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Cary Christmas Past

Holiday Memories from Our Town

If you’ve ever driven down a trail of softly glowing luminaries on Christmas Eve, you’ve taken part in a Cary Christmas tradition that spans generations. Decades ago, when the town was still small enough that every neighbor was a close friend, the holidays were far simpler.

There was no crowded mall with bustling crowds; instead, shares Elva Templeton, “We didn’t get anything on Christmas much; candy, an orange, and maybe one or two toys is all, all the toys we had during the year.”

In the 1940s and ’50s, Cary was still a very small town, with many families too poor to buy fruit during the year. The historic downtown churches were central to holiday celebrations, often putting together bags of goodies for all the children. According to the oral histories collected in Peggy Van Scoyoc’s Just a Horse-Stopping Place, “They would buy paper sacks from Mr. Mills’ store, and ladies would meet and they would put an apple and an orange, some sticks of candy, some nuts, and some raisins in every single bag under that Christmas tree.”

“Our orange at Christmas was a real treat,” recalls Margaret Travis.

Cary’s Luminaries: Golden Memories are Better than Presents

One of Cary’s most treasured holiday traditions was the luminaries. Each household offered this single, simple gift for the entire town —lighting your luminaries for all to enjoy.

Children, especially, enjoyed the tradition of assembling luminaries.

“I loved helping my father prepare the bags and lighting the candles,” says Peggy Lineberger, who is a member of a group called “When Cary (NC) Was Cary.”

“Assembling them was a highlight of Christmas,” Susan Wallace says.

Creating luminaries was a simple joy that brought the entire town together. Then, on Christmas Eve, the entire community would take part in the most memorable of Cary’s Christmas traditions—driving to see the beautiful light show they had helped create.

“We would pile into the car to see all the houses around town in their lit-up splendor and take in the magic of the luminaries. Beautiful memories,” Susan Litchfield says.

“It was always one of my favorite things about Christmas,” recalls Cindy Mason.

“Upon our return home, we would light a fire and have many special snacks, each person’s favorite. Mother would play some Christmas songs on the piano,” Peggy warmly recounts, “Such cherished memories.”

These cherished memories are the real Christmas gifts, which can’t be found under the tree. They’re the memories of precious moments with loved ones now lost, the sweet nostalgia of old Christmas songs on the piano, and the wistful childhood memories of glowing, golden streets—a time when the whole town worked together to create Christmas magic.

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