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Greenville at Christmas 1898
Source: Written By Allan H. Keith, Published ©1998
Used with permission

Christmas in Greenville in 1898 was a relatively low-key affair, with less commercialism than today and with the celebration centered in churches and homes.

The Greenville Advocate in 1898 included Christmas-oriented advertising by local businesses, but the big feature was letters to Santa Claus from Bond County children.

For example, 9-year-old Stella File asked Santa for a "a speech book and a writing desk and a nice dress."

George Floyd, 6, and Nina Floyd, 4, asked for a train, a boy doll, colored pencils, a wash set, a watch, two games, fire crackers, two doll beads and a doll cart.

Katie Bouillion, 11, lived six miles west of Greenville at Terrapin Ridge. She wrote Santa: "I study arithmetic, history, grammar, geography, physiology and spelling. Please Santa, I would like to have an organ."

Seven-year-old Elmer Hughey was not extravagant in his requests. He asked for a pair of skates and some candy.

Harry Maynard, 8, said he had the mumps and assured Santa that "I have been a good boy." He wanted an air rifle, sled and jumping jack, a false face and oranges, nuts and candy.

Albert Donaldson wanted a "little gun" and a "little car."

Eugene Clare wanted an air gun, a drum, a pair of skates and a knife.

Genevive Clare asked for a doll, a ring, some games, a book and a nice new dress, plus some candy, nuts and oranges.

Hazel Hastings wrote: "I am 6 years old and think I am large enough to ride a bicycle. Please send me one if you can spare the money. Good-by my honey, Good-by."

Harry Wright wanted an air rifle, a book with pictures of birds, a pair of skates and candy and nuts.

Another child writing to Santa at Christmastime in 1898 was Fred Enloe Martin of Mulberry Grove. He wrote that he was seven years old and asked for a "real watch," a toy cannon, a box of tools and some fire crackers.

He added that his little cousin Lucille would like a toy desk, a doll and a doll buggy. "And please don't forget our baby Rachel. Mr. Santa , she can't tell us what she wants but I guess you know."

The Advocate also published a number of Christmas stories and poems.

Christmas in 1898 happened to fall on a Sunday and much of the observance was centered in Greenville churches.

The Presbyterian Church conducted Christmas services on Sunday. There was a social gathering on Monday, December 26, with a short program and a treat for the Sunday School children.

At the First Baptist Church the children presented a program on Monday night and a treat was given out.

At St. Lawrence Catholic Church there were Sunday masses at 5 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., as well as a benediction at 3 p.m. There were no other Christmas exercises.

A supper for the Sunday School was presented Monday evening at the Methodist Episcopal Church. There were also Christmas exercises by the children.

Christmas exercises at the Free Methodist Church were held Friday evening, December 23. A treat of nuts and candy was given to the children. The program included a stereopticon (slide projector) entertainment and lecture by Rev. W. R. Bonham.

At Grace Episcopal Church a short program was presented on Saturday night and a treat was provided.

The Christian Church Sunday School presented a program on Saturday night and Santa Claus appeared.

Christmas observances were held at the city's two churches attended by African-Americans.

The Sunday School of the Second Baptist Church had a Christmas tree on Saturday night. The children presented a program and were given a treat. Santa made an appearance.

At the A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) Church a program was presented on Monday night and candy and nuts were distributed.

At Greenville College the winter recess went from December 23 until January 3. The college was said to be "nearly deserted through the holidays."

Prior to the recess a Christmas program given by the Primary Department "was enjoyed by all who attended." The Advocate reported that "the little folks had their pieces thoroughly prepared and rendered them well."

Public grade school students presented a program in the Opera House on December 9. Most of the presentations were not directly related to Christmas, but one recitation was titled "Just Before Christmas."

The first Christmas-oriented advertisements appeared in the Advocate on December 1.

Weise and Bradford's Star Store advertised possible Christmas presents such as "a new line of fur collarettes" and ladies muffs, among other items. Oudyn's drug and book store touted "holiday editions of the popular magazines and the latest sheet music."

The ad for the Trautman's Jewelry Store pictured Santa with sleigh and reindeer.

Other advertisers in 1898 included druggist and stationer Charles W. Watson, F. P Joy and Co., J. Seaman hardware, the Broken Dollar store, Denny and Co. grocers ("good things for the holidays") and E. Riedemann, who operated a tailoring business.

Some other advertisers in the Advocate were E. E. Wise clothier and furnisher, McLain and Cable grocers, L. A. Holdener's jewelry store and Floyd and Grube millinery.

(Allan H. Keith, formerly of Greenville, is a free-lance writer and lives in Mattoon. allank@webtv.net)


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