From the Dec. 22, 1961 edition of the Gazette:

A year ago there arrived on the Island a summer resident of many years who, nevertheless, had never before visited the Vineyard at Christmas time. He traveled from town to town, looking with amazement at the Christmas decorations in the stores and outside, and listening to the church bells and the recorded Christmas carols which were being broadcast from various places of business.

“I never realized before,” said he, “how much you make of Christmas!”

Considering the fact that all Island centers are small, that there are few large stores, this is somewhat surprising and what is even more surprising is the obvious trend to make these Christmas displays more pleasing to the eye from year to year.

This Christmas season is no exception. Scores of private homes present their own display, inside and out. Many are the Christmas windows ablaze with colored lights. Living trees, decorated in yards, Santas on the roofs and chimneys; and, attracting much attention, the Santa in his boat, industriously pulling at his oars, which has been displayed on Beach Road, Vineyard Haven, for days.

Last year was the first time that Vineyard Haven streets have been lined with Christmas trees, elevated above the heads of passers-by in order to avoid obstructing the sidewalks, and all decorated and lighted. This plan follows to some degree the street lighting in Edgartown, and shopping districts present a brave spectacle.

The most noticeable change is seen in the stores. Harking back a half-century, one recalls store displays at Christmas time were meager. A few paper bells, a few red bows, and some decorated package goods were about all that any of the stores offered by way of Christmas decoration. This practice changed until, some twenty years ago, display windows presented a bewildering appearance. The combination of merchandise, tinsel snow, ribbons, wreaths and all the rest of it, was so massed and mingled as to confuse the observer rather than to cause pleasure. Today this sort of thing is not seen. A sense of balance, the touch of artistry, and a judicious choice of decorations has affected these displays until confusion has been eliminated.

The main streets of all the larger towns are gay, almost no place of business on the Island today is undecorated, and in no case can it be said that decoration has been overdone. There are occasional Santas, there are wreaths, ribbons, bells and streamers. There are Christmas trees, green, or icy, according to choice, and there are many lights. Selected items of merchandise, packaged or otherwise, the old-time effect of small window-panes, achieved by crossing display windows with strips of colored crepe paper, cotton snow and tinsel, are all employed to gain the effect of the wintry scene. And on the air ring out recordings of chimes, playing the old, familiar carols.

Merchants, householders, and various organizations have contributed generously of their time, effort, and money, not to mention inspiration, to make the Vineyard look as Christmassy as possible, and the combined result constituting an achievement of which all have a right to be proud. That it impresses Island visitors is not strange. Even the Islanders, accustomed to it all, pause, look and admire, and then go on their several ways, pleasantly thrilled by what their neighbors have done. There is a greater buoyancy to their step, a brighter light in their eyes and a broader smile on their faces, and their greetings are warmer.

The passer-by feels like standing before all these good people who in this manner are wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, and to say to them, “and a Merry Christmas to all of you, also, you deserve it!” The Oak Bluffs Firemen’s Civic Association held their annual Christmas party for the children on Sunday afternoon at the school gymnasium with nearly two hundred children awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus on Engine No. 3 with Manual A. Frank 3rd playing the role of Santa.

Movies were shown by George W. Packish and Santa distributed bags of candy, candy canes and potato chips. There was a decorated Christmas tree. The two special prizes, awarded to a girl and boy, were given to Karen Packish and Stephen Marshall.

Manual A. Sylvia was general chairman and he was assisted by William D. Norton, Mr. Packish, Clement Packish, Donald R. Billings, Joseph Nunes and Edward S. Nunes.

If you thought that it was unheard of to winter in Florida until the day of the monster waterfront hotel, many stories high, tourists everywhere, you are mistaken.

“Captain and Mrs. Stephen Flanders started for Florida last Wednesday,” said the Gazette of Dec. 17, 1886, “They will spend the winter there.” No whaling captain such as Captain Flanders was, would hesitate at the length or rigors of the journey, which were real in those days.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox