Museum of Northwest Colorado: Downtown Christmas lights for dark December nights

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A candy cane and bell decoration, on a downtown electric pole, lights up the dark December nights in 1963.

Christmas lights are a source of delight for all ages from toddlers to retirees. Every fall, in fine American tradition, Craig adults of all ages can be seen struggling in front yards with tangled strings of lights and awkward holiday decorative accessories in an attempt to bring holiday cheer to their neighborhoods.

The first Christmas lights were advertised in the mid-1910s and were for indoor use only and cost today’s equivalent of $300 — obviously an item that only the well-heeled could afford. By the next decade the lighting industry had over fifteen companies that produced indoor and outdoor holiday lights, and outdoor holiday lighting grew in popularity during that time. Even through the Depression years when disposable cash was so sparse, the NOMA Christmas Light Company managed to survive, providing a spark of cheer through those dreary years. After World War II exterior Christmas lights were quite common throughout the country, and a decade or so later the tradition spread to other countries around the world.

Though the Museum of Northwest Colorado doesn’t know exactly when Craig first started decorating downtown with electric lights we do know that the town set up a community Christmas tree as early as the 1910s, at the intersection of Yampa Avenue and Victory Way. The Christmas star on Sandrocks, another Craig holiday lighting tradition, was started in 1963 by the Big Gulch Better Community Club. The downtown Christmas lights in Craig have been a seasonal event for at least sixty-five years — if not longer, as documented in the museum’s photograph collection.

Janet (Van Dorn) Gerber remembers driving around with her family when she was a young girl to view the downtown lights. “I just loved to look up and watch as we drove under those lights. It seemed so magical to me!” Dan Davidson recalls how elaborate the decorations seemed to him as a young boy. He still recalls the candy cane and bell-shaped lights that adorned the light poles downtown as being among his favorites.

Today, our city crews take advantage of pleasant fall weather and begin hanging the decorations in late October and early November. The official first night of Christmas lights on our city streets is traditionally on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

On the dark cold nights of December, enjoy our community lights and appreciate the sparkle they add to the evenings. If you have memories or photographs of Christmas lights or community decorations, the Museum of Northwest Colorado would love to hear your story. The museum staff would especially like to hear from anyone who remembers the large nativity set painted by Curtis Zabel and displayed in City Park in 1956. Drop by and visit with the staff anytime we are open, Monday through Saturday, and meanwhile, enjoy the lights!

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