What memories does the Christmas season bring to mind? The childhood glee of discovering what Santa brought on Christmas morning? Holiday light displays? The joy of giving anonymously through a dollar dropped in a red kettle or fulfilling an Angel Tree wish?
For me, Christmastime is synonymous with music. I come from a long line of musicians — some, like my dad, professional; others just really good shower singers. I love all of the season's sounds: big brass fanfares introducing choirs singing in six-part harmony; traditional carols; Bing Crosby crooning "White Christmas"; even the unlikely pairing of Dolly Parton and Michael Buble on her "A Holly Dolly Christmas" album.
Some of my favorite holiday memories include caroling with college friends at homes of our professors or with Sunday school classes in nursing home hallways. From the time I was on a vocal scholarship to UTC in the 1970s on into the 1980s, I was often contracted to be the mezzo-soprano soloist in Handel's "Messiah." To this day, the oratorio's majestic choruses can still move me to tears. But then, so too will a candlelight chorus of "Silent Night" at First Cumberland Presbyterian's midnight Christmas Eve service, with everyone holding their flickering candles up in the darkened sanctuary like hundreds of shining stars.
The holidays may look a little different for all of us this year. No big family dinners. No Singing Christmas Tree, a decades-old community tradition hosted by the Chattanooga Boys Choir. No large holiday performances of any kind, really. But memories of seasons past will still warm hearts as we share this one virtually with loved ones.
We asked Chattanoogans to recount their favorite holiday memories and more than 170 results poured in. Here, we share a selection of those memories, some personal and some hallmark city traditions — and, hopefully, a reminder of the joy this season holds, which will always live truly in our hearts.
* My favorite memories are shopping trips with my mom. We'd walk down the sidewalk in front of stores like Miller's that had Christmas decorations. Watching the elves move was like magic to me. Next stop was Woolworth's for ice cream and hot chocolate. I loved sitting on the stools at the counter and twirling around before Mom would stop me. Of course, a must was to spend my dollar at Woolworth's and Grant's. In 1948, it allowed me to purchase gifts for my mom and dad as well as my siblings! Good times. — Connie McCluskey
* Downtown when Sears, Miller Brothers and all the stores were there, all the windows were decorated, lights strung across the roads. Miller's had a Christmas shopping area just for kids. It was magical. — Randall Corn
* Even as an adult, I'd stop every year to see if my name was on Santa's list [in] the corner display that was on the Broad Street side [of Miller's]. — Kathi Hensley
* The Power Board windows and Loveman's were always well worth going to see. Loveman's had a loudspeaker for Christmas music, too. I'd wait for the bus in front of Loveman's and enjoyed it tremendously. "Silver Bells, Silver Bells" — Retha A. McCloskey
* My uncle Bobby's shoe shop, Vanderstoops, was across the street from George's Hamburgers. We always ate a burger, then walked to Woolworth's for dessert and looked at the Christmas windows. — Teena Brown
* Every Christmas Eve night we would go to church downtown, and then, on the way home — either since my mother didn't want to cook on Christmas Eve or because nowhere else was open (maybe both) — we'd always go through the drive-thru at Krystal. Anyone who's ever gone through a Krystal drive-thru probably understands there's a certain smell those burgers give the interior of your car. Forty years later I can't smell that smell and it not immediately feel like Christmas, no matter what time of year it is. — Tony Hudson
* In the '80s, they had a Christmas shop at Loveman's and the doors were child-sized. My kids loved getting to shop alone and buy gifts for surprises. Then we went to Christmas on the River, where the decorated boats came down to Ross's Landing and circled around. We had hot chocolate and walked to see the windows decorated. EPB did all its windows. The Choo Choo had the gardens lit with thousands of twinkling lights. — Cathy Jay
* Just like everyone else, we'd go downtown, usually on Christmas Eve, and look at the EPB windows. When my daughter was 2 or 3, my mom decided that one of her gifts would be showing my daughter the city of Chattanooga in the Marriott's elevator. My husband and I weren't allowed to go, but my dad was. This was their special tradition every year. My husband and I would park near the library and watch them. My mom passed away in April after battling cancer for six years. Those elevator rides are still my daughter's favorite holiday memories of her grandma. We are hoping to keep the tradition alive this Christmas. — Megan Manning Oliver
* My favorite Christmas memory will always be my mom and dad putting out cookies and milk for Santa, along with a check written out to Santa for the presents. They made sure that my sister and I knew that Christmas gifts were not free and that they were paying for them. I still laugh about this. I loved waking up and seeing that the cookies had bites in them (thanks to Dad), the milk was gone, and that the check had magically disappeared too! — James McKissic
* We were very poor growing up. We didn't realize it at the time. We had love. But I remember poring over the Jewel Tea catalog for weeks. I was allowed to pick out one item. I always got that item plus underwear and socks. And one year, my brother, who was in the Navy, got me this beautiful quilted robe. I realized when I got older that my mama did washing and ironing and paid for that one item for most of the year. — Brenda Morton Sadler
* One of my fondest memories from my Christmases in Collegedale as a child was the Christmas tree lighting at Southern Missionary College [now Southern Adventist University]. The whole community would gather around the tree, the Academy band would play Christmas carols and the college would pass out thousands of doughnut holes. Right as the band played its last song, the crowd would grow hushed as, up the valley, we could hear the sirens of every firetruck and police car in Tri-Community's and the police department's fleets coming toward the festivities. Santa would be perched upon the top of the ladder truck as it entered Taylor Circle and would pelt us kids with cold, rock-hard candy. It was like a hailstorm of sugary happiness. Then Santa would climb down from the truck, sprint across the lawn and light the tree while the band played "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." — David Barto
* Maybe in 1963-64, Santa arrived by helicopter at a shopping center in Cleveland. — Rosemary Anderson Palmer
* When I was little, they had a little log house set up inside Northgate Mall with elves inside. Kids could go in without parents and buy their parents, grandparents and siblings a Christmas gift. They wrapped it and everything. I will never forget that. — Jennifer Flippo Lively
* When Eastgate was the only mall around, they would have a tree lighting and a ride with Santa on the Santa Train. — Kay Brooks
* My first husband's brother played Santa at the mall and he was the best! In 1968, my son was 3 and we took him to see "Santa." His dad was carrying him and I noticed that he was watching Santa very intently. He then turned to me and said, "That sounds like my Uncle Bob." Last time seeing that particular Santa! — Bobbie Burks
* Going to see Santa at Highland Plaza in a trailer there. Going to Lions Club Christmas tree sale in Red Bank on Christmas Eve, after they had closed, to get a free tree because my mom could not afford to buy one. — Rhonda Harris Guionnaud
* Watching the eyes of children light up each year when the Santa Train would roll. The Forgotten Child program is one of Chattanooga's best. — Ben Cagle
LOOKING FOR LIGHTS
* One of our family traditions was to cut down our own Christmas tree. When I was a senior in high school, the tradition fell upon the shoulders of Daddy and me. We picked out what we thought was going to be the biggest and best tree we had ever had, perfect in every way. Much to our dismay, we discovered it would not fit through the den door and it was also a little too tall. My dad went to work with his hacksaw to solve these problems. Toward the bottom of our tree, there were more limbs on one side than the other, so our perfect tree was now lopsided and continued to tip over no matter how or where we placed it. My dad was determined to make our tree work. He came up with the idea to tie a small grass rope, hidden by the branches, around the tree trunk and nail it to the paneling in the den. To my dad and me, that tree was the best Christmas tree we ever had. — Gloria Long Rollins
* Going to Hunter Museum and seeing live Christmas trees decorated in different countries' ways. Remembering how one country believed Santa slid down on a golden rope. — Amby Forman
* I waited every year for the school field trip to see the Christmas trees at Hunter Museum. I loved it when it was the original small museum. It was so magical. — Kim Davis
* Riding around looking at lights on Christmas Eve. The local garden clubs held contests in neighborhoods. — Linda Ingram
* I loved it when Daddy drove through Shepherd Hills. It was amazing to us because we couldn't afford much of anything as far as outside decorations. Happy memories. — Connie McCluskey
* Living in Indian Hills [subdivision] and decorating with a theme. So many people drove by they hired a policeman to direct traffic. — Carolyn Darr
* Riding around on Christmas Eve looking at all the lights in the different neighborhoods. Back then, everyone decorated. Then driving through downtown Chattanooga to look at all the storefront decorations. After that, going home excited, knowing it was time to go to bed and wait on Santa. — Vicki Edwards
* One of my favorite traditions of Christmas, which we also did when I was young, is decorating our tree on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We watch Christmas movies, listen to Christmas music and make cookies. I love reminiscing looking at ornaments that I received as a child, ones that our girls made through the years, ones that were given to us as gifts, and the ones with pictures. We also let our girls open one gift on Christmas Eve. It's usually pajamas, but they always act surprised, just as my sister and I did when we were growing up. — Dr. Kari Klemm Hudson
SING WE NOW
* I became involved with the Singing Christmas Tree by the Chattanooga Boys Choir in 1982. In 1985, I became the producer of the annual production at the Tivoli Theatre. I assembled an outstanding support crew of parents of CBC members, all volunteers who put their hearts and souls into making this production bigger and better every year. My crew provided four complete set changes for each year's production. We had a working electrical merry-go-round, a working 13-foot-diameter water wheel with water, a "floating" Viking ship for which we used hydraulics to make the ship pitch, a giant feather bed that had 30-plus boys climbing out from under the covers, a 20-foot ski slope with live Santa skiing onto the stage, and a giant storybook with live characters on its pages. Some of my favorite Christmas memories took place on that stage. — Dennis Massengale
* I was in the Chattanooga Singers in college. We would go downtown as a group, go into stores and sing Christmas carols. We were a flash mob before there was such a thing. — Kenton Dickerson
* As a music teacher, one thing I always looked forward to was my annual holiday concert with the Center for Creative Arts Concert Choir seniors. It was always a big hit with the families and always started our holiday season with a bang. Each year, I worked to bring some different element to the program to set it apart from previous years. I started taking pictures with my seniors each year as a memory for them of their last holiday concert with me. This is the first time in 20 years that we will not have this concert [due to COVID-19 safety precautions] and it breaks our hearts. — Neshawn Calloway
* One of my memories was of our glee club always singing the "Messiah" every year for radio. I think it was local radio at WDEF. Luther always loved it. — Christine Elaine Gracey
* My mom would only listen to Luther [on the radio] and we would listen in the kitchen at breakfast and then in the car on the way to school. I remember it finally felt like Christmas was on the way when Luther would play the dogs barking to the tune of "Jingle Bells," "Sleigh Ride" and "Christmas Dragnet" — a song that was extremely too long in my young mind. — Sarah Hughes Burns
* Christmas Eve service at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church was always special — the hymns, the choir, throngs of people together for the moments before midnight when Christmas arrived in hearts, not just on the calendar. Many years we traveled back to Chattanooga to be with family and the joy at First Cumberland. — Donna Morelli Ford