the war had brought to Concord. Bread, sugar and fuel were scarce while Christmas cooking ingredients were very hard to find. With a deep desire to hold on to the old Christmas traditions their parents simply improvised and made what they could. The gifts were simple but useful, there were many charitable acts to those in need, for our ancestors were good people. The one void that was so very hard to fill was the absence of loved ones, for it was a way of life during the war, but especially hard to celebrate without them on Christmas.

During Christmas, 1917, the children of Concord desired the military-themed toys, soldiers and uniforms. Our local fire department kept busy making wooden toys for the children in need and made sure to deliver them aboard their brightly lit fire truck.

With our loved ones away serving on the front, we thought back a few years to the Christmas truce of 1914. Could it happen again this year for our soldiers? It was a miracle itself, when the unofficial cease-fire occurred on the western front that Christmas in 1914. “Silent Night” was sung gently at first by a lone soldier, and then more joined. The enemy soldiers joined in too, they left the trenches to meet the enemy soldiers, played games and exchanged gifts. The many mothers and fathers around Concord prayed for this for they wanted a Christmas truce for their sons and daughters this year too.

It was more than 100 years ago that the Rev. Charles Wing preached his inspiring sermon to a church filled with people that held hope in their hearts. They held on to their traditions, perhaps the old memories filled a void and provided some comfort to them. The children listened intently to Dr. Metcalf speak about those less fortunate people spending Christmas in England and France, they knew the difficulties they faced along with their families, but they celebrated this night as Christmas approached, caroling, skating and drinking their hot chocolate as they circled the warmth of the bonfire burning brightly that chilly evening at White Park.

Memories are made each Christmas. These memories will become our grandchildren’s nostalgia for that is our gift to the young today. Instilling warmth and comfort and stories of days old. It’s what we do here in Concord, always have and we always will. Merry Christmas to you for ’tis the season of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men.

Author: James W. Spain

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