"There will be lights — hundreds of them — and 1,000 candy canes and 1,000 oranges — and band music, too!"
In December 1915, Medford was celebrating Christmas in Library Park by erecting its very first community Christmas tree.
the community tree
Beginning with one tree in 1912, some 600 in 1915, to uncountable thousands today, the community Christmas tree idea has indeed become an annual event in towns large and small. Shady Cove is the latest Jackson County city to join in. Take the time to visit yours.
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas to all of you, and thanks for being there.
— Bill Miller
"We celebrate with a tree, dazzling in illumination, surmounted with the star of hope," said Mail Tribune Editor George Putman.
The community Christmas tree movement was new. It began in New York City in 1912 when socialite Eugenia Herreshoff arranged for a 40-foot tree and an elaborate "celebration of the spirit of Christmas" at Grand Central Station Park. More than 25,000 people joined in.
Medford's festivities would be much smaller, but no less festive. Curious residents from outside the city would swell the population and stand in awe.
Winter stars were hidden behind an overcast sky and temperatures were dropping through the low 40s as 2,000 children and their parents gathered around the dark silhouette of the tree.
At exactly 7 p.m., with the crowd in hushed anticipation, Mayor Vernon Emerick pushed the button that instantly illuminated the tree into a twinkling jewel of light. A quick prayer, the singing of Christmas carols, and the children began to dance around the tree.
The tree had been hand-selected in the forests above Jacksonville by Rev. Bandy of Jacksonville's Presbyterian Church and carried to Medford aboard the Bullis railroad. The California Oregon Power Co. donated the lights and strung them on the tree. Tiny bells tinkled between the branches as a gentle breeze blew lines of tinsel that flickered in the light. At the top, a star.
To raise funds for extra items, such as fruit and candy for the children, Christmas tags were sold by 50 of the town's young women, the purchaser allowed the choice of paying from 25 cents to a dollar. Meanwhile, local club members sewed stockings and wrapped gifts in an attempt "to bring joy to the heart of every child in Medford below high school age."
Jackson County's district attorney, Ed Kelly, agreed to don a red suit and whiskers to become a much thinner version of old St. Nick. Kelly had walked up Main Street before the festivities, luring youngsters to the park like a pied piper.
Kelly took a seat on the Carnegie Library steps as the children formed two long lines, each headed by a cornet-blowing musician who led the youngsters in a march to Santa Claus and his helpers by playing Christmas carols. The children and their elders sang along.
Santa placed a candy cane and an orange into a handstitched stocking and one by one put them into the anxious hands of admiring little eyes.
"The laugh of a little child is the sweetest sound on Earth — the laugh that fills the eyes with light and every heart with joy," said Putnam, as he praised Christmas and the "good it always brings."
Putnam predicted the community Christmas tree would become a permanent annual event, "increasing in elaborateness and beauty with the coming years."
In closing, he wished his readers a Merry Christmas.
"May Christmas bring to all hearts," he said, "something of the spirit of childhood's happy laughter."
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.